Non-Muslims are part of humanity too, Mahathir

I don’t think Mahathir understands how the non-Muslims view the conflict in Gaza. To help him make sense of it, as a non-Muslim myself, I am going to give him my point of view.

Nehru Sathiamoorthy

Dr Mahathir recently posted in Twitter ( or X) that non-Muslim in Malaysia should not view the Israeli-Palestinian conflict solely as a event the only concerns the Muslims, but see it as a humanitarian crisis, and save the Palestinians from genocide.

I don’t think Mahathir understands how the non-Muslims view the conflict in Gaza. To help him make sense of it, as a non-Muslim myself, I am going to give him my point of view.

Muslims like Mahathir tend to identify with the Palestinians, westerners tend to identify with Israel, but non-Muslims like me tend to identify with people like the Thai foreign workers who were caught in the crossfire during the October 7 incursion.

You see, the Thais are in many ways similar to the non-Muslims in Malaysia. Many of us even look like them.

It is because non-Malaysians in Malaysia are in so many ways similar to the Thais of Thailand, that we can most clearly put ourselves in their shoes.

I can understand precisely how the Thais ended up in Israel. These Thai foreign workers were probably just some fellas in Thailand who were trying to make some money to get their lives sorted out. Israel was probably not even their first choice – they most probably would have preferred going to Australia or Canada – but like most of us common people, it’s not what we want, but what we can get that determines how we move forward in life. When they found a job in Israel, they packed their bags and headed there thinking that if they work hard for a few years, they will make enough money to sort them out for life.

I can clearly imagine how they must have reacted to their situation on that fateful day on October 7 when Hamas attacked them. I can imagine it clearly, because if it was not for the fact that Malaysians are barred from entering Israel, some of us, maybe even me,  might have been right there with the Thais. “No no, this is a misunderstanding. We are not Israelis. We are from Thailand. We are just working here. We have nothing to do with the conflict. Please don’t shoot us,” they probably cried. I would have probably cried the same way too.

Did the Hamas fighters listen to them? Nope. Instead, they gunned down 39 of the Thai foreign workers on the spot.

Why? Why did Hamas do that? Maybe Mahathir can try to give us an answer.

If I try to postulate an answer, the best that I can do is that perhaps Hamas was just confused by the fog of war. War is a tense situation that unfolds rapidly. Maybe the Hamas fighters didn’t know that the Thais were Thais. Maybe they thought the Thais were Israelis. It is hard to see how they could have mistaken 39 Thais as Israelis. Thais don’t look, sound or behave like Israelis. But maybe that is what happened. Maybe the Hamas fighters, in the heightened stage of agitation and stress, had to make a quick decision, and the next thing we know, 39 Thais had to die.

War is a horrible thing. There is no justice or sense in it. Sometimes you die just because you are in the wrong place at the wrong time.

If that is what happened, in a way I can accept why the Thais had to die. When MH 17 was shot down, we had to accept why the passengers of MH 17 had to die for no good reason either. Mistakes happen in war, and mistakes that happen in war are costly, even upon those who do not deserve to pay the price of war.

But this still doesn’t explain why Hamas took 36 Thai nationals hostage and held them for more than a month.

If they didn’t know that the Thais were Thais on October 7, that is understandable, but how come they still don’t know that the Thais are Thais even after holding them for more than a month?

How come they still don’t know that some of the people they are holding are Thais, Argentinians, Germans, Americans, French,  Russians, Chinese, Sri Lankan, Tanzanians and Filipinos?

Mahathir says that this war does not involve religion or race, but Hamas is not holding Muslim hostages. It is holding hostages of people from countries like Thailand who have absolutely nothing to do with the war, but it is not holding Muslim hostages. How does Mahathir explain that ?

Did it never occur to Hamas that these people from other nations that it is holding hostage have nothing to do with the quarrel they are having with Israel? That it is not right that these people suffer when their only crime is that they are  caught in between Hamas’s conflict with Israel?

Hamas has released a bunch of Thai hostages during a hostage swap move with the Israelis, but we probably have to thank the Israelis for that more than Hamas.

Between Hamas and the Israelis, it is the Israelis that looked at the plight of the Thais and realised that the Thai didn’t deserve any of it.

Realizing that, the Israeli’s decided to swap some of their hostages, who were all Palestinians – Israel is not holding a single hostage who belongs to a nation that they are not in conflict with – for the Thai nationals, although Israel still had many of its own citizens  held as hostage by Hamas.

Imagine that. Israel used up its hostage swap options to get the Thais out instead of its own citizens, but Mahathir is asking us to see Israelis as the villain.

Hamas on the other hand, which killed the Thais and refused to let go of the Thais even when they realised that the Thais were Thais, not Israelis, is the side that Mahathir wants us to celebrate as heroes.

Will Mahathir be able to do it, if he were in our shoes? Would he be able to celebrate people who will shoot at him for no good reason as heroes, and vilify those who are going out of their way to save him, although they don’t have to?

Hamas has not even said a single sorry yet. At least if Hamas had come out and said to the people of other nations that it killed or harmed, that they are really sorry about what happened, it would help us see that Hamas didn’t wish to harm anyone else. If Hamas had at least apologized, it would have gone a long, long way in making what Mahathir says to be true, which is that this is indeed not something to do with identity, but a crisis of humanity.

It’s not too late for Mahathir to prove that what he said is right however. There are still many Thais and other foreign nationals that are held as hostages by Hamas. Mahathir, it is said, has a lot of clout with Hamas. Why not use his clout to persuade Hamas to release these hostages. Why not also ask Hamas to release a statement to express its regret about the collateral damages that its war with Israel has inflicted upon unrelated people like the Thais.

Every now and then, it would be nice to see Mahathir fight passionately for the cause of non-Muslims too, rather than always reserve his humanity for the Muslim causes.

Humanity is not just composed of Bosnians, Rohingyans, Kashimiris and Palestinians after all. Tibetans, Sri Lankan Tamils, Tutsis, Hutus, Yazidis, Armenians, Baha’is, are all facing genocidal issues as well. It would be nice for Mahathir to speak up for them too. That will go a long way to show that it is indeed true that  Mahathir cares about humanity, not just identity.

But forgetting all this whataboutism, which gets us nowhere, all I have to say to Mahathir today is just this. Can you please use your influence to get Hamas to release the foreign nationals that have nothing to do with its war with Israel? Tell Hamas that it is not right that it holds non-Muslims from around the world as hostages, just because it is in conflict with Israel. That its war is with Israel, not the entire non-Muslim population in the world.

Mahathir is a 100 year old man and he is viewed as an international statesman by many people, especially those from Muslim countries.

If Mahathir can see that humanity is more than his identity, maybe it will inspire all of us to look past our identities and be moved by  humanity too.