LETTER | The Malays love Palestine. This is apparent in the many Gazan masjids and schools built with the aid of donated ringgit, in the “Free Palestine” car stickers common on Malaysian roads, in the intimidating digital attack against Israel by Malay netizens whenever Zionist violence flares up every few years.
And yes: I said Malay, not Malaysian.
Because it is no secret that while the vast majority of Malays are invested in the Palestinian cause, the same cannot be said about non-Malays.
We need to talk about that.
On one hand, there is an obviously religious aspect to this divide. It is no secret that as a Muslim, Palestine is a matter of faith - not a merely humanitarian one.
After all, Palestine is the land specifically mentioned in the Quran as blessed; the land walked upon by the Messengers Musa, Isa, and Muhammad (peace be upon them all); the land in which is located Masjid Al-Aqsa - the first direction of prayer before the Kaaba was legislated as the qibla.
Add all this to the more general Islamic injunctions of fighting against injustice, love for one’s brother or sister in humanity, and the sanctity of human life and dignity, and it is clear why Palestine is inseparable from the Islamic creed - so much so that a Muslim who does not care about Palestine shows a serious gap of knowledge and/or faith in him/herself.
In light of this, it becomes obvious why Islam so heavily featured in the Palestinian discourse, not just in Malaysia but also in other Muslim-majority countries or communities across the world.
That being said, one cannot deny that there is a certain tinge of ethnocentricity in the Malay passion for the Palestinian cause. After all, the Palestinians are a people who have been overwhelmed by waves of immigrants who progressively displaced them from their homes.
This resonates with the Malays who are inclined towards a deep distrust towards pendatang.
Islam in itself does not explain why Malays support Palestine disproportionately more than non-Malays.
The reason for this phenomenon requires a bit of reflection on the nature of Malaysian society: The Malay-Islam identity has long been wielded as a tool of intimidation in Malaysia.
As a sort of defence mechanism, Malaysian non-Muslims have generally developed an apathetic attitude towards anything to do with Islam - at least on the outside.
Thus, when the issue of Palestine is enthusiastically fought for by Malays as an Islamic issue (as it rightfully should, for the reasons established above), this defensive apathy kicks in among non-Muslims.
In other words: Palestine is clearly a Malay-Muslim thing - why should I as a “non” care about it?
Compound this problem with the bias of mainstream media outlets for Israel, and it is no wonder that many non-Muslim Malaysians in fact quietly sympathise with Israel.
After all, the media portrayal of Israel as a liberal, progressive society besieged by barbarous, backwards Arab-Muslims surely resonates with those non-Muslims who entertain pretensions of being the progressive part of Malaysian society surrounded on all sides by backwards, conservative Muslims.
In the light of the complex situation laid out above, my call to fellow Malaysians is two-fold:
A) To Muslims, be pure in our intention to fight for Palestine as an act of Islam. Is our passion for Palestine truly being done as an act of worship to Allah, or merely to scratch an ethnocentric itch?
Hence, be sincere and consistent when fighting against injustice.
That means fighting for non-Malays, even non-Malaysians, in situations where they are subject to injustice in our own country.
If the Malay-Muslim voice is not heard when Malaysian Indians die in questionable circumstances in Malaysian police custody or when anti-Rohingya refugee sentiment is most strongly heard among Malay-Muslims, how can people take us seriously when we talk of “human rights”?
b) To non-Muslims, do not let the religious element of the Palestinian cause turn you away from their legitimate struggle.
The world has been waking up to the Palestinian ordeal for decades, the multitude of activists fighting for Palestine growing day to day across the globe, constituting a more and more diverse swath of humanity as time goes on.
The onus may perhaps be on your Muslim countrymen to look in the mirror and question why they have not made the Palestinian cause welcoming to you but at the end of the day, it is you who stand to lose out if you choose to remain apathetic - or worse, to actively oppose - the cause itself.
The train will leave with or without you, and I sincerely wish, as a fellow Malaysian, that you are not left behind on the wrong side of history on this issue.
The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.