Monday, January 19, 2009

Boycott what?

Sunday 18, 2008. The Star Online

By Dzof Azmi

A rethink is required on how to make our stand felt with regards to the attack on Gaza.

RECENTLY, I’ve been getting a lot of requests for a boycott as a result of the Israeli invasion of Palestine. They have come in the form SMSes and emails, so I can’t easily respond to them, but if they had been personal requests I may have asked in turn, “What is the point?”

Before you get me as a heartless cynic, let me tell you that I too was one who used to boycott products from a particular country – the United States of America. I was so outraged by the Iraq invasion that from early 2003, I decided to not buy any US products. Although it was a long time ago, I still can access the blog post I wrote back then:

“That’s right, this is what I’m saying: No more McDonald’s, no more Coke. Refuse to purchase anything whose profits delve back to the US. Better still, drop all pretence of respect of IP rights and pirate to your heart’s content. Take what you can and minimise benefits to the rest.

“The lesson must be taught that globalisation cuts both ways. The worldwide recognition of brand names can also turn against them as we associate American brands with American values.

“Remind people that part of that Big Mac they’re eating will wind up in US corporation coffers, and part of that goes in the form of taxes to the US war machine. It’s about time that we stand up and realise what globalism is all about and it’s about time that we educate the masses about this.”

This lasted for almost four years until the Democrats won back the House of Representatives in 2006. I was very clear in what I believed in, and why I was doing what I was doing. I would say sorry when people suggested Chilli’s as a dinner option, and when I went to Starbucks, I asked for a large cup of water, and then used their toilets.

However, although the US was still involved in Iraq in 2006, by that time it was clear that public sentiment was against the war. I slowly rescinded on the boycott because I believed that the tide had changed.

Besides, I really, really, really missed my A&W Root Beer Float.

Why then am I not as enthusiastic about the calls this time around?

Let’s look at what the messages are saying. They implore you to not purchase products from companies that donate to Israel. Note that they are not Israeli companies. They are mainly US-owned ones. The thinking is that since the US supports Israel, they are complicit, so we should show them our displeasure.

To me, this does not really reflect the actual situation. It is Tel Aviv where the decision to make the attack was made, by a government that is feeling the pressure of an upcoming election. Attacking the US is like hitting somebody cheering on an assailant in a mugging: deserved, satisfying, but not really the point of the problem.

Why don’t we boycott Israeli companies instead? Well, because we’ve done that already. We’ve done that way before they rolled across into the Strip a few weeks ago, and we did so in spite of talks at Camp David that looked on the verge of a breakthrough, and we certainly continued to do so when Israel actually pulled troops out of the Gaza Strip in 2005.

In other words, the boycott is nothing new. Because we can’t ignore something we’ve already ignored, we strike out at other things. And then what? When will you rescind your ban on American products? If Israel stops attacking, but the US doesn’t condemn it, will you let yourself taste again without guilt that fizzy corn-syrupy cola or that oil-infused cheezy crust pizza?

A boycott does not work when you have nothing to boycott. It does however work when the other side has something to lose.

So my suggestion is this: Let us focus on the correct ultimate aim. Whatever our religious and cultural differences, peace is always preferable over war. Not only must we metaphorically shake hands and hug our cultural antitheists, but we must also be involved in each other’s interests. A downfall for one hurts the other as well.

If it sounds like I’m saying let’s invest money in Israeli companies, and let them invest money in ours, then, why not? Inter-faith marriages may be rare in actual fact, but in spirit it is no bad thing.

On the other hand, we must be willing to condemn anybody who steps in the way of our goal. We should expect Jews worldwide to condemn Israeli use of phosphorus bombs, and pro-Palestinians must similarly be upset at cross-border rocket attacks by Hamas.

We must be willing to attack ourselves in a louder voice than when we attack each other. Peace cannot be a one-sided thing where we proudly criticise the Goliath while continue to turn a blind eye to catapults that continually pester him (please pardon the biblical irony).

I feel that a more effective route than a boycott is to seek like-minded people from the other side who also agree that we should seek peace above all else. Don’t go to a masjid to hear an anti-Israel ceramah; go to a synagogue to find Jews who condemn the war. Make friends with them, take the first step together towards a common goal.

The problems in the Middle East are beyond simplistic solutions, but the start will be difficult if we don’t even want the same things to begin with.

> Logic is the antithesis of emotion but mathematician-turned-scriptwriter Dzof Azmi’s theory is that people need both to make of life’s vagaries and contradictions.


I almost gave up on Malaysians, but thanks to this person who shares my view on this matter. At least I know someone in Malaysia who is NOT a bigot.

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