22 May 2015

We could have signed the United Nations Convention on Refugees and we could also have dealt with the source of the problem.

IF there is one thing that Malaysians are very bad at, it is preventing something bad before it happens.

We treat everything as if it was fated to happen, and nothing could be done to prevent it.

Thus, if there is a fatal car crash, there is no mention of the seat belts that could have saved lives. If kids get brutally bullied in schools, it is treated as a one-off incident rather than a problem that should be tackled in a comprehensive way.

Even with a preventable disease like HIV/AIDS, nobody wants to do practical prevention work. It’s as if by instituting prevention policies, we are admitting we have a problem and that would be bad for our image.

Therefore, it’s better to not do any prevention work and allow things to get to such a head that our image, such as it is, goes down the tubes.

Thus, it is with our latest Rohingya “problem”. The issue is not new and has been festering for decades.

Persecuted in Myanmar, the Rohingyas, along with other Burmese minorities, have been making their way here for a long time.

We are not the only country “targeted” by them. There are many refugee camps in Thailand already.

But knowing their desperate need to escape, human traffickers have taken advantage of the situation and promised, for a sum of money, to take the Rohingyas to Malaysia where apparently there is a population hungry for cheap labour.

I don’t know why the early Rohingya arrivals have not written home to tell the truth about their situation in Malaysia, that we are not as welcoming as they thought.

As Malaysia has not signed the United Nations Convention on Refugees, all such arrivals are treated simply as illegal immigrants with all the stigmatising connotations.

They cannot work, they cannot go to school, they cannot go to our hospitals, their entire existence is dependent on the charity of some non-governmental organisations and yet we complain that they seem to be always behaving as if they’ve done something wrong.

Pregnant refugee women ­cannot go to our hospitals to deliver their babies safely because they face arrest. Then, we tut-tut if we find dead babies, and possibly their mothers, in some bush somewhere.

But I suppose even Malaysian unfriendliness is preferable to the outright murderous hostility they face back in Myanmar.

All this could have been ­prevented of course if only we were not so averse to prevention. We could have signed the UN Convention and that would have enabled us to treat these refugees as people in need, rather than as criminals.

We could have dealt with the source of the problem, the way Myanmar has treated its minorities, including by simply declaring people who have lived there for hundreds of years non-citizens with merely a stroke of the pen. But then, who’s to know if some of us wouldn’t have done the same thing if we were in the same position?

After all, we’re constantly threatening our own minorities to go back to “where they came from”. Could it be that our reluctance to deal with Myanmar is because actually, we “understand”?

Most Malaysians are unaware that we have some 140,000 refugees already in our country if you just count those registered with the UNHCR, the UN’s refugee agency.

They come from many different countries, most escaping conflict.

Would you not try to take your family to safety if you faced annihilation every day? Some people have asked why, since these refugees are mostly Muslim, don’t Muslim countries take them? For one thing, some of these refugees are escaping Muslim countries in conflict and there are many countries near them that are already housing refugees by the millions for decades already.

For another, some third countries are picky about who they will take in, and poor Muslims with not much skills tend to be very low priority.

In any case, refugees choose countries to escape to based on their own means. Poor Rohingyas are unlikely to choose Australia because it is really beyond their reach.

In any case, 140,000 refugees is a pittance compared to the estimated 16.7 million refugees worldwide at the end of 2013.

Believe it or not, the country with the most number of refugees in 2013 was one that is poorer than us, Pakistan, with 1.6 million.

Afghanistan is the largest source country for refugees though Syria must surely be exceeding even that by now. According to the UNHCR, “conflict and persecution forced an average of 32,200 persons per day to leave their homes and seek protection elsewhere, either within the borders of their countries or in other countries.”

Since we’re very proud of our stability and relative prosperity, it makes sense that people like the Rohingyas prefer us to other countries. But what a shock they will get.

Our government seems quite happy to let people die of starvation and exposure out in the open sea because apparently that’s what we Malaysians want.

The fact that so many Malaysians are appalled by this, and are mobilising to help them, shows how untrue this assertion is. The Rohingya “problem” is not going to go away just because we refuse to help them.

Saying that they will keep coming if we feed and shelter them is being simplistic. As long as their situation in Myanmar is dire, they will keep getting into flimsy boats and coming to our shores.

