The Malaysian government agreed to allow the Israeli cricket team play in an international cricket tournament in Kuala Lumpur which is participated by 22 countries. A notable exception is Pakistan which has one of the world’s best cricket teams. Pakistan is boycotting the tournament on the ground of Israeli participation.
The decision to invite Israel was met with anger and disappointment by Muslims here from all walks of life. About 2,000 protestors marched to the Prime Minister’s Department on March 25 to hand over a memorandum to the prime minister, Dr Mahathir Mohamed. In another incident on March 30, a group of 2,500 protesters mostly comprising university students stormed a cricket pitch where Israel was scheduled to play. The organisers had changed the venue at the last minute. Students later burnt down advertisement billboards of the main sponsor, the Carlsberg beer company, and promised to ‘hunt down the Israeli team wherever they are’.
In dismissing the Muslim protests, the deputy premier Anwar Ibrahim (left) said on March 25 that sports are ‘apolitical’ and this mixing politics with sports was wrong. The very next day, the Malaysian cabinet chaired by Anwar himself decided on a ‘cooling off’ in relations with Singapore, (to show Malaysia’s anger at Singaporean senior statesman, Lee Kuan Yew’s description of the Malaysian state of Johore as “notorious for shootings, muggings and car-jackings.”) The information minister explained the nature of this cooling off by citing an example that “Malaysia would slow down in its sports activities with Singapore.” Why this double standard when it comes to Israel? This double standard can come only from some confused individuals. Is ‘Holy’ Johore holier than Jerusalem? Have the Malaysian leaders who claim to be the model for other Muslim leaders come to a stage where the dignity of the Muslims is nothing to them?
Dr Mahathir, probably after much mental constipation, managed to come out with what he thought was an Islamically-correct reason. “We intend to show Israel that people of different religions can live together in peace. We hope this will at least influence them [Israel] as we know some Israelis have demonstrated against Benjamin Netanyahu,” he said.
One wonders why the zionists’ policies remained oppressive despite their strong ties with the United States, a text-book example of a nation where hundreds of different religions, sects, races and ideologies coexist in relatively peaceful atmosphere. Does Mahathir think he can solve a centuries-old conflict with a swing of cricket bat by a Jew on a hot tropical afternoon?
Mahathir’s explanation contradicted with the statement given by Imran Jaafar, the Malaysian Cricket Association president - obviously due to lack of coordination. Imran explained that Israel’s inclusion was a condition for Malaysia to host the tournament. This Imran - not the cricket hero of Pakistan - is the son of the present Malaysian King who is supposed to be the protector of Islam and the Muslim dignity. His family has business and social links with the zionist regime. Mahathir’s “we-are-a-tolerant-Muslim-nation” excuse has thus added more insults to the people’s intelligence (IPI) on his long list of IPIs over the past few years.
The Muslims’ never-ending resistance and disagreement over Israeli occupation are not only historically rooted, but also a logical consequence. The Palestinian issue has been at the very heart of Islamic concerns throughout the world from the early 1920s when the Judaisation programme was put into motion. This early attachment to the Palestinian cause took the shape of a major conference in 1931 attended by Muslim intellectuals at that time such as Muhammad Iqbal and Rashid Rida, in Jerusalem. The conference declared that the ‘Palestinian question is of greatest importance to the world of Islam’. In fact, the only people who defended and really sacrificed for Palestine have been motivated by religious ideals, from Sultan Abdul Hamid, Shaykh al-Qassam, to the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas movements today. In contrast, the secular leadership like that of the terrorist group, PLO and other Arab potentates failed miserably - the first result being the Camp David accord in 1979 and finally the grand surrender in Oslo four years ago. The rest is history.
The story of Palestine is one of betrayal and tragedy. This tragedy is not purely an Arab issue - nor can it be a purely Islamic issue any longer. It is a tragedy for the world, to quote the famous English historian, A J Toynbee. Toynbee, in his foreword to The Palestine Diary (1970), wrote, “The reason why the State of Israel exists today and why today 1,500,000 Palestinian Arabs are refugees is that, for thirty years, Jewish immigration was imposed on the Palestinian Arabs by British military power until the immigrants were sufficiently numerous and sufficiently well-armed to be able to fend for themselves with tanks and planes of their own. The tragedy in Palestine is not just a local one; it is a tragedy for the world, because it is an injustice that is a menace to the world’s peace.”
Israel was exploiting this sports event fully to their political advantage. Anwar, seems to have missed the wicket when he denounced those against the government’s decision for politicising the issue. He should know that sports meet leads to diplomatic recognition - it was ping-pong diplomacy which normalised Sino-American relations. Even America boycotted Moscow Olympcs in protest against the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. One is tempted to ask Anwar for a definition on ‘politics’. Three years ago, he blundered on the English word profound when he used it to describe the author of a smut novel! (See Muslimedia, June 1993?).
The fact that the Israelis arrived and were given ‘tremendous reception’ was a real political boost for them. For the first time they are getting such a reception from an avowed Muslim country. Israel’s team manager has described Malaysia as ‘a good country’. Coming from an avowed enemy of Islam, this description should in fact be taken as an insult to Malaysia.
The Malay Muslims should be reminded of Caliph Umar Khattab’s warning to Arabs which is equally applicable to the Malays as a nation - ‘it is by Islam that made them great and if they give up Islam they will be humiliated’. The Arab’s humiliation is now a lesson to all Muslims, but some never learn history. Their vision does not go beyond 2020 and few trophies in their cupboard.
Muslimedia - April 1-15, 1997