It’s a pity that the Malaysian government chose to resort to the usual rhetorics against Israel to stop its disabled athletes from entering the country to participate in the World Para Swimming Championship in Kuching, Sarawak from July 29 to Aug 4.
Discerning people are aware of Israel’s aggression and the effort to isolate it in order to stop it. But, discerning people are also aware that Israel is not the only nation in the world which is an aggressor. Myanmar, North Korea, the Islamic nations which engage in proxy wars in the Middle East, and even the United States of America are aggressor nations with a history of criminal behaviour but we don’t stop them from crossing our borders. We, too, are no better. Didn’t Malaysia allow Filipino Muslims and Indonesians to occupy Sabah land without the approval of Sabahans and freely issued them with Malaysian identity cards?
So, why are we claiming the moral high ground in order to politicise the World Para Swimming Championship in Kuching by targeting innocent Israeli athletes? As a nation with a worldwide reputation for her hospitality and as a moderate Muslim nation, couldn’t we have demonstrated a greater largeness of heart and made an exception for the Israeli athletes with a disability to attend the championship without compromising our stand against Israel’s aggression?
Instead, we fell back to the outdated posture of rhetorics and confrontation when we could have preempted tense relations by arriving at a solution through engagement.
Perhaps there was some mistake made in the choice of Malaysia as a venue for the championship. If so, the minimum decent thing to do is to let the organisers know that Malaysia can’t host this championship because we don’t have political ties with Israel and will be unable to welcome her athletes to our shores and leave it to them to choose an alternative venue. Problem solved amicably. No need for raving and ranting and confrontation.
Make no mistake, call out Israel for its wrong-doings as we would do with any other nation. The issue isn’t that we should become more pro-Israel or change our stand against Israel. The issue is to change the posture of our stand from one of belligerent and emotional rhetorics to problem-solving through intelligent engagement.
Let me give an example. When I was teaching refugees a couple of years ago, I had a number of Palestinian students in my class. In class discussions, most of the Muslim refugees will jump up to express their loud and usually uncontrollable rhetorical protests against the United States and Israel. I let them ventilate.
On one occasion, I had an opportunity to have a quiet conversation with one of the more intelligent Palestinians. I asked him what he thought was the solution. I was quite surprised by his answer. There were no rhetorics. Calmly, he told me, “Ms, we don’t like Israel. But, the solution for peace is co-existence.” I realised then that the rhetoric was for public consumption to show support for the cause but, in reality, what they want is peace and they are willing to compromise for it. That Palestinian student and many like him want peace but they won’t express it publicly for fear of seeming pro-Israel when they are not!
Leaders who continue using the politics of rhetorics and confrontation may be ultimately depriving the very people they want to help of what the latter really want. The grassroots may publicly go along on the same trajectory of these leaders but privately they may be open to new options which they may be freer to express only when personally engaged.
Rhetorics helped in rallying the masses to support causes in the past. People are now exposed to these issues and may now want resolution more than publicising the cause. Unless leaders begin engaging the grassroots, the former will be unable to develop a counter narrative based on current realities which may be more helpful in paving a way for problem-solving.
In modern times, the key to managing people is engagement. It exposes you to current realities, which in turn will help in building a new narrative that offers better possibilities for resolution.
If leaders change their posture to one of engagement, we wouldn’t have had such a backlash to The International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (Icerd). A counter narrative would have been created which would have facilitated rational discussion and less mob aggression.
It would also preempt the need to fall back to the old narrative in order to get support from conservative rural voters. If we engage them, we get the real facts and based on that come up with a new narrative that is fair, just and inclusive preventing discrimination against any one person or group,