So if we’re happy to have dead bodies constantly wash up on our beaches, then we can keep turning our heads the other way.

08 May 2015

One involves an ‘anti-hysteria’ kit; the other a penchant for porn. Maybe what’s needed is a scientific cure, and not mere mumbo jumbo.

TWO stories this past week made me despair about our education system, indeed our entire educational environment.

One was the story about one of our local universities having come up with an “anti-hysteria” kit costing more than RM8,000. I really would not know where to put my face if ever asked by foreign friends about this.

Without giving a single shred of evidence, or any explanation about how it even works, a university lecturer, backed by his supervisors, proudly unveiled what he deemed a “scienti­fic” way of dealing with all sorts of supernatural beings which apparently cause hysteria, mostly in boarding schools. Rarely have we seen the words “scientific” and “supernatural” in the same purportedly serious sentence.

But worse than the fact that time and money were wasted on such a ludicrous project were some of the reactions to it.

Some comments criticised critics for being irreligious snobs, accusing them of only praising inventions made by (presumably unbelieving) Westerners while deriding local ones.

What they fail to understand is that Western universities, and even many in the East, are not spending their resources researching ways to deal with goblins and ghosts, but are instead trying to find ways to cure diseases such as HIV and cancers or, like two young women from Columbia University, a way of helping victims of natural disasters with the help of a solar-powered LED light.

But worse than these ill-informed comments is the fact that the launch of the anti-hysteria kit was at the Education Ministry building in Putrajaya. Does this mean that the MoE actually endorses this?

If it does, then it truly illuminates what the officials there think about education, that it is simply a conduit to feed our young with mumbo jumbo, and while you’re at it, make money as well.

Considering that all this hysteria only occurs in government boarding schools, mostly religious ones, and never at private secular ones, or at public universities, never private ones, could it be that the inventor of this kit believes the market for it is actually the Government?

Imagine if the MoE purchased a kit for every single boarding school it runs, much like first aid kits or fire extinguishers. Someone would certainly make a pretty penny. Like everything else procured in this way, who cares if it works or not?

The other disturbing story is the one about an otherwise bright boy caught and jailed in London for downloading, making and distributing child pornography. Both the story and the reaction by Malaysians are puzzling me.

How does a very intelligent boy get into a prestigious university like Imperial College, and then totally blow his life away like this? What sort of background did he have that led him to this incredibly depraved crime?

If he came from the same school system as all other Malaysian kids, one that apparently stressed religious and moral values, how could he have gone down this incredibly sick path?

Few people seemed to have noted that this boy was not just delving in any pornography; he was downloading and distributing child pornography. Do people even understand what that means?

The Crimes Against Children Research Centre (CACRC) in the US defines child pornography as “the visual depiction of sexually explicit conduct includes acts such as intercourse, bestiality and masturbation as well as lascivious exhibition of the genitals or pubic area”.

The London police said that the 30,000 images and videos they found on his computer and other devices were some of the worst they had ever seen. Most people seemed to have also missed one point: he was not only downloading images of children being sexually abused, he was making them.

The CACRC reports that, “Most children exploited are pre-adolescent. Some children appear to have been subjected to physical as well as sexual violence.”

Do you think five years of jail is enough for such a person? Have any of our religious leaders condemned this terrible crime?

Yet his sponsors seem to think that he was only sentenced to nine months and would be home in about four weeks. I don’t know on what basis they are disputing the British newspaper reports when one can simply go to the court and check what the sentence was. All they seem to be concerned about is recovering their scholarship money.

But when he comes home, what is to be done with him? Oh I know, send him to the “scientist” with the anti-hysteria kit. Surely it was just mischievous goblins that made him abuse young children.

There are even his “supporters” online who insist that we must not shame him in public. These are the very same people who are quick to publicly shame anyone, especially women, who make lifestyle choices they may not agree with. Yet this boy is a certifiable danger to our children. He needs rehabilitation, of the scienti­fic psychological kind, not mumbo jumbo.

Both these stories are sad testimonies to the state of our education system. I’d like to think they are aberrations. But given the sympathe­tic response to both by officials and some of the public and the inability to see what is wrong with these two cases, I think they are not.