To talk or not to talk, that’s the question

Posted on:  2009-01-06 08:29:42

  While pro-Palestinians have been urging the South African government to cut all diplomatic ties and trade links with Israel in response to the war on Gaza, some social commentators say this would not help the situation since it closes the door to dialogue. It has become the centre of a continuing local debate on the issue with other commentators vehemently objecting to continuing ties between the two countries.

Speaking to VOC last week, founder of the Gift of the Givers (Waqful Waqifin) humanitarian organization, Dr Imtiaz Sooliman said while it was understandable why Muslims became emotional about the Palestinian crisis, it appeared to be a concern that did not extend to non-Muslims. When other communities are affected, he said, Muslims tended to take an ostrich approach by burying their heads in the sand.

 

Pro-Dialogue

“Unfortunately when it comes to political matters, a lot of Muslims – maybe not in this part of the country – are oblivious to what is going on in other parts of the world. They tend to put their heads in the sand like an ostrich. But we have to be politically aware. If we compare the youth of other societies, they are much more aware of what is going on in other countries and on the continent than our own. Our kids are losing out in that regard. So we must be aware and make informed choices,” he told VOC’s Drivetime on Thursday.

“Take the Palestinian issue for example. Muslims get very emotional and everyone will start taking out money, chanting slogans, going onto the streets, writing letters to the press and phone in to the radio stations. But give it two-three weeks and it will all die out. This is what has been happening unchanged for the last 50 odd years. Life carries on very normal after that. Yet, we don’t have the same kind of humanitarian concern for people in other parts of the world,” Sooliman said.

“I have stressed this many, many times before – non-Muslims are also human beings. When they got bashed in Rwanda or in Nicaragua, did any of us stand up for them? How many people stood up for the people in the DRC or Colombia or when bombs were falling in Kurdistan? It is as if there is only class of human beings for us. Yet, as Muslims there is an instruction upon us to care about all races, all religions, all human being and that consciousness is vital for us.”

More than that, Sooliman said, whatever Muslims strived to do, they needed to with in a manner that would build relationships. “Wherever we are in the world, we must build relationships. This is a form of da’wah – whether it is with the Democratic Alliance or the SA Jewish Board of Deputies. Now we find that people are getting excited and are insisting that the SA government shuts down the Israeli embassies. But if you do that, with who will you have dialogue. Lots of people will not like hearing that, but that’s just too bad,” he said.

He related raising the same issue in 2002 with Essop Pahad of the Department of Foreign Affairs when Gift of the Givers faced an uphill battle and 12 weeks of delay before their aid was allowed into the West Bank. “This is precisely the point he made to me, saying that had the Israeli embassy been closed down, whom would the SA government have had to negotiate to take our aid into the West Bank? In the same way, if you cut dialogue, there is no way you can get anything done.

“The Prophet SAW always kept the door open for dialogue, even with people who committed the most heinous acts. You don’t change hearts by stopping the process of dialogue. The more we interact with people, the better it is for us. We must understand that because Jews and Americans are bad people, not all Jews and Americans are bad. There may be certain elements among them who are bad. It does not make all of them bad and you only realize that when you meet people yourself for the first time. So through such dialogue, you never know whose heart you will be able to change.”

Anti-Dialogue

However, chairperson of the Media Review Network (MRN), Iqbal Jassat said he totally disagreed with this sentiment. “There is no moral authority in the world that we can have either as a country or as a people to justify dialogue under the present circumstances. It is not as simple as just dialogue. Right now we are seeing a huge groundswell of solidarity around the globe for the Palestinian people and their right to live a peaceful existence. This is something all governments, including our own, must respect. And any country that has the moral authority that South Africa has, given its ability to overcome the oppression of Apartheid, cannot ignore the disgust being expressed by the people on the ground over the Israeli action,” he said.

“Neither can they hide behind the façade of ‘dialogue’. We are hoping that they will consider the groundswell of public opinion and will reassess their stance on continuing to have ties with Israel. Many questions are presently being asked about how or why our government can defend their stance, given the fact that there is no equilibrium in their relationship with the Palestinians and the relationship they have with Israel.

“The former will also be at a disadvantage since they are being held hostage by the latter. Continuing to have a relationship with both in the belief that it is equal, will not advance the Palestinian cause for equity, fairness and justice.” He stressed that South Africa had historic ties with the Palestinian people that preceded democracy in 1994. “Given the fact that the Palestinians were there for us both before and after democracy, there is no way that our government can justifying ongoing relations with Israel.”

In his response, president of the Muslim Judicial Council (MJC), Maulana Igsaan Hendricks concurred. He felt that the governments of the world, including the SA government, have let the beleaguered Palestinians down. “Although there have been strong statements from the government, from Foreign Affairs and from the ANC, it cannot be enough. Much more needs to be done if we are to stop the atrocities in Gaza and the SA government owes the Palestinian people who stood by us in our time of need.” VOC   

MRN

Author: MRN Network

The aspiration of the Media Review Network is to dispel the myths and stereotypes about Islam and Muslims and to foster bridges of understanding among the diverse people of our country. The Media Review Network believes that Muslim perspectives on issues impacting on South Africans are a prerequisite to a better appreciation of Islam.