Think carefully before giving into the rhetoric of hate


  • In Your Face
  • Wednesday, 09 Mar 2016

This narrow-angle color image of the Earth, dubbed "Pale Blue Dot," is a part of the first ever "portrait" of the solar system taken by Voyager 1. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

THERE is a saying that's quoted so often that it's become a cliché. "May you live in interesting times."

Well, these are certainly interesting times indeed. Over the last four or five years here in Malaysia, we've seen our fair share of  "interesting times"

Just last week we saw old political rivals bury the hatchet to unite against a common foe. We've seen people take to the streets, some in yellow and others in red.

Indeed, over the last year and a half we've heard racially charged remarks that have sought to unite some of us and divide others in fear. We've seen, heard and felt calls for unity.

As Malaysians, we have heard the rhetoric from those who want to retain a hold on the reins of power and the arguments of those demanding for accountability, for justice.

Let's face it. From where I sit, I fear that we're slowly fracturing here in Malaysia.  Many of us seem to be still divided on racial, political or religious lines.

Sure, while we might not be living in a state of religious or racial war right now, I can't help but worry about where we're ultimately headed after seeing all the racial outbursts that have been splashed on headlines and social media as of late, especially over the last one and a half years.

Yes, while events like the Bersih 4 rally of 2015 have reassured me that Malaysians of all races, religions, skin colours and creeds can still come together and unite peacefully for a common cause, the Red Shirt rally and the Low Yat incident remind me that our unity is becoming more fragile - and indeed more precious.

Yes, many of us can still come together as Malaysians regardless of the colour of our skin or the religion we ascribe to (or not) despite forces working to divide us - but we can't ignore that there are forces working to divide us and turn us against each other, and that some of us are beginning to tune into them.

Add to that a solar eclipse sweeping across Malaysia today, and I'm reminded of one truly powerful photo of all of us - not just of all of us Malaysians alive on February 14, 1990 - but of all human beings on Earth on Valentine's Day 26 years ago.

Some of you might have heard of it. I'm referring to the Pale Blue Dot. A photo of all of us on Earth taken from six billion kilometers from Dataran Merdeka or Padang Merbok. A photo taken by Voyager 1, a race-less, religion-less robot explorer speeding out of our Solar System forever.

The Pale Blue Dot is a photo that always moves me profoundly whenever I look upon it, and I always wind up reflecting on the words of the late astronomer Carl Sagan, who wrote an entire book based on that one photo.

In the introduction to  "Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space," Sagan urges us to consider just what we are fighting for when we speak up to elevate one race, one religion, one ideology, political party over all the others on our pale blue dot.

Sagan reminds us that this little blue dot, a dot only one pixel in size is all of us on the only homeworld we'll ever know - and on it is, as he says-  everyone we love, everyone we know, everyone we've ever heard of.

"Thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every 'superstar,' every 'supreme leader,' every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there – on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam," he wrote.

He added one potent reminder.

"Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that in glory and triumph they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner," Sagan penned.

And reading further, Sagan makes a really fantastic point. That like it or not - we have nowhere else to go but Earth.

He reminds us that we have just one home, which he argues underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we've ever known.

The more I think about it, the more it rings true. Like it or not, Sagan is right when he writes that for all our arrogance and beliefs of supremacy we are part of a lonely flicker of life in the darkness of the universe. We are indeed on " a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena."

With all that said - my point isn't that we shouldn't protest or speak our mind when the situation calls for it. The point I'm trying to make is for us to use our heads and think for ourselves whenever statements aimed at playing to our fears to divide us are thrown our way.

Let's think about what we could all ultimately stand to lose before we give in to the rhetoric of hate and do something rash. Something like bashing someone's car in with a steering lock while hurling racially-charged slurs at them.

Basically, can we all try to work together to preserve the unity we cherish?

 

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