Malaysia has no business entering the war in Yemen by Dennis Ignatius
Monday, December 18, 2017
Malaysiakini : COMMENT |
There’s a war – a murderous, savage, barbaric, hellish war – raging in
Yemen. Images of the suffering and carnage there crop up in our
newspapers and on television from time to time but it’s been going on
for so long that we are becoming inured to it.
It began as a domestic power struggle, and quickly spiralled into a
proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran, the latest sideshow in their
ongoing struggle for power and influence in the Middle East. And, as
usual, taking advantage of the instability and chaos, terrorist groups
like Al-Qaeda have moved in, further complicating the situation.
To snuff out Iranian influence, the Saudi-led coalition has launched a
relentless and merciless bombing campaign against Yemen, hitting not
just military targets but infrastructure, hospitals, schools and
residential areas. International observers believe war crimes are being
committed. A Saudi naval blockade, in the meantime, has made it
difficult for food, medical and other assistance to get through.
Carnage and catastrophe
Already, some 10,000 people have been killed, and more than 50,000
wounded. Seven million are on the brink of famine. One hundred and
thirty children die every day in Yemen from extreme hunger and disease.
Twenty million people (over 70 percent of the population) are in need of
humanitarian assistance. The UN has warned that we might be witnessing
“the largest famine the world has seen for many decades.”
If that is not bad enough, Yemen is also caught in the grip of one of
the world’s worst cholera outbreaks with more than 900,000 suspected
cases and over 2,190 deaths. Diphtheria and other diseases are stalking
the land as well.
I suspect that all these statistics, terrible as they are, hardly
capture the reality of life in Yemen today. Whichever way you look at
it, Yemen, already one of the poorest, least developed countries in the
world, is being slowly but surely annihilated before our very eyes. And yet, there is so little outrage.
While Saudi Arabia is the main architect of this savage war against
Yemen, many others are complicit as well. The UAE, Bahrain, Kuwait,
Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, Senegal and Sudan are either active participants
in the Saudi-led coalition or support the Saudis in other ways. The US, blinded by its implacable hatred of Iran and determined to
contain Iranian influence at all costs, has supported the Saudi campaign
in Yemen with weapons, logistical support and political cover. France,
UK, Australia and Germany (to name a few) support the Saudis with
weapons sales and training.
Western democracies talk much about liberty and justice but side with
despots waging a brutal war on an entire nation. Containing Iran
apparently justifies mass starvation and crimes against humanity.
Cowardice and hypocrisy
Islamic nations, for their part, are quick to work themselves into a
frenzy when Muslims in distant lands are persecuted, but keep silent
when Muslims kill Muslims in their own backyard. They are very brave
when it comes to confronting countries like Myanmar over the treatment
of its Muslim minorities, but cowardly when it comes to standing up to
one of their own. They rush to Istanbul to protest President Trump’s
recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, but quietly rely on
American support to bomb Yemen’s ancient cities.
If others did to Yemen what the Saudis are doing to it, there would
be fiery denunciations and angry demonstrations across the Muslim world
instead of silence and indifference. Only Pakistan, to its credit, has refused to go along with this
immoral war. Despite their dependence on Saudi aid, they found the
courage to say no. There are, of course, genuine concerns about Iran’s regional
ambitions and Arab states have reason to worry about their security, but
it can never be at the expense of innocent men, women and children,
never at the cost of condemning a whole nation to such death and
Is Malaysia complicit as well?
Malaysia, too, is apparently complicit in this unfolding humanitarian
catastrophe. Our defence ministry insists that some military officers
have been deployed to the region but only to assist in the evacuation of
Malaysian nationals from Yemen. Other reports, however, suggest that Malaysia is, in fact, part of
the Saudi coalition and is working alongside personnel from the UAE,
France, Britain and the US at Saudi joint headquarters in Riyadh to
coordinate the air campaign against Yemen. Whatever the level of involvement, Malaysia has no business being
there; it is an iniquitous and unjust war that goes against everything
we stand for in international affairs.
And even if we are not directly involved, our failure to speak out
against war crimes being committed in Yemen makes us complicit. We had
many opportunities to speak frankly with the Saudis but we are, it
seems, too afraid to offend them. It’s time for Malaysia to break with the Saudis, condemn the criminal
campaign against Yemen and demand an immediate halt to the bombing. We
should also lend our full support to the efforts of the UN
secretary-general to broker a negotiated settlement in Yemen. Most of
all, we need to help initiate a major international effort to deliver
urgent humanitarian assistance to the people of Yemen.
For a start, let’s take the lead to help save the children of Yemen.
Let’s put our heads and hearts together as a nation – government and
opposition, Muslim, Christian and others, private and public sector,
civil society and NGOs – to structure a national humanitarian assistance
mission to help these innocent victims of the war.
Perhaps, the Royal Malaysian Air Force could help medevac seriously
injured children and bring them to Malaysia for treatment, with all our
hospitals – private and public – chipping in to help. Perhaps groups
like Mercy Malaysia and other NGOs can be supported to set up hospitals
and provide food and other assistance wherever conditions in Yemen
permit. Perhaps we could organise a national fundraising campaign to
help aid groups already in Yemen at great cost to themselves.
To be sure, our ability to influence events in the Middle East is
limited, but there are many little things that we can do that could make
a big difference in Yemen if our hearts are in the right place. This is a defining moment, our opportunity to make a difference in
the world by reaching out to the suffering people of Yemen. Surely to
feed the hungry, to shelter the homeless, to help the hurting is to
touch the very heart of God. Can a nation which prides itself on its
fealty to God do any less?
DENNIS IGNATIUS, a former Malaysian ambassador, firmly believes that
we should put our trust not in the leadership of politicians but in the
sanctity of great institutions - our secular and democratic
constitution, a democratically-elected Parliament, an independent
judiciary, a free press and a government fully accountable to the
people. He blogs here.