Palestinian Muslim worshippers chanting slogans in front of the Dome of the Rock at the Al-Aqsa mosque compound in Jerusalem’s Old City last week. United States President Donald Trump’s decision to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital is a provocative poke in the eye of the always fragile and fraught Middle East peace process. AFP PIC

WITH malls all across the country decked in festive trimmings and seasonal music wafting over the airwaves, it definitely is beginning to look a lot like Christmas, which is, of course, in a few days’ time.

The birthday of Jesus is one of the most joyous occasions in the year for Christians everywhere. In multiracial and multireligious Malaysia, the traditional Christmas message of peace on earth and goodwill to all is always particularly appropriate and fitting.

Malaysians can never get enough reminders to not take for granted the peace and harmony in our midst.

Unfortunately, this year, we, like many in all corners of the globe, have been jolted by recent developments in the Holy Land, sacred almost in equal parts to the three great monotheistic religions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

Like a thunderbolt out of the blue, United States President Donald Trump decided to shift his country’s embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv (where all other foreign embassies are located) to the divided city of Jerusalem, thus unmistakably signalling that the US recognises Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

Not even a single Western ally of Washington followed its lead in agreeing to shift embassies away from Tel Aviv. In fact, all joined in the worldwide dismay and even condemnation of the move, which, if not exactly in intent was most certainly in effect, a bold and provocative poke in the eye of the always fragile and fraught Middle East peace process.

Violence in protest against the move erupted almost instantaneously in the volatile region and much of the rest of the world reacted with outrage, seeing the US move as another (maybe even final) death knell for the two-state solution to the intractable Israel-Palestine conflict.

The capacity of events in the Holy Land to arouse deep passions is evident even in Malaysia where near spontaneous consumer boycotts of known American brands sparked understandable business concern. Governments across the Muslim world were suddenly confronted with having to keep pace with such heightened popular sentiments.

In some respects, the political circumstances in the Holy Land mirror those prevailing here in Malaysia. Ordinary Jews and Arabs (Muslims as well as Christians) by and large live in close quarters peaceably and like people everywhere else would want nothing more than to be able to live in peace and get on with the daily business of human existence unhindered.

Again, like almost everywhere else, politics and religion — especially of the more extremist sorts — add a rather toxic mix to the general human condition, complicating the search for a workable peaceful coexistence among peoples of differing political and religious persuasions.

The inability to find a home-grown acceptable solution almost always inevitably leads to outside intervention, which, in the Israel-Palestine case, adds only a further layer of complicating factors that makes finding a solution that much more remote.

As much in the Middle East as here, Malaysians need to recognise and value the fact that they, by and large, must act with a clear understanding of what is of the utmost national interest: maintaining the existing peace and harmony and not inviting foreign intervention otherwise.

We must preserve at all costs the fact we serve as a beacon of how a Muslim-led nation can and should conduct itself in running a polyglot of a nation and doing so in reasonably exemplary fashion.

We need to collectively strive to build upon all the good we have achieved, of course, without seeking to completely tear down what has served us well thus far, in perhaps mistaken and misplaced hopes that a better alternative can easily be put in its place.

As we join the rest of the world in some despair this Yuletide season over the seemingly forlorn prospects for peace in the Holy Land, let us be forever mindful that peace in our own land has not been that easily achieved over the preceding years and decades and that it will perhaps always remain a work in progress.

Instead of lashing out in somewhat understandable anger over the latest unprovoked outrage delivered by Trump over Jerusalem, we must contain our feelings and seek instead to find ways our own special circumstances may be converted into making Malaysia a worthy and constructive actor for peace beyond our own shores.

There will be no better way than to show that we live on a daily basis the Christmas message of peace and goodwill to all in our own little corner of earth.

The writer views developments in the nation, the region and the wider world from his vantage point in Kuching, Sarawak

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