MH17 - The Bigger Picture

It was a gut-wrenching sense of deja vu. Who could have believed it - Malaysian Airlines encountered its second airplane tragedy in only four months. Both incidents were not just your average airline crashes - they were extraordinary. First was MH 370, scheduled to fly from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing on March 8, 2014. It simply disappeared off the radar and into the history books. To this day, we don’t know what happened to it, though the best guess is that it ran out of fuel and crashed in the Indian Ocean, the opposite direction to Beijing. The presumed death toll was 227 passengers and 12 crew. MH 370 looks set to be the greatest airplane mystery of all-time.

Now its MH 17, from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur, which crashed in Eastern Ukraine on July 17, 2014, only 40 kilometers from the Russian border. Unlike MH 370, we know much more but that doesn’t make it any less tragic. There were 283 passengers and 15 Malaysian crew members. The dead included 20 family groups, 80 children, and some prominent individuals like Dutch Senator William Witteveen and the former president of the International Aids Society, Joep Lange, who was heading towards an AIDS conference in Melbourne.

Cause of the crash was most likely a Buk surface-to-air missile, provided by Russia to the Donbass Insurgents, better known as ‘pro-Russian separatists.’ These people, aided by Russia, are seeking independence from Ukraine. Ukrainian military planes have been shot down recently by the rebels and there is a possibly that MH 17 was hit by mistake. Reports came that one rebel leader boasted of downing another Ukrainian military plane at the time of MH 17 crash, only to deny later that they had anything to do with the downing of a civilian jet.

In April 2014, the International Civil Aviation Organization issued a warning about flying over Ukrainian airspace due to the fighting in the eastern part of the country. Ukraine still allowed commercial jets to fly over its airspace, provided it was at a certain altitude. While it appears MH17 complied, everyone underestimated the fire-power of the rebels’ armory.


Air travel is very safe, in general. Harm is more likely to come by driving in a car than flying in a plane. Current air safety procedures are commendable and chances for injury and death are very low. The challenge is, however, if a plane falls out of the sky at cruising altitude, rather than crash during takeoff or landing, the chances of survival are zero. What is more bizarre is that within the week unrelated air crashes happened to Algerian and Taiwanese airlines. Nevertheless, we need to see that air travel is a cost-effective, time efficient, and safe way to travel.


We hear a lot about globalisation. This term simply means the free movement of goods, services, money, ideas, and people, across the globe. Don’t confuse this word with ‘globalism,’ which basically speaks of a one-world government.

t is common to think that globalisation commenced in 1989, with the end of the Cold War. In truth, 1989 was when globalisation recommenced; it started in the middle of the 19th Century. The British Empire at the time was the engine behind globalisation (some call it Anglo-globalisation), where goods and services were to be freely transferred from the colonies British colonies, if not beyond. Only with the outbreak of World War I (1914-1918) did globalisation slow down and by the Cold War (1945-1989) did it grind to a halt.

Today, globalisation means, among other things, that no nation can be an island to itself. What happens to a Malaysian plane cannot affect Malaysia alone.


The bigger picture for MH 17 is that it is not just a Malaysian tragedy; it is a global tragedy. Just look at the statistics. Of those who died, 193 Dutch, 43 Malaysians, 27 Australians, 12 Indonesians, 10 Britons, and other countries lost citizens, too.

MH 17 came down because it, unwittingly, flew into in an international dispute. Ukraine is strategically located. It currently is in a tug-o-war between the European Union and the West, with whom it wants to draw closer, and its near neighbour and cousin Russia, who sees it as part of its ‘front yard’ and ‘sphere of influence.’

The downing of MH 17 did not just get a Malaysian reaction; it received a global reaction. Holland declared a national day of mourning for the first time since 1962. They also opened a war crimes tribunal. Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott was forthright and courageous, in good Australian form. He was the first world leader to point the finger at Russia and criticize the ‘shambolic’ clean up and body recovery efforts. Britain, the European Union, the United States, and the United Nations spoke up and demanded a full and impartial investigation. Russian President Vladimir Putin, who is taking the heat as patron of the Donbass insurgents, said that Ukraine needed to take responsibility because they did not renew the ceasefire with the insurgents. He went on to say that it was wrong to jump to conclusions before the facts were out. Putin promised Russian cooperation in the international investigation.

For Bible-believing, Great Commission Christians, we need to:

1.  Pray for the relatives and friends of those who died in MH 17;

2.  Pray for Malaysian Airlines and the Malaysian government, that they will handle the investigation and aftermath with wisdom, speed, and equity;

3.  See that we have a responsibility to give the Word of God, not just around the block, but also around the world. This is more imperative in a globalised world than ever before.


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