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On The Beat

Sunday, 14 May 2017

Think hard before we act

Moderation is key to good sense and judgment. It is always easy to make angry and emotional responses but it doesn’t make Malaysians, especially the misguided ones, any better. 

ON the day when videos of an altercation outside a mosque in Austin Perdana, Johor Baru, went viral, The Star Online quickly reported the unfortunate incident, in a factual manner.

My colleague, a senior editor and a Malay, called me up and asked if it was wise to publish the news online, expressing concern that it might lead to racial disturbances.

I assured him nothing of that sort would occur as I believe most Malaysians are peaceful people and they would not be easily provoked. One thing’s for sure – they will not take to the streets and cause mayhem.

In any case, this is the age of social media and the days of ignoring an incident like this will not work as the video had gone viral.

In this incident, a ruckus broke out after a man in a white car was said to have honked repeatedly outside a mosque during prayer time because his car was blocked by vehicles parked on both sides of the road.

After prayers, a group of men emerged from the mosque to confront the driver. In videos captured by bystanders, some men are seen kicking and hitting the car.

The panicked driver reverses the car in an attempt to escape the crowd, almost hitting a man standing near the car. The men shouted at the driver and then started to bash the rear windshield with a helmet and orange road cone, breaking it.

My Malay colleague – a friend I have known for more than three decades – is an old school journalist and who, like most of us in the less sunny side of our 50s, lived through the May 13 racial riots, although we were in primary school then.

To be honest, this tragedy has not haunted us but it’s a baggage to us journalists, nonetheless. Two-thirds of Malaysians didn’t live through it, which is a good thing really.

The occasional May 13 threat by racist groups no longer work. No one pays any attention to them although their remarks are irritating and downright offensive.

Most of us are more upset that their statements, often bordering on sedition, escaped the consequences of the law. Even more upsetting is perhaps that national leaders are not rebuking them and this gives the impression they are endorsed.

But like my colleague, I, too, take a very cautious stand when it comes to matters of race and religion because they need to be handled with care and sensitivity.

Social media like Facebook and YouTube, and the emergence of news portals, has made it difficult for better approaches in dealing with such issues.

Some younger Malaysians blindly, if not stupidly, post comments on their Facebook page without much thought to the feelings of others.

They, sometimes, assume that their views are just read in private, forgetting that they have in fact opened their accounts to the public in their eagerness to gain followers.

So, after the recent altercation, we read of accusations and offensive remarks being hurled against Muslims, in a sweeping manner.

As much as the driver’s girlfriend was angry and emotional as he was assaulted, she ought to have restrained from making it worse. As the saying goes, two wrongs don’t make a right.

Likewise, there were some defensive Muslims who reacted in an equally outrageous manner, accusing those who sent out the video as wishing “to tarnish the image of Muslims” and of course, they too, called the Chinese names, also in a sweeping manner.

To be fair, many other Muslims expressed bewilderment at how their fellow Muslims could go berserk and attacked others, when they should be calm and reflective after having just spent time with God. Surely, pious Muslims would not resort to violence outside a place of worship.

And non-Muslims would know by now that on a Friday, it is wiser to avoid the mosque areas because of the traffic congestion. In the case of the non-Muslim driver, he may have forgotten. But this was a very unfortunate incident.

He had simply acted unwisely as continued honking is highly provocative in any place and often leads to anger from others.

He could have waited, or asked for help via the mosque.

Muslim worshippers have themselves told me how they had faced difficulties in leaving the mosque area after prayers because of vehicles double parking next to theirs.

And some inconsiderate double parkers even go for meals after prayers, leaving the others fuming.

This happens not just in areas where places of worship are located. Most of us have even seen how some car owners end up stranded when the pasar malam opens.

Some Christian devotees face the same parking problem. Places of worship, especially the old ones, were built without providing parking lots.

If parking summonses were to be issued outside these places of worship, it would help if the police and council enforcement officers carry them out fairly.

The minority must not be given the perception that the majority can get away when they flout the laws. The rules apply to all and no one, regardless of their race and religion, is spared.

That will surely instil a sense of fairness and justice. These are common values upheld by all faiths and as Malaysians, we believe in fair play.

We must give credit to the police for their professionalism. Immediately after the incident, police arrested four men, aged between 21 and 55.

The police said the case is being investigated for rioting under Section 147 of the Penal Code. It has been reported that the police are arresting more people.

The Deputy Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department, Datuk Dr Asyraf Wajdi Dusuki, correctly called for calm, noting that “the people must remain committed to their principles and they should not be easily threatened and swayed by incidents that do not reflect the majority”.

Deputy Home Minister Datuk Nur Jazlan Mohamed also called for calm, saying that a little tolerance would have gone a long way.

The driver should not have honked although his way was blocked by vehicles, he said, while the congregation should not have acted violently.

“The men who attacked the driver could have talked to the driver instead of attacking him,” he added.

I have followed some of the comments posted on a popular news portal and I wonder how these remarks can help in any way, especially in dealing with race relations.

It is always easy to make angry and emotional responses, in its ugly negative form, but it doesn’t make Malaysians, especially the misguided racist ones, any better.

At the same time, our politicians must be mindful that their statements and remarks have a major impact on Malaysians.

The play of racial cards, especially those trumpeting communal rights and making scapegoats of the minority races, will harm the social and political fabric of this country.

It is bad enough that Malaysians have to deal with race concerns but now, we have to deal with those wanting to tear up the Federal Constitution and Rukunegara with demands, in the name of religion, which divides the country further.

Any form of challenge to these religious politicians is turned around and deemed as an affront to Islam, to shut up critics.

I am an optimist. As much as we often get demoralised, and even angry, by certain remarks and actions, I believe most Malaysians are upright, restraint, considerate and moderate.

We shouldn’t let politicians set the agenda. More advocates of moderation must speak up.

Most of us believe in Malaysia and Malaysians.

Tags / Keywords: on the beat , Wong Chun Wai

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