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Datuk Seri Dr Adham Baba. -Bernama filepic

IT’S unfortunately a job hazard, and par for the course. Some handle it better than others, but for politicians, they must develop a thick skin.

Health Minister Datuk Seri Dr Adham Baba had a testing week when he became a target on social media following his faux pas during a talk at Universiti Putra Malaysia.

He mistook Spanish Fly, the infamous sexual stimulant, for the Spanish Flu, pointing out how the early 20th century flu pandemic had killed millions of people around the world in two years.

The only problem was that he mentioned the natural aphrodisiac three times before realising (or being told of) his mistake.

But it was already captured in a video that went viral. Soon, he found himself the subject of ridicule and insults, reflecting the overall mood of Malaysians.

He has chosen not to respond to the blunder. Of course, he could have sportingly made light of the issue and taken it all in stride.

The comments on social media shouldn’t be taken seriously. Of course, some have always crossed the line and encroached sedition and racism.

As is probably common knowledge by now, many Malaysians are poor in rational discourse, and this is reflected in the comments section, where we seem to prefer putting opponents down and resorting to name calling, instead of providing sound ideas.

Social media has a life of its own, but it also moves extremely fast. Anyone hosting podcast shows will tell you that the number of viewers keeps dropping the longer it drags.

Our favourite comedian Douglas Lim, who has kept the nation in stitches with his parody of politicians, keeps his videos between four to six minutes, and yet, they are impactful.

So, by this week, we can rest assured that no one will remember what happened to the health minister last week. Malaysians have short memories.

But I’m sure Dr Adham knows the difference between the Spanish Flu and Spanish Fly. The fact that he had spoken to an audience about the deadly virus means he’s informed on the subject.

It’s hard to tell if it was a Freudian slip or deduce what really was on his mind. Perhaps he had been watching too much European football, or something else. I kept saying “lock up” instead of “lock down” during my podcasts, which my friends pointed out to me. I guess my subconscious kept telling my brain that it feels like a lock-up.

But let’s back it up to where it all began. The Spanish Flu – which killed an estimated 20 to 50 million people – didn’t originate from Spain. As a contrast to its deadliness, roughly 17 million people died during the First World War. The pandemic hit the United States, Europe and even remote Pacific islands.

It was mistakenly called Spanish Flu because the Americans and Europeans thought it came from the Iberian Peninsula. What else is new since the Americans have always blamed others for viruses.

The mistake started because Spain, being neutral during WW1, had a free press, so the flu was reported widely, even in gory detail, unlike in the US and Europe where negative news was suppressed to avoid demoralising the allied troops.

The Spanish thought the virus came from France, so they called it French Flu. No one is certain where it came from, although allegations later pointed to a military base in Kansas in 1918, but they remain unproven.

Fast forward to 2021. The world is still debating the origins of the Covid-19 virus. It was detected in Wuhan, China, but that doesn’t mean it came from a military lab in the republic.

But for modern day politicians, they must have learned that social media is more lethal than Covid-19.

No one is spared, really. Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin has taken all the crude insults like a sport. He has even acknowledged on public television that he had been called “stupid”, and even when he was ridiculed for hospital admission for diarrhoea, it didn’t seem to upset him, not openly at least.

Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad appeared on a podcast hosted by comedian Harith Iskander last week.

I can safely say that at least 90% of the comments said nothing positive about him.

I don’t think Dr Mahathir gave two hoots, though. He probably slept well that night. He probably didn’t read the comments, or he has super thick skin because he was still talking about wanting to be the chairman of the National Recovery Plan council.

But this is politics. If politicians can’t take the heat, then they should quit the job and attend to their durian orchards, where it’s likely less prickly.

No one should lodge police reports for insults posted on social media, and in turn, the police shouldn’t entertain such reports.

The Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission has rightly said that it’s not investigating alleged insults on Dr Adham over the latter’s gaffe.

Likewise, surely the police have better things to do than to investigate doctors involved in Code Black and Black Monday campaigns, where these government contract medical officers are seeking transparency in the selection for permanent service intake.

Yes, of course they are frustrated, but many are frontliners in the war against Covid-19, so we shouldn’t be pressuring them with unnecessary investigations. Any police probe will only leave an undesired and opposite effect.

It is unnecessary to intimidate the young doctors who are just worried about their future. They have worked hard to be doctors. Leave them alone. In the first place, why did we allow more than 30 medical schools to be set up and overproduce doctors?

There’s also no reason to feel uneasy over Malaysians helping each other. If Malaysians need help, it doesn’t matter where it comes from.

Interestingly, there was even a video purportedly showing a Korean newscaster laughing at the Spanish Fly issue. Except that the newscaster was talking about something else but many of us still shared it, tying it to the recent blooper.

Can we have some common sense please? It’s a rare commodity in our country these days, but shouldn’t we be doing better?

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Wong Chun Wai

Wong Chun Wai

Wong Chun Wai began his career as a journalist in Penang, and has served The Star for over 35 years in various capacities and roles. He is now group editorial and corporate affairs adviser to the group, after having served as group managing director/chief executive officer. On The Beat made its debut on Feb 23 1997 and Chun Wai has penned the column weekly without a break, except for the occasional press holiday when the paper was not published. In May 2011, a compilation of selected articles of On The Beat was published as a book and launched in conjunction with his 50th birthday. Chun Wai also comments on current issues in The Star.


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