1. An Open Letter to the First Lady to-be of the United States of America,
Mrs. Michelle Obama
By: Assoc. Prof. Dr. Harlina Halizah Siraj
National Head of Women Section, Islah Society of Malaysia (JIM)
January 1st, 2009
LET’S DO SOMETHING ABOUT THE ISRAEL-PALESTINE CONFLICT:
ENOUGH IS INDEED ENOUGH!!
Dear Mrs. Obama,
First and foremost, I hope that it is not too late to congratulate you and your husband on the historical victory during the recent US Presidential Election in November.
As your husband, the President Elect Mr. Barrack Obama has correctly indicated in his speech on the memorable night of his triumph, there are indeed a lot of hope for future changes under his administration, and those changes will, hopefully, positively affect the United States and the world.
As a wife, a mother, and above all a woman like you, I am writing you this letter, at the eve of the New Year 2009, to share with you my hope of a more peaceful future for this world that we all share, love and cherish. I dream of a world where there is no divide, no dispute, and no bloodshed among the diversified communities. I hope to see an end to misery, famine, violence, and injustices, resulting from human shortcomings.
A better and peaceful world will only be possible if we, as a world community, could solve the long-standing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian people. The Palestinian issue is no longer the concerns of the Palestinians or the Muslims only. It is indeed a fundamental issue that questions the integrity of mankind at its core. The extend of human loss and sufferings, economic wastage, and social wreckage in Palestine is beyond words. The recent Israeli attack on Gaza has claimed hundreds of innocent lives of children, women and men, and the body count is increasing by the hour. Such a tragic event, at the start of a New Year, is a huge challenge to all of us who dare to dream of a better world.
The country that your husband will officially lead in January 20th had, over the years, played a crucial and instrumental role in prolonging this conflict. I only wish that your husband and his new government could make a major difference in this international affair, and only then could he convince the world that he is the best man for the job.
As a wife and mother, I am certain you could imagine the sadness, pain, anxiety, and desperation experienced by the Palestinian mothers now. Let us do something, Michelle. You and I know so well how much Barrack is indebted to the Israel lobbyists in the recent election in order for him to win. Whatever it is, he is now THE President of USA. There must be something he could do about this. The concern here is whether he WOULD actually do what he SHOULD to bring peace to the world. The choice would be entirely his to make and the burden would be his to carry forever.
On behalf of a group of concerned Malaysian women, I am asking you to show your solidarity with the Palestinian women and children. Let us together send out a clear message that we would not tolerate this sufferings and injustices anymore. Stop all atrocities on the Palestinian people! Enough is enough!
2. When The Children Die…
By: Ong Kian Ming
PhD Candidate in political science at Duke University, USA.
My wife and I were standing outside the chapel at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina when pictures of Palestinian children who had been killed in Gaza were being passed out. I wished I had kept one of them so that I could remind myself of the face of one of the many innocent children who had their lives senselessly ended in the current war in Gaza.
I went to that candlelight vigil for two reasons. I wanted to stand in solidarity with people of other ethnicities, religions and nationalities in support of the Palestinians in Gaza. But I also wanted to try to understand why many of my Muslim friends have been so affected by the conflict in Gaza – emotionally, spiritually, psychologically and even psychically. I caught a glimpse of at last night’s candlelight vigil.
A Muslim American woman shared about her anguish at seeing pictures of the bodies of the little Palestinian children killed, almost in tears and on the verge of breaking down. And I realized that as a Malaysian Christian who is Chinese, I will never be able to understand the deep emotional and spiritual bonds that Muslims all over the world have with the Palestinians. My sympathy for the Palestinians in Gaza is but a shallow one, with far less emotional and spiritual investment.
I also realized then that it would be flippant of me to ask why Muslims all over the world pay so much attention to the killings of Palestinians in Gaza (and the West Bank, let us not forget) but ignore the killing of Muslims elsewhere, often at the hands of other Muslims or their authoritarian governments. It would be like asking me why I would care more if a church in Petaling Jaya where many of my friends go to got bombed compared to a church being bombed in Georgia. The plight of the Palestinians has a special place in the hearts of all Muslims. It is a strong emotional and spiritual connection which just is. To throw in counter arguments based on political realities elsewhere is to miss the point not to mention somewhat insensitive (Believe me when I say that I have had to hold back the political scientist in me).
But I also learned other things at the vigil. I learned that people of different faiths, ethnicities and nationalities at Duke could come together to stand in solidarity with the Palestinians in Gaza despite certain differences. Not everyone who showed up was necessarily supporters of Hamas. Nor were they necessarily supportive of the policy to eradicate Israel as a nation. But all of us wanted peace to come to the region and for the fighting and the killing to stop. On both sides. And among the 300 people or so who came for the vigil, were a number of Jewish students. This was a reminder to me (and I hope to others) that it is so very wrong to equate the policies of the Israeli government to ALL Jewish people, as some tend to do.
