Treat every victim equally 

Do we only care when Muslims are attacked and not when people of other faiths face the same oppression? 

We should all, regardless of religion, protest at every act of aggression towards anyone because only then can we have any credibility.

Marina Mahathir 

AS conflict once again erupts in Palestine, I am confronted with questions about our responses to the conflict. Why is it that Malaysian Muslims are always quick to condemn Israeli aggression in Palestine, especially towards Gaza and slow to condemn similar aggression elsewhere?

It’s a question well worth thinking about. Why have we been quick to voice loud protests about Palestine and begin fund-raising for relief work there, and so much slower to condemn the aggressors in the Syrian conflict, or in Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Pakistan and many other countries in the world?

Do we only care when Muslims are attacked and not when people of other faiths face the same oppression?

Palestine has perhaps a special place in the hearts of Muslims because of the position of Jerusalem as the third most important city for us after Mecca and Medina. It’s also probably the longest ongoing conflict in the world and regularly features in the news.

Whether you sympathise or not, you cannot escape news about Palestine, most of which is violent and depressing.

But the most misunderstood thing about the Palestinian conflict, by both Muslims and non-Muslims, is that it is a religious war. Many people tend to forget that Palestinians are not all Muslims.

About 4% of Palestinians living mostly in the West Bank and 10% of those living in Israel are Christian. They make up about 1% of the population of Gaza.

The majority of Christian Palestinians, however, now live outside Palestine because, like their Muslim neighbours, they were forced to emigrate and into refugee camps when their lands were given to Israel in 1948. Many people do not realise for example, that Dr Hanan Ashrawy, the articulate spokesman for the late Yasser Arafat, is in fact a Christian.

That fact, that in 1948 Palestinians were forced out of their land by an exodus of Jews from Europe, is essentially what the conflict is all about. If immigrants from elsewhere take over land from people who have lived there for thousands of years, then it is bound to create conflict.

Most conflicts around the world are about land and space, rather than about faith. And when that original source of conflict is further exacerbated by more grabbing of land as well as other forms of discrimination in education, housing and jobs, then the conflict will not only continue but will escalate.

When we look at things this way, then we can see the same pattern in other parts of the world. In places like Kashmir, southern Thailand, Sri Lanka, southern Philippines, the roots of conflict are similar.

In Africa, colonial-era division of land cuts across traditional tribal lands, making people of the same tribes citizens of different countries.

The most useful way to look at these conflicts is to view them from a human rights angle. If a wrong is perpetuated on one people, then it must also hold true for all others. Therefore, if we show support for Palestinians because their land has been taken away from them, then we must surely show support for all other people whose lands have been taken away from them.

At the same time, if we show support for all other people who are subjected to violence from far superior forces, then we must surely show support for the Gazans right now, facing daily pummeling from Israeli jets and drones.

And unless we truly believe that all people should face such violence by doing absolutely nothing, then we should look with some sympathy at those who throw rocks and dispatch rockets in retaliation against much superior firepower.

The point is that there cannot be double standards on human rights. The support for Palestine from Muslims comes at least partly from a belief that nobody else cares about them. As the many demonstrations around the world show, this is not true.

There are Israelis and non-Zionist Jews who have protested against the attacks on Gaza. But we should all, regardless of religion, protest at every act of aggression towards anyone because only then can we have any credibility.

Thus while we might protest about American drones killing civilians in Afghanistan, we should also protest at the attempted murder of a teenage Pakistani girl, Malala Yousafzai, for simply wanting to go to school.

What is more, we should be offering solutions for lasting peace, instead of complaining and shouting slogans that we know ultimately will do little beyond making us feel good.

How does it help the Gazans if we go and burn a few foreign flags and then go off to gossip about local politics at the nearest nasi lemak stall?