TWICE former premier Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad recently posted on the X platform (formerly Twitter) that non-Muslim in Malaysia should not view the Israeli-Palestinian conflict solely as a event that only concerns the Muslims but see it as a humanitarian crisis, hence saving the Palestinians from genocide.
I don’t think Dr Mahathir understands how non-Muslims view the conflict in Gaza. Muslims like Dr Mahathir tend to identify with the Palestinians while westerners tend to identify with Israel but non-Muslims like me tend to identify with Thai foreign workers who were caught in the crossfire during the Oct 7 incursion.
You see, the Thais are in many ways similar to the non-Muslims in Malaysia. Many of us even look like them.
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 take care of their families and get their lives sorted out.
They probably had some money and thought that they could either use that money to buy a car and drive for Uber (or Grab or any e-hailing provider for that matter) or they could try to get a work permit and find work in a foreign country.
Israel was probably not even their first choice but when they found a job in Israel, they simply packed their bags and headed there thinking if they work hard for a few years, they would make enough money to sort out their future.
I can clearly imagine how they must have reacted to the situation on that fateful day on Oct 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 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.
Costly mistakes in war
Did the Hamas soldier let them go? Nope. They gunned down 39 of the Thai foreign workers on the spot. Why? Why did Hamas do that? Maybe Dr Mahathir can try to give us an answer.
In my mind, I was thinking that perhaps Hamas were just confused by the fog of war. War is a tense situation that unfolds rapidly. Maybe the Hamas fighters weren’t aware 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 Flight MH17 was shot down, many of us had to understand why the passengers of MH17 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 during their operations during Oct 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, six Russians. Chinese, Sri Lankan, Tanzanians and Filipinos?
Should villains be celebrated?
Dr Mahathir says that this war does not involve religion or race but Hamas is not holding Muslim hostage. It is holding hostages of people from countries like Thailand who have absolutely nothing to do with the war.
Did it never occur to Hamas that these people had 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.
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 they still had many of their own citizens held as hostage by Hamas.
Imagine this. Israel used up its hostage swap options to get the Thais out instead of its own citizens but Dr Mahathir is asking us to see Israelis as the villain.
On the other hand, Hamas who killed the Thais and refused to let them go even when they realised that the Thais were not Israelis is the side that Dr Mahathir wants us to celebrate as heroes.
Will Dr 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 will trouble themselves to save him although they had no reason to save him?
Time for Tun M to fight non-Muslim cause
Hamas has not even said a single sorry. At least if Hamas had come out and apologised to the people of other nations that it had killed, this would help us see that Hamas didn’t wish to harm anyone else.
If Hamas has done that, maybe it will go a long way in making what Dr Mahathir says to be true. That this is indeed not something to do with identity but humanity. We are all humans after all and it is human to err.
It’s not too late for Dr Mahathir to prove that what he said is right. There are still many Thais and other foreign nationals that are held as hostages by Hamas.
It is said that Dr Mahathir has a lot of clout with Hamas. Why not persuade Hamas to release these hostages? Why not 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 Dr 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 only as Tibetians, Sri Lankan Tamils, Tutsis, Yazidis, Armenians and the Baha’is are all facing genocidal issues as well.
It would be nice for Dr Mahathir to speak up for them, too. That will go a long way to show that it is indeed true that Dr Mahathir cares about humanity not just identity.
But forgetting all this whataboutism which gets us nowhere, all I have to say to Dr 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 or that it is at war with Israel – not to the entire non-Muslim population in the world.
Be the change that you want the world to be, according to Gandhi. If Dr Mahathir can see that humanity is more than his identity, maybe this will inspire all of us to look past our identities and be moved by the humanity of the situation, too. – Dec 12, 2023
Nehru Sathiamoorthy is a roving tutor who loves politics, philosophy and psychology.
The views expressed are solely of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Focus Malaysia.
Main pic credit: Thai Foreign Ministry