A viral video sparked outrage recently, but the context should also be taken into account.
“WE, the community of Flora Damansara Petaling Jaya, are actually objecting to three things,” said a 30-something man, wearing a black kopiah (cap) and a black jubah (robe), in a viral 97-second video clip.
The raw video looks like it was shot at an Indian Muslim restaurant. At the first few views, the people whom the man was addressing were not obvious to me. Later, after listening to the man’s explanation a day after the video went viral and controversial, I realised that who he was speaking to is important.
“First, we are objecting to any drug abuse in this community,” he said, holding a piece of paper with the list of prohibitions.
“Number two, we object to any alcohol consumption or drinking in public in this Flora Damansara community. Why? Because Flora Damansara is actually populated by a majority Muslim and Malay population.”
He said drinking in public was very disrespectful to the majority of the residents.
“Number three, we also understand that there is also a highly suspicious prostitution activity happening in Flora Damansara. We also urge, especially, all of you not to wear any ‘bare’ (revealing) clothes that will create some ...” he said, and the video clip ended abruptly.
My first reaction was: how DARE he tells Malaysians, especially non-Muslims, not to drink in public!
First, I thought, Kuala Lumpur City Hall (DBKL) rejected the application for the Better Beer Festival, now we have this!
The Better Beer Festival, which would have been Malaysia’s largest craft beer festival, was canned because of political sensitivities and later due to the fear of a possible attack by militant groups.
The controversy started when PAS central committee member Dr Riduan Mohd Nor called it a pesta maksiat (vice party) and claimed that it would turn Kuala Lumpur into the “largest vice centre in Asia”.
Later, Inspector-General of Police Tan Sri Mohamad Fuzi Harun said that Bukit Aman had received intelligence indicating that a militant group was planning to sabotage the event.
The second thing that came to my mind when watching the video clip was that this was moral policing.
It made me worried about Malaysia and where it was heading. Afghanistan and the Taliban came to mind.
Last Friday, I was so tempted to write about the viral video. But I told myself, I don’t know what actually happened. I don’t know the context. I don’t want to crucify the man without any background information.
Instead, I wrote about zombies who love to swallow rumours as if they were fresh brains.
Fortunately, I did not write about the incident. The next day, the man, who is Mohamed Farith Mohamed Jamal, 37, said there were about 50 residents who participated in a community briefing targeting Africans living in Flora Damansara.
“We have been facing social problems with the African community, with them drinking in public areas, drug abuse and prostitution,” said Farith, in a video clip of his press interview where he wore a Liverpool jersey. (I was outraged that he was wearing the famous red jersey of my favourite football team.)
When they get drunk, some of them sleep at the staircase or urinate at public facilities and also disturb public order in the area, he said, as reported on a news website.
“As for prostitution, we are uncomfortable because it is done openly by Thai and African girls who attract the African men who are staying in this area.”
After watching Farith’s explanation, I realised that I had got the context wrong when I watched the viral video. I could relate to the social problems the Flora Damansara community was facing.
In 2012, I interviewed residents of a dilapidated condominium complex in Cheras who lived in terror when it became “Mini Africa” or “Kampung Lagos” (former capital of Nigeria).
They told tales of unruly behaviour, sexual harassment, drug abuse, prostitution and death.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not stereotyping Africans. I’ve written several articles about the true face of Africans who are PhD students, academics and Petronas engineers living in Malaysia.
If I had the social problems that the Flora Damansara community was facing in my neighbourhood, I would probably have used the same words Farith used – except Muslim and Malay majority – in talking to people involved in drug abuse, alcohol consumption and prostitution in the open.
And if my lecture, with me wearing a Liverpool jersey, about drug abuse, alcohol drinking and prostitution in the open was captured in a viral video, you would think that I was a Taliban. To be exact, a Christian Taliban.
Two days ago, I received via WhatsApp an opinion piece by an overseas-based Malaysian on the Flora Damansara video.
I replied to my WhatsApp friend: “The writer got the context wrong. The man was not talking to non-Muslim Malaysians but to Africans.”
My friend apologised and said he was just copying and pasting the opinion piece and he didn’t realise that there was more to the story than the viral video.
I felt like telling him – before jumping to conclusions – check the context first. But I didn’t, as I too am guilty of that.