March, 2004

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Is this war?

childbomber.jpgI saw a horrific image on the television today – a scared boy surrounded by soldiers, many of them equally nervous, pointing guns at him. This boy was wearing a coat, and underneath it, wrapped around him was 8 kilograms of explosives.In any other day, one may think this is a scene from a Hollywood movie about NYPD, or LA’s Finest as they attempt to defuse a bomb that terrorists had wrapped around an innocent victim. But this was no make belief scene – the boy was the terrorist, and he was to have suicide bombed a check point, killing Israeli soldiers – and also hundreds of Palestinian civilians – around him. But the boy didn’t want to die. The bomb squad arrived, and with their assistance, he managed to cut himself free after some difficulty. As the boy was about to be led away by soldiers, he was interviewed by news crews, and the look of sheer terror on his face was gut wrenching.

Is this what Palestinian suicide bombing is about? Sending scared young boys to kill their enemy, never mind their own who are around trying to get by their day’s business? That the bomb would have killed perhaps a few Israeli soldiers and a few hundred Palestinian civilians? Where’s the parity in effect and loss in this?

But will such an incident change people’s – particularly Muslim – perception of the Israeli – Palestinian conflict? I know a person fairly well over here in Perth, and he’s of Middle-Eastern origin – and he has said, on several occasions to me, that he hopes “Osama will kill all the f***ing Jews”.

When Hama’s spiritual leader, Sheik Ahmed Yassin, was killed by Israeli forces last week, I read a news commentary about it in a Israeli newspaper, and the writer wrote this – when a bus bomb goes off in Jerusalem and kills dozens of civilians, the Palestinians get out of their homes, dance with joy in the streets, singing praises to Allah. But, as he wrote, when a known terrorist leader who’s initiated and organised these killing of hundreds of soldiers and civilians is killed, the Israelites have not gone out of their homes to dance with joy in the street. Rather, the mood is solemn, tired but tinged with relief that as unfortunate the act was, the act was a progressive step for them to ending the wave of suicide bombers.

There is war, and war is immoral – but there are limits in war, and militant groups sending scared boys to suicide destroy whatever residual sympathy a reasonable person have for their agenda of liberation.

The Noise of Life

As absurd as this may sound to other Singaporeans, one of the things I miss about home is the “noise” of life, as I like to call it. Now, just two decades ago, barely 3 million people inhabited the island – but it’s well past 4 million now, and even despite declining birth rates amongst the local population, the population is still increasing, due in good part to the large number of expatriate professionals and workers coming to Singapore. One of the recurring complaints among Singaporeans lie in the lack of peace, quiet and space, and I have more than a few students back at home say how much they would prefer to live in a country where they can get up each morning and see nothing but acres of open land and cattle.

Ironically for myself, one of the things I quickly realised a year ago after moving to Perth is the relative absence of morning noises. I remember waking up each day at home in Singapore to the myriad of a thousand and one sounds of morning – even though I stayed in a relatively large house some distance from the main road, I could hear birds chirping, maids and neighbours chattering while starting the morning housework, door gates opening, buses stopping around the neighbourhood to pick up the young tots to school, even the distant but audible rumble of cars and buses on the main road. In Perth, when I wake up, I hear… almost nothing. There aren’t the usual familiar “noises”. It was certainly unnerving the first couple of times, as it felt as though I had woken up in a ghost town. I like feeling alive, and as noisy as the chorus of sounds can be occasionally, hearing the “noise” of life perfectly heralds the start of a new day for me, and it’s something I miss from home.