Although a peaceful solution is preferred, we will do what we must to stay safe
AS a small nation in a large world, Malaysians are not unused to standing back and watching grand sagas playing out on the geopolitical stage. Once in a while, we step in to deliver a line or two, or to help out backstage, but always in a quiet, though not insignificant way. For, world leadership need not come from only the largest, most armed nations; it can come from a small sovereign nation with skills in brokering peace. With this feeling of blissful neighbourliness, Malaysia has thus led a life of assumed inviolability.
And so, it is this that makes the saga that has been playing out in our own front garden for the past one month so incomprehensible. The only time Malaysia has had to go into armed combat to defend our own lives and sovereignty against outside forces was in the period of our birth, when confronted by Indonesia. Two other periods of unrest that have been seared in our consciousness -- the 1969 May 13 riots, and the fight against communist insurgents -- were internal problems between Malaysians. But, otherwise, whatever quarrels we have had with our neighbours have largely been settled amicably, or at least, grudgingly peacefully.
The confrontation brought on by the followers of the so-called Sultanate of Sulu is complicated by the fact that, although they claim to represent a kingdom that once existed in time, it is one that is unrecognised in modern-day geopolitics. The Philippine government does not support their armed manoeuvre, and neither does the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, who, though of a different tribe to the warring Tausugs, in the view of the outside world would have been more likely to sympathise with their fellow-Muslim neighbours. Had the Tausugs been representing the Philippines, their act of aggression would have been deemed a declaration of war, and all the rules of engagement would have been applied by both sides. But, since they are a terrorist group, what they have done, in spite of their alleged claim on Sabah, is just plain terrorism. And there is no negotiating with terrorists.
Although a more peaceful, and long-term means of securing a resolution to the problem must be found, the intrusions into our sovereign territory and the killings of our citizens cannot be permitted to continue. For, we are dealing with an opponent for whom the meaning and value of life is much different from ours, with a deeply rooted sense of tribalism that most Malaysians would be hard pressed to comprehend. We do not want to continue with the killing; it does not make us happy to achieve peace by unpeaceful methods. So, we will not debase ourselves to their standards of "honour". We've got lives to get back to.