Time to sanitise our souls too

Postmen and food delivery couriers holding #StayHome signs in Kuala Lumpur. People like (from left) Muhmmad Anas (Pos Laju), Syed Muhd Ariff (Grab Food), Mohd Khairul (Pos Laju) and Nor Azmi Puad (Foodpanda) allow the rest of us to stay safe at home. They too are frontliners taking risks for which they are not paid much. — AZHAR MAHFOF/The Star

Let’s purge our souls of bigotry as we sanitise our hands several times daily during this pandemic.

After more than 16 days of staying home with my family under the movement control order (MCO), I thought I’d do a self-assessment to see what I have learnt.

I have learnt to be extremely patient and have come to realise what my family and the nation actually needs.

I also got to know more than I ever thought I'd want to about the iconic Doraemon and hazmat suits.

Apparently, Doraemon is a Japanese cultural icon. And in India, where Hindi, Telugu and Tamil versions of its TV show are broadcast, it is the highest-rated kids programme. Here, the show is dubbed in Bahasa Malaysia and I have been told it’s quite popular among children.

As for the hazmat suit, also known as a decontamination suit, I learnt that it is a piece of personal protective equipment that consists of an impermeable whole-body garment worn as protection against hazardous materials. Such suits are often combined with a self-contained breathing apparatus to ensure a supply of uncontaminated air. I guess this kept one minister alive during her attempt at street disinfection recently.

These will be among the many takeaways for Malaysians once the MCO period ends. Besides learning the art of managing a 24/7 lockdown with your loved ones, another important lesson that many of us are learning daily is how to verify fake news and not to forward anything blindly without checking. There is an overload, actually, and some of it can really make you sick.

Covid-19 has declared to the whole world that the biggest existential threat to humans is not a nuclear war as touted by many over the last couple of decades. A minute virus is enough to wipe the earth clean if the human race does not get its act together.

But the greatest takeaway when all this ends will be, in my opinion, the fact that Malaysians are coming together irrespective of creed, colour or political affiliation in the face of a serious external danger. Although most of us are holed up in our homes enjoying movie after movie and different home-cooked menus every day, our fellow Malaysians in the essential services are labouring to protect all of us.

Yes, the extra allowance announced by the government in the latest economic stimulus package may be of some help but the money does not commensurate with the very high risks these workers face. They are out there doing essential jobs to keep the rest of the country safe. A clip from India which showed garbage collectors being garlanded by residents during the country’s lockdown touched me greatly. Because without these people, our streets would be stinking and an an added health hazard.

As we know, we have a multiethnic and multireligious frontline comprising all Malaysians, not only from the peninsula but also Sabah and Sarawak. Here, it is essential to remind all that this group comprises mainly Malays, by virtue of this community having the highest number of civil servants in the essential services. However, no one is there to treat or provide security for his or her own community. They are out there in the current hot weather for all of us while we are resting and having fun at home with people who matter most in our lives.

I will confidently say that most of us have a relative or two on the frontlines right now doing national service to fight Covid-19. It could be a doctor, nurse, policeman, soldier, Customs officer or other enforcement officers but they are all Malaysians who have risen to the occasion, putting aside any differences and keeping us safe.

I would call this interlude in our lives a great opportunity for us to discover our sense of purpose in being Malaysian. We need to co-exist with unconditional acceptance of each other’s cultures and ways of life. This is fundamental for our existence as Malaysia.

I view this as a God-sent opportunity for each and every Malaysian to wipe the slate clean and determine to never engage in race-baiting and holding onto festering hatred and animosity again. I am saying this because even when the toll from Covid-19 is rising fast globally, we have Malaysians of all races and religions spreading the “virus of racism” in social media with total disregard for the fragile situation we are in.

The onset of a recession is indeed very real, and many Malaysians are likely to lose their jobs. For the B40 (lower income) category of wage-earners, their main worry for the next few months and even after we recover is where their next meal is going to come from. For small and medium enterprises, the threat of having to close down their businesses is looming.

Let’s face it, the shutting down of businesses and loss of jobs is not going to be based on race or religion. It is going to be across the board and we are all in it together as Malaysians. We don’t need bigots or irresponsible politicians reminding us on social media of the tenuous and fragile nature of racial and religious harmony in our beloved nation during this painful time.

While all past leaders have emphasised the need for tolerance among the races, I am beginning to think that this is too low a standard for a country like ours. We have to move beyond mere tolerance and start accepting each other’s ways of life and rights. Acceptance should be the new benchmark.

Tolerance does not allow you to understand one and another, to be honest. At best it is superficial and limited to the public arena. It is a sign of agreeing to put up with each other without clearing out the distrust that exists under the surface. The standard of tolerance will fail badly when tensions mount, as we have experienced a number of times.

The prevailing situation should make us all realise that acceptance of each other should be our new norm. I am a firm believer in everything happening for a reason. So this Covid-19 pandemic can be construed as a message that says we are all equally vulnerable. Whether you are white, brown, black or yellow, no human being is more special than another.

So let us all rise to the occasion during this depressing moment to teach our children and grandchildren that we are all Malaysian first, with ethnicity coming as a distant second. Let’s sanitise their souls as they go on to become the future of Malaysia, the nation that we all call home.

God Bless Malaysia!

K. Parkaran was a deputy editor at The Star and a producer at Aljazeera TV. The views expressed here are solely his own.

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Heart Talk , column , Covid-19 , MCO , essential services


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