By Mahmood Kooria
On the night of Eid al-Fitr, while having dinner at McDonalds in Kuala Lumpur, a friend murmured that we shouldn’t have eaten here. I asked him, why? He replied that it belongs to Jews. And since Jews are the root cause of all problems in Palestine, McDi is also part of the problem. I said: ‘Let me ask you then one thing: how do you react, if I say, as most of the mainstream media do, that all Muslims are terrorists and they are troublemakers everywhere.’ His answer was that he would feel offended as that was not true. I asked: ‘Then how do you make such a statement about the Jews, which is also not true?! All the Jews are not problematic. Only some Jews are problems as much as some Muslims are. But that cannot be judged on the basis of religion.’
It is true that in Gaza, many war-crimes and inhumane massacres are happening. Innocent children and women are being murdered on an everyday basis. Most powerful political authorities are either silent about these or are wrongly supporting Israel’s rights for ‘defending’ itself. But, here I am concerned with a couple of other issues:
Since my childhood, I have been hearing about the Palestine-Israel problem and constant reports about the peace-talks and negotiations. Whenever an attack on Palestine took place, the rhetoric and procedures were repeated again and again. Nothing changed much: children and women were killed, Israel got stronger, the major western capitalist powers supported them, and other powerful authorities kept silent. After childhood and teenage years, now at my youth, I find the scene and story to be the same. No one is listening to anybody. Everyone is talking, no matter what others say. Even the silences have been turned into deepest political stands. As a bystander/outsider, I am not interested in these repetitions. Something good should happen. Why doesn’t this issue have a happy ending even after six decades of tragic experiences with many lives being sacrificed?
While everyone is talking, I hear the voices of those who speak in support of Palestine and against Israel or vice versa. These are the voices I have been hearing from most of my friends on social networking sites and from South and Southeast Asian spaces that I inhabit these months. While I scrutinize such voices, I cannot help but notice the deep tone of hatred and anti-Semitism filled in such comments.
Quoting many Nazi extremist statements against the Jews such as (the one ascribed to Hitler), ‘I would have annihilated all the Jews of the world, but I kept some to show the world why I killed them,’ have been spreading around widely. Hitler and holocaust have been indirectly venerated by such so-called supporters of Palestine from the Middle East, South Asia, and Southeast Asia; in the latter region, this expression is more explicit.
On the other hand, those who have been genuinely raising the human-rights violations and possible war-crimes in Gaza were countered by the supporters of Israel with the news of ISIS-dramas from Iraq, such as ISIS asking (though such news are baseless) the women to undergo female genital mutilation, burning down cathedrals and raiding the bank. Sharing and reposting such news were mostly followed by a comment: ‘If you are doing these, of course, Gaza will happen.’
Wait a minute! This is what I don’t understand. The long Jewish sufferings throughout the world history until the end of World War II are beyond any doubt. But how could someone justify the oppressors and psychopathic murderers like Hitler in order to question the activities and decisions of a contemporary Israeli state? And, how would the innocent children and women in Gaza be responsible for the terrorist activities of some cowards in a distant land? Only because of their religious affiliation?
Many have written how dehumanized and divided the mentalities of both Jews and Arabs are in and around the region called Israel/Palestine. I would say that it is not only the people inside those geographical boundaries that are being dehumanized with the Israel-Palestine conflict. Rather, the people in the outside world, who are wrongly influenced by their educational systems or biased media, are getting more and more dehumanized, too. In their responses to such controversial issues, you can see that inhumanity deepening its roots faster. The hatred and disdain towards the ‘other’ are growing day by day. For those who support Israel, Palestinians, and the Arabs are just enemies; those who support Palestine, Israel and all Jews are nothing but devilish enemies.
These days, I am trying to understand the way world-history and politics are being taught at the Asian primary schools. The history of religion and politics seems to be rather limited into certain themes and periods and are far biased when it comes to writing about particularly controversial events: be it the way Israel is characterized in the Arab primary curricula and vice versa, or Pakistan in Indian syllabus and the opposite, etc. Not only the textbooks or curricula are biased, the way primary educational system functions also generate a biased sentiment of constructing an enemy or the ‘other’ in the young minds. Eventually, these kids grow up with far-reaching judgments and sentiments fuelled by the sensational reports of mainstream media. Their identity-consciousness is circumscribed by the utmost feeling of encountering the enemy.
The extremely offensive responses we see these days in the social networking spaces and comments-sections of online newspapers/magazines explicate the outcomes of a syllabus, based on biases that have been existent for decades. The youth, who frequent such virtual spaces, burst out with their sentimental responses against ‘the enemy’. Those with only a primary knowledge of the controversial issues and with little or no developed awareness about the ‘other’, apart from the scanty ones at school and, later, from mass-media, quickly react to the problems armed with their biases. At times, even the academics fail to get out of such immediate emotional responses on the political issues that fall outside their expertise. The young school kids in them mark his/her presence through a sophisticated complication of things with a far prejudiced argument. They all are doing nothing but fuelling this culture of hatred at large.
How can we live with this culture of enmity in a longer time? Why should we waste our energy invoking futile hatred towards others? For me, Prophet Muhammad offers a telling statement in this matter. The Prophet had once said: ‘Help your brother even if he is the oppressor or oppressed’. His companions asked: ‘O, the Messenger of God, I can help him if he is the oppressed. But, tell me, how would I help him if he is the oppressor? ‘ The Prophet replied: ‘You prevent and block him from the oppression, that’s how you would help him.’
In the current volatile situation, should we stand only with Palestine and not with Israel as well? If you are spreading a wrong message and creating an enemy for yourself, you are merely stimulating a division between the followers of two Abrahamic religions. As much as we oppose the killings of innocent civilians in Gaza, we should also stand against the conscious or unconscious spreading of hatred towards any other community.
Mahmood Kooria is a doctoral candidate at the Institute of History, Leiden University, the Netherlands. His research focuses on the historical developments of ulama-networks in the inter-regional maritime cultural interactions through the Indian Ocean world. Currently, he is conducting archival research in Indonesia and Malaysia. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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