As the Rohingya boat people crisis demonstrates, in a globalised world, problems and conflicts cut across borders, especially if they involve the violation of rights of fellow human beings, observes Mustafa K Anuar.
Most people, especially old, frail men and women with small children, would normally not leave their comfort zones or flee their country of birth, much less metaphorically throw themselves into the choppy seas of an uncertain future in which predators lurk – unless they are desperate enough and compelled to do so.
Such is the fate of the long-persecuted and stateless Rohingyas of the Rakhine state of Myanmar.
Indeed, the gruesome pictures of the distressed, starving and dying Rohingyas and Bangladeshis in overcrowded and dilapidated vessels on the high seas, abandoned by human traffickers, starkly contrast with the vulgar reluctance of the Asean members of Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand and of course Myanmar to act swiftly to help and thus prevent the escalation of a catastrophe that is unfolding before our very eyes. (Malaysia and Indonesia have since relented.)
Obviously, every second counts especially when there are individuals on boats, for instance, reportedly even forced to drink their own urine to survive. Stranded at sea for weeks and months, many of them have neither food nor drinking water.
We are aware of the financial, political and security implications to the Malaysian government and the country of providing temporary shelter to these helpless people. Nonetheless, the precarious situation of these refugees must take priority. They must be saved without a minute’s delay. Precious human lives and dignity are at stake here.
Surely, turning these overloaded boats away from Malaysia’s shores by the supposedly god-fearing Malaysian authorities is not the solution. It was ghastly for a deputy minister here to have the gall to suggest that these wretched people of the earth on unseaworthy vessels ought to be pushed as far away as the Philippines and Cambodia. It only reflected his unkindness, if not also his sheer thickness.
It was a nasty blow to these fleeing people – if and when their dreams of getting out of a desperate situation were only matched by the emptiness of hearts of these powers that be. Doesn’t the suffering of these people strike a chord with you?
But all is not lost. It is heartening, though, to learn that already some Malaysians, frustrated by the initial political inertia and callousness of their government, have taken it upon themselves to mobilise resources in their efforts to help rescue and save these unfortunate asylum seekers.
Online petitions, for instance, have been created to pressure the Malaysian government to commit itself to providing meaningful assistance. Several social activists and certain NGOs have come together to collect donations and deliver medical aid to these victims of political persecutions and economic despair.
Indeed, ordinary Malaysians must show to the world that they are made of stuff very much different from that of their insensitive government leaders and authorities. It is imperative to remind ourselves that in our collective hurry to attain socio-economic progress and material comfort, we as a people don’t lack a sense of compassion, care, concern and justice.
We must also let it be known that our compassion and care transcend beyond physical borders, colours of skin, shades of beliefs and class differences, be they Palestinians, Nepalese, Burundians or Bosnians, to name but a few. Humanitarian crises such as this should serve as a vital reminder that we are really part of humanity.
It is also crucial that we as a people live the values that are enshrined in our respective faiths, namely compassion and justice, among others – for lending a helping hand to the needy and desperate is surely an act of piety too.
This brings us to the deafening silence of the Islamic authorities in the country at the time of writing. One wonders why the authorities had yet to make a stand on this rapidly developing humanitarian crisis, especially when it involves fellow Muslims. Does it not count as being part of the Ummah?
One would hope that these religious institutions or leaders would be as livid as they were when it came to, say, the case of sex and the camel in marriage and punishment against supposedly disobedient wives. Or could it be that some of them are too busy in their relentless legal suit against a Muslim manager of a bookstore who permitted the sale of a book that was later declared sacrilegious?
As for the Malaysian government and their Asean partners, they need to come to the negotiating table to discuss a resolution to this heinous crime against humanity. Asean should not be contented with being merely an economic grouping; they should also seriously and consistently strive to be a respectable community that promotes human rights and dignity, compassion and justice of their own people in whose name they function.
As shown by the Rohingya tragedy, what happens in one country may affect another. Thus, this fact makes political philosophy that has guided the Asean cohorts – of not interfering in the internal affairs of member states- irrelevant. Besides, in a globalised world, problems and conflicts cut across borders, especially if they involve the violation of rights of fellow human beings.
One shudders to contemplate the possibility of the nightmare of the late 1970s – when the boat people of Vietnam were reportedly threatened with shooting by our authorities – revisiting us.