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So Aunty, So What?

Published: Wednesday September 24, 2014 MYT 12:00:00 AM
Updated: Wednesday September 24, 2014 MYT 7:07:19 AM

A better route to martyrdom

Syrian refugees wait near the Turkish-Syrian border after fleeing Syria, near Sanliurfa, Turkey, 23 September 2014. Nearly 100,000 Syrian Kurds fleeing the Islamic State militant group have crossed into Turkey in the past three days, a UN official said. EPA

Syrian refugees wait near the Turkish-Syrian border after fleeing Syria, near Sanliurfa, Turkey, 23 September 2014. Nearly 100,000 Syrian Kurds fleeing the Islamic State militant group have crossed into Turkey in the past three days, a UN official said. EPA

If people don’t mind dying for a cause, then they should consider heading for West Africa instead of the Middle East.

I ADMIT it: I am a coward. Cowardly in the sense that while I may rail at an injustice, I will not risk life or limb for a cause. I cannot imagine giving up my relatively happy and comfortable existence for something that will take me very far from home and my loved ones and possibly even get me killed.

So when I hear of people doing just that, it makes me wonder what motivates them so mightily. Of course, we know religion is one such great motivator.

For centuries, people have responded to calls to defend their faith. The Christians had a head start on this: thousands of knights and young men throughout Europe joined the Crusades in the 11th, 12th and 13th centuries to save Jerusa-lem and Christendom from the Moslems.

There were those who were lured by the promise of gold and glory but others went because, egged on by their Pope and kings, they believed it was what their religion demanded of them.

Now in the 21st century, Muslims are responding to a call to arms. So we have men and women from all over the world, including Malaysia, going to Syria.

According to Wikipedia, which quotes from various sources like the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, 16,855 foreign opposition fighters have been killed by late August 2014.

Just how many Malaysians have died there is unclear.

News reports in June quoted a Wisma Putra statement that 15 of our citizens who joined the Islamic State (IS) militants were killed. But the latest reports say only three jihadists have died.

Whether 15 or three, Malaysians are among the many dead foreigners from many Middle Eastern nations like Tunisia, Libya, Algeria, Jordan, Kuwait, Morocco and Turkey as well as non-Muslim countries like France, the United Kingdom, Australia, the United States, Belgium, Greece, Norway, China and Italy.

IS has been condemned and outlawed by governments, including our own, as a brutal terrorist group that has tortured and killed many in its quest to establish a caliphate in the Middle East. Yet, it has drawn so many to its ranks.

One can only presume the people who have joined IS believe they are doing it for the good of their religion and they would be rewarded should they die fighting for this cause.

Well, if that is what they want – martyrdom – I have a suggestion for these people, inspired by the latest story about a female Malaysian jihadist doctor in Syria.

She reportedly posted on Twitter in January: “Stethoscope around my neck and kalash on my shoulder. Martyrdom is my highest dream.” (Kalash refers to the automatic rifle, AK-47, designed by Mikhail Kalashnikov.)

If this doctor and others like her really want to help in a worthy cause and don’t mind dying in the process, how about heading down to the West African nations that are fighting the Ebola epidemic?

Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF or Doctors Without Borders) is reportedly stretched to breaking point in its efforts to care for the patients infected by the deadly virus which kills 50% of its victims.

Ebola first surfaced in March in Guinea. Since then, according to the World Health Organisation, it has infected more than 5,350 people, mostly in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia, killing about 2,600 people, including several doctors and aid workers. The disease has also spread to Senegal and Nigeria.

This is the world’s worst outbreak of Ebola, and experts estimate more than 20,000 people could be ultimately infected.

If religion must come in as a motivating factor, then it should be noted that apart from Liberia which is predominantly Christian, at least 50% of the populations of Nigeria, Sierra Leone and Guinea and 92% of Senegal are Muslim.

Sunday Star ran a first-hand account by Pierre Trbovic, a Belgian anthropologist who arrived at the Liberian capital of Monrovia as an MSF volunteer. He tells a heart-breaking story of having to turn away desperate Liberians bringing sick family members to the treatment centre as they had no more room.

“Once I entered the high-risk zone, I understood why we couldn’t admit any more patients. There are processes and procedures in an Ebola treatment centre to keep everyone safe, and if people don’t have time to follow them, they can start making mistakes.

“It can take 15 minutes to dress fully in personal protective equipment, and once inside, you can stay for an hour before you are exhausted and covered in sweat.

“The patients are also really unwell and it is a lot of work to keep the tents clean of human excrement, blood and vomit, and to remove the dead bodies.”

Trbovic was reduced to tears and after a week, his colleagues asked him to stop because of the terrible emotional toll on him.

Yet, there was hope: patients who did recover and were discharged, thanks to the doctors, nurses and volunteers who risked their lives to care for them.

Surely giving up one’s safe, comfortable life to help others in such dire need is a far greater thing one can do and will be blessed by heaven, rather than killing in the name of one’s faith.

> Aunty salutes disaster and aid workers who “run (to) where the brave dare not go”. Feedback to junewong@thestar.com.my.

>The views expressed are entirely the writer’s own.

Tags / Keywords: Islamic State, Ebola, martrydom

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