The vigil ended with us putting our lights on the steps of the chapel, not before one of the organizers asked all of us to write to our respective Congressional representatives and senators to pressure them to act on this issue.
Finally, I could not help but think of the situation in Malaysia. I was happy to hear that there have been similar candlelight vigils which been organized back home. I was glad to hear that many Muslims and non-Muslims in Malaysia have been standing together to support the Palestinians. But I could not help but think that it is far easier to take the majority stand as a majority in the context of this issue in Malaysia. It is much harder to take the minority position as a minority when certain rights and freedoms are not assured.
For all of the shortcomings of the US government (past and present), the freedom to organize and express one’s views in a peaceful manner even if one is a minority expressing a minority’s view, is cherished and protected here. Sadly one cannot say the same about the situation Malaysia. When a conference was organized to discuss the problems non-Malays were facing over the issue of religious conversion, it was accompanied by a large group of protestors asking the conference to be stopped. More worrying, to me at least, was the fact that the policemen who were tasked to protect the conference attendees actually allowed the protestors to disrupt and eventually stop the conference from going on. (It would not have surprised me if some of the conference attendees marched together in solidarity with some of these very protestors to the US embassy recently over the Israeli invasion of Gaza)
It was a tiring day for me yesterday. But after the vigil, my wife and I had a simple but filling meal at an American diner. And then we went home, watched some TV and slept soundly in our beds. We didn’t have to worry about tank shells and bombs dropping on our heads while we slept. Sadly, the same cannot be said of the children in Gaza. I pray for them.
3. Letter to editor
By: Dr. Mazeni Alwi
It is quite likely that by now compassion fatigue have set in, that front page images of children killed and maimed in the current Israeli invasion of Gaza probably hardy elicit empathy and sadness. In the day to day grind of our busy lives, each with our own responsibilities and worries, it is not difficult to quickly look at these images with indifference and scan the news with cynism and powerlessness, that again those who can do something to stop the carnage only make token protests or worse, either tacitly approving or encouraging it.
That the demands and distractions of modern life have eroded our humanity and blunted our capacity for feelings of sympathy for the sufferings of others is a sad testament of our condition.
Sadder still, there are many sincere and well meaning people who would readily be outranged by man’s inhumanity on fellow man just because they are of a different skin colour, speak a different language or profess a different religion. It is this collective and sustained disgust at such irrational violence towards an entire people that has seen the dismantling of the apartheid regime in South Africa and the end of genocide in Rwanda. But some how one can sense a holding back of this empathy and solidarity for the oppressed when it comes to the Palestinians, such that as people they have suffered the longest military occupation in modern history, driven out homes never allowed to return and disposed of all their property. And these refugees and their children and grandchildren are further persecuted, humiliated and murdered in their refugee camps and now in the vast open air prison that is Gaza.
Is it because the Palestinians are Muslims that the world watches by indifferently as the massacre in Gaza goes apace? Perhaps not an insignificant part of the blame lies on the Muslims, that out of feeling of solidarity to fellow Muslims, they have misrepresented the conflict as one between Muslims and Jews, between Islam and Judaism. Given the long standing ignorance, prejudice and antagonism towards Islam which has been amplified many times over by the rhetorics of the War on Terror, this indifference on the part of non Muslims understandable. If the Muslims have been unintentionally guilty of gross over simplification, if not a flawed understanding of modern history, the powerful and influential allies and supporters of Israel are responsible for keeping large sections of ordinary people all over the world ignorant of the historical context of the Palestinian tragedy by controlling and manipulating information – in the media, in academia and through Hollywood movies. They get to define who is the terrorist, what constitutes terrorist acts which are terrorist organizations, obscuring unpalatable facts of ethnic cleansing, mass deportation and massacres that led up to the birth of Israel, its military expansionism and continued persecution of refugees of 1948 and 1967 wars.
Unless these historical facts are known and mendacious propaganda uncovered, the tragedy of Palestine will continue, because Israel and its people are the “victims” and therefore deserving of all military, economic and diplomatic support they deserve from the world’s superpowers against those poor, helpless and unloved refugees and children of refugees living in the miserable confinement of Gaza where even their basic necessities are denied.
We invite peace loving Malaysians, Muslim and non Muslims to the launch of COMPLETE’s, “Save the Palestinians Campaign” on 18th January 2009 to gain insight into the true nature and history of Palestine – Israel conflict. The Gaza invasion is yet one more tragic story in a long, sad tragedy that has befallen a people whose story has been denied and distorted just because they are Arabs and Muslims. To deny that is to deny our humanity.
Dr. Mazeni Alwi
Coalition of Malaysian NGOs Against Persecution of Palestinians (COMPLETE)