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.