In quiet mourning

Global tragedy: Flags flying at half mast in Rijswijk, the Netherlands, as the world grieves together following the crash of MH17 in Ukraine.

Writing this particular piece was not easy for our columnist.

Two Sundays ago, I had wished that I were back in Germany to soak up the giddy revelry of my second home’s astounding victory at the football World Cup.

Last Sunday, I had wished I were back home in Malaysia instead, just to quietly mourn with fellow Malaysians the senseless tragedy that befell MH17.

Living far away from places that you identify as “home”, is trying at times like this. Living in completely different time zones also means seeing the news by chance on social media and feeling like you’ve been punched in the gut. For that was how I first heard of MH17.

My first instinct was to tune in to CNN where I caught a gist of President Barack Obama’s initial 40-second reaction to this news which included, “… Right now, we are working to determine whether there were American citizens on board. That is our first priority, and...”

That drove home the stark reminder that I wasn’t home. I switched channels.

For I believe that regardless of their politicking, it would have been highly unlikely to hear a Malaysian politician say something along those lines. Indeed they were much more encompassing in their reactions to the news. I was to find out later that I wasn’t the only one who reacted negatively to this cursory reference to a global tragedy. It had apparently also garnered much press reaction.

Among others, was this oft-quoted tweet from a Boston Globe reporter, “Obama, in sum: A plane crashed. It may be tragic. We’re trying to see if US citizens were on board. Hey, great to be in Delaware!”

Although the President did end by saying that his prayers are with all affected parties, why did that specific bit of his statement affect me so? Because that plane carried 298 innocent people – prioritising them by nationality somehow gave off a vibe that some mattered more than others. After all when September 11 happened, I didn’t remember any world leader asking specifically if their countrymen counted among the victims. The world simply offered its sympathy. Collectively.

To me, what matters is that we all lost 83 children. What matters is that we all may have lost valuable input on fighting AIDS with the death of about 100 researchers en route to an AIDS conference. What matters is that we all lost fellow humans who probably had nothing to do with the troubles on the ground over which they had flown. And what matters most now, is to deal firmly with this indisputable act of terror. Collectively.

Perhaps my “oversensitivity” stemmed from the sadness that engulfed me upon seeing the initial pictures streaming out from the so-called “field of death”; the passports, the stuffed toys, and the most poignant being the ripped tail of MH 17 bearing that distinct logo – the wau bulan. A kite mercilessly cut down.

It was nevertheless heartening to have American and foreign neighbours and acquaintances here convey condolences despite the fact that I knew no one on that flight. They just recognised the “Malaysia” in Malaysia Airlines and immediately thought of me. This simple solidarity helped soften the blow somewhat, especially coming so close on the heels of MH370.

I suppose they empathise for we are all regular people, who fly economy to holiday destinations or hometowns, who unquestioningly submit ourselves to the sometimes seemingly absurd security procedures at airports post 9-11 or file numerous forms to prove that we are who we are, all in the hope of being permitted to head to our desired destinations. That was probably what everyone on MH17 did as well.

That is also why collective action must be taken to ensure that their untimely deaths were not in vain. Those Rambo wannabes who are armed to the teeth with what are incontrovertibly “weapons of destruction” must be disarmed and dispensed with. We, the ordinary folk and voters, can only ask. It is those who supposedly wield power who can deliver, and should.

That is also why I commend Australia for having determinedly pushed for the passing of a United Nations resolution ordering an independent international investigation into the downing of the plane besides getting all parties on the ground to commit to a ceasefire and allow safe access to the bodies.

More importantly, I laud our own country for its “quiet diplomacy” in securing the black boxes from the rebels. The Prime Minister’s explanatory statement resonated with me: “In recent days, there were times I wanted to give greater voice to the anger and grief that the Malaysian people feel. And that I feel. But sometimes, we must work quietly in the service of a better outcome.”

Whatever our private political views, Malaysia must be given credit for its dignified stance in comparison to other countries’ quick draw responses to such acts of aggression in the past.

As with most others, I too hope that the investigations will soon reveal the Who, What, Where or How. I doubt, however, if anything can quite satisfactorily answer the most painful question, “Why?”

> Brenda Benedict is a Malaysian living in Washington DC. She extends her heartfelt condolences to all who lost their loved ones in this tragedy.

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In quiet mourning


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