28 March 2014


THE news we had been dreading came on Monday night. MH370 is gone. The grief of the families is unbearable.

The pain is no less so for the very many of us who have followed the story every step of the way, and who have tried to provide hope and support to the families either directly or indirectly through our prayers.

I extend my deepest condolences to all the mothers, fathers, children, other relatives, friends and colleagues of those who were lost.

May the souls of the passengers and crew of MH370 rest in peace.
The writer Tash Aw, in an op-ed for the New York Times, described this incident as a watershed moment for Malaysia.

While not all our reasons synchronise, I do agree that MH370 has thrown up a huge mirror upon which we can see much that is wrong with us, as well as some that is right.

I think this moment changed some things here in Malaysia and hopefully will also lead to some more changes.

The initial handling of the crisis was bumbling and inept but we can see that this changed very quickly.

Airline disasters cannot be confined to just domestic news.
By its nature, it is instantly international news and therefore the world’s focus is immediately on us.

There could not be a worse way to get our name known. But we have a crisis and we need to handle it in the full glare of international media.

This necessitates a totally different way of working than our officials are used to. For one thing, it throws up the dire need for our officials to be able to speak English clearly and precisely and to not get defensive when faced with tougher questions than they are used to.

For another it also shows up the quality of our media compared to the foreign media (except for that French reporter). Couldn’t the reporter from the Islamic TV channel have looked at a map first before asking the minister if there was any city nearer to the search site in the southern Indian Ocean than Perth?

Why do vernacular media send reporters who do not speak English and then complain that they did not understand what was said? Is this our flip-flop education policy on English coming to roost?

Coming to roost also is a certain complacency that has resulted in what one overseas academic’s observation (before this happened) that there is a “reduction in capacity” among Malaysian officials.

It is a lowering of standards which leads to a slowness in grasping a situation and then responding, which in this case, may have led to fatal results. It is the same with everything here; we don’t react until something bad happens.

Then we make a lot of noise about changing systems but don’t actually implement them.

We can never be considered serious about this complacency if we never hold anyone responsible for mistakes and missteps.
This points also to a lack of empathy on the part of some people for the suffering of those closest to the tragedy.

Although thousands of Malaysians have shown their sympathy and kind­ness to the families by writing their messages on the Walls of Hope around the country, some saw fit by defacing them by writing unrelated slogans.

Their issue may well have its merits but this act displays a lack of sensitivity to the families in terrible pain right now. Not a great way to win over people to your cause.

Disgusting is the only word for the insensitive tweet sent to the daughter of one of the MH370 cabin crew harshly telling her to accept the loss of her father.

Many have done little more than condemn every single action done by MAS almost as if this tragedy is something it welcomed.

I’ve had many complaints about MAS before but who would want to be in their shoes right now and say they can do a better job at handling this? They are also a bereaved party after all. Certainly there is no lack of opportunists taking advantage of MH370 for their own ends.

That would include some of the foreign media who seem intent on painting our government as completely inept. Certainly they are deficient in many aspects but I don’t think they were wrong to be cautious with information. One reporter actually saw fit to ask the MAS chairman if they had been heartless. Did they expect an affirmative answer?

For now, there is not a lot we laypersons can do other than to pray and hope that MH370 will reveal it­self soon and that its discovery will provide us with some answers. Then we would know how to move on to the next phase of this watershed moment.

That next phase has to involve much introspection and self-critical analysis. We need to reflect very deeply on what we want for our country now that this incident has reminded us that we are part of the world, and not some isolated opaque inward-looking nation.

> The views expressed are entirely the writer’s own.

14 March 2014

Malaysians have turned to their own talents to express both their grief and support for the people on MH370, and their families and friends.

IN the past few days, the shock of the disappearance of MH370 has been overwhelming.
Undoubtedly the families have suffered the greatest shock of all, especially when not even the tiniest explanation (at the time of writing) is forthcoming.
Hopes are built up and then dashed. Theories are put forth but none are yet proven.
Everyone seems to have an opinion regardless of whether they know anything about jet planes or aeronautics.
And let’s not forget those who take opportunity to place blame based on the most outlandish reasons. A bit like when some blamed the Indian Ocean tsunami on people partying on beaches.
The wiser among us keep our own counsel and instead turn our efforts to offering words of comfort to those who are missing their families.
This also includes colleagues of the flight crew who have known them a long time and worked alongside them.
So many people are grieving over this incident, and that’s only on this side.
We don’t even know what’s truly happening among the families of the Chinese passengers, and all the other nationalities involved and what support they might need. (And it occurred to me that our children are also aware of what happened and need some gentle explanations.)
But if anything exemplifies how small a country we are, it is the incredible fact that although there were only 38 Malaysians on MH370, so many people know them either firsthand or secondhand.
I read my Facebook timeline and it was incredible how many people either knew the passengers or crew directly or knew their relatives or someone else close to them.
A colleague reported that the wife of one of the cabin crew is her daughter’s kindergarten teacher. Seems so random but yet not.
Perhaps this is why Malaysians are sharing this shock and grief so keenly.
It’s been hard to read the many sad posts and tweets from family members without imagining that it could have happened to any of us.
As a result, Malaysians have turned to their own talents to express both their grief and support.
So many beautiful images inviting people to pray for MH370 have been created and shared by people on social media. They are invitations to us all to do something together.
Many prayer events of different faiths have been organised for people to pray for the safe return of the plane, crew and passengers.
Several religious groups have gone to KLIA to provide spiritual support to the families.
I think in times like these, nobody is going to be particular about religious territoriality.
A group of citizens calling themselves Malaysians for Malaysia, that has been promoting peace and unity, and which I’m very proud to be part of, decided on a simple initiative called Walls of Hope.
We approached various shopping malls around the Klang Valley to ask if they could put up something where the public can put up messages of hope and support for the families of MH370.
Unsurprisingly the malls agreed almost immediately and got their art departments to design something and put them up at a prominent position on their premises.
Pavilion KL was the first to put up theirs and within an hour, 1,000 people had put messages up.
Fahrenheit 88 followed soon after and they too found the public responding enthusiastically.
At this time of writing, several other malls are organising themselves to do the same and we hope others around the country will do so too.
These walls or trees of hope provide an outlet for Malaysians and foreigners to express their grief but also their hopes and wishes for those on board the flight as well as the families.
Just reading so many heartfelt messages is a moving experience.
But if anything exemplifies how Malaysians are a compassionate and caring people, it is the poem written by a woman called Pnut Syafinaz which I had the privilege of reading out on TV.
To quote from it, in reference to the grieving families of the passengers on MH370:
Jiwa kami dan jiwa mereka tidak sama,
Kami sedih tetapi tidak akan ada yang lebih sedih dari mereka,
Mereka dan kami mungkin bukan sebangsa, seagama,
Tetapi darah kami sama merah pekat warnanya”.
“Our souls and their souls are not the same,
We are sad but can’t be as sad as they,
They and we may not be the same race or religion,
But our blood is all the same red colour.”
And that’s the crux of the matter. Ultimately in times like these, it really doesn’t matter who anyone is, where they came from or what they believed in. Their families and friends all suffer pain just the same.
Let’s continue to pray for MH370.
> The views expressed are entirely the writer’s own.