The shooting down of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 was a senseless, inhumane, and barbaric act.
298 men, women and children of various nationalities lost their lives. About two-thirds of them were from the Netherlands.
As someone who was born and raised in that small country, I am devastated, and I am livid.
I am devastated by the tragic loss of innocent life. I am livid about the disrespectful way the dead have been treated, and about the way the crash site has been intentionally compromised by despicable thugs.
I am haunted by images of the smoldering wreckage fallen from the sky in sunflower-filled fields. In the horrible rubble of bent steel and burnt fuselage, a row of chairs came down undamaged, passengers still strapped in their seat belts. One photo shows the hand of a victim, palm upward, pointing at the heavens in a gesture of terror and despair.
Children’s toys, books, passports, beach sandals, and open luggage tell stories of families, lovers, AIDS experts, students, soccer fans, and flight crew. Their vibrant lives have been desecrated, and their broken bodies lie looted by locals looking for jewelry, cell phones, credit cards, and duty-free goods.
Masked men who in the past felt small and insignificant, were in charge of the crash site, empowered by big guns and cheap booze. The voice of reason and respect has been silenced by the barrel of a Kalashnikov, and a radical nationalist ideology. International observers and investigators were denied complete access. Spin doctors from all parties are still playing a sickening blame game.
In every corner of the earth, families in shock are trying to come to terms with what happened. The Dutch town of Hilversum where I spent most of my working life, lost three families. A total of 13 people perished. The mayor described visiting an elderly couple. They sat on the couch, holding hands as he came in. Not only did they lose their grandchildren, they also lost their son and daughter-in-law. Both 86-years old, the frail couple was inconsolable.
The northern town of Roden where I grew up, is also in mourning. The Van der Linde family, father Rob, mother Erna, daughter Merel (17), and son Mark (12) were looking forward to a fun vacation in Malaysia. Merel had taken her final exams, and Mark had just finished primary school.
Two other victims, Lisanne Engels and Hannah Meuleman, lived in the central town of Utrecht. That’s where I spent 19 years of my life. Lisanne studied medicine. She was on her way to do an ophthalmology internship in Malaysia. Hannah studied psychology, and was traveling to Bali with her boyfriend Pieter. She was on track to graduate after the summer.
In the next few days, most of the passengers of Flight MH17 will come back to the Netherlands for identification. Yesterday, the first forty coffins arrived, as the Netherlands observed a day of national mourning. Thousands of people lined the roads to pay their respects as the hearses passed. Thousands of others marched silently through the center of Amsterdam, wearing white. In other cities, people followed suit.
Even though I now live and work in the United States, I can’t stop thinking about the people on board of Flight MH17. I find it hard to focus on my job, and I follow every new development as it unfolds.
In the past few days, many of you have reached out to me, and I want to thank you for sharing your outrage, your frustration, and your support. It means more to me than words can express.
This crash –the deadliest airliner shootdown in history- is an example of what people can do to other people when they are driven by fear, extremism, and hate. It shows a total lack of respect for human life, decency, and dignity.
In one way, this crash is “just” a symptom of a much deeper problem. It brings us to one of the most fundamental questions we are facing today:
“How on earth can we resolve our conflicts in a peaceful way?”
If we don’t find the answer(s) to this question, more and more innocent people will be hurt by hate, and lose their lives, wherever they may live.
Of course there are no easy answers, but that doesn’t mean we should stop looking. And rather than leave it to the politicians and war lords, I think we should start close to home. Because if we can’t overcome our differences on a small scale, we don’t stand a chance when it comes to resolving the big geopolitical issues of our time.
Can I make one more suggestion?
In this quest to end conflicts peacefully, I think the women of the world should take the lead.
For centuries, men have had their chance, and they blew it big time. Macho politics has failed miserably. Instead of aggression, we need compassion. In my opinion, women are more capable of leaving their egos at the door; they are more caring and compassionate, and able to compromise.
Imagine for a moment what would happen if women were to take over in the Middle East. Would Israelis and Palestinians still be fighting each other? Would Sunnis and Shiites still kill one another? Can you imagine a UN summit led by people like Malala Yousafzai and Mary Robinson? Would the world finally take concrete steps to combat climate change, child labor, gender inequality, and starvation?
What would happen in Russia, if it weren’t led by a testosterone-driven, power-hungry, He-Man of a leader? Would it still be providing rockets to the rebels in Ukraine?
Of course it is too late for those who died on Flight MH17. But we owe it to them to try harder, to do better, and to take unusual steps to bring people together, and make peace. Let’s begin in our own backyard.
Otherwise, history will simply repeat itself, and we will soon mourn the loss of other people who do not deserve to die.
Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice
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photo credit: “Schiphol-Airport-Memorial-MH17-Victims-July-2014– Photo by Persian Dutch Network” by PersianDutchNetwork – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons.