20 November 2015

Governments should go after those who committed the bloody violence, but individuals should not blame whole groups of people for this latest tragedy.

THE nightmare is upon us again. More violence and bloodshed, more hate and more tears.

I spent Saturday morning searching for news of friends and family in Paris. A look at the locations of the incidents on a map showed that some of them were very near where an aunt of my daughter’s lives, so we had some anxious hours waiting to hear from her.

Thankfully, all our friends and relatives are safe.

Relief gave way to sadness and depression. Grief at the many lives lost, of young people who decided to go out and enjoy themselves that night.

This is every parent’s nightmare, that you let your children out because they are grown up enough and know how to take care of themselves. But then how could we have protected them from this?

How can we tell them that a football ­stadium, a concert hall and restaurants are unsafe places to be?

Or how to escape from a bomb or a gun-toting madman?

I wonder what mothers in the United States tell their children in the wake of all those shootings at schools? Surely not “don’t go to school”?

The most depressing thought is that the blame and recriminations will begin immediately.

Violence begets more violence, in the form of actual warfare most obviously but also more subtly in the form of words spoken or written, or actions taken, to corral certain people supposedly in the interest of “security”.

There is nothing new in this.

After the attack on Pearl Harbour in December 1941, between 110,000 and 120,000 Japanese-Americans living on the Pacific Coast were forced to relocate and incarcerated in camps in the interior, despite there being no evidence that they were at all disloyal to the country that most of them had been born in.

In 1980, President Jimmy Carter appointed the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians.

The Commission’s report, titled Personal Justice Denied, found little evidence of Japanese disloyalty at the time and, concluding the incarceration had been the product of racism, recommended that the Government pay reparations to the survivors.

In 1988, President Ronald Reagan signed into law the Civil Liberties Act, which apologised for the internment on behalf of the US Government and authorised a payment of US$20,000 (RM87,665) to each individual camp survivor.

The legislation admitted that government actions were based on “race prejudice, war hysteria, and a failure of political leadership”.

History, however, tends to be ignored, especially in the heat of anger.

The aftermath of Sept 11 ignored the lessons of World War II and undoubtedly they will be ignored again now.

The most favoured response is more violence, although this has never been proven to work, unless we count the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the results of which are still debatable.

Far more insidiously depressing is the discovery that individuals are quick to blame whole groups of people for this latest tragedy, based on nothing more than speculation. Despite the fact that only a few people directly caused these murders, some are quite happy to take exceedingly discriminatory action against an entire community so that they may be “safe”. I wonder what assumptions lie beneath these?

Were the dead uniformly of one race and religion, when the population of France is as diverse as any country these days?

Yet there are some who don’t hesitate to suggest that every Muslim everywhere should be considered suspect.

Given that some live in a Muslim-majority country, how do they expect to even leave their house every day if they are going to worry that every Muslim they meet is waiting to kill them?

And since when have discriminatory acts against whole groups of people ever tamed them?

The black population of South Africa never took apartheid lying down.

African Americans fought against racial discrimination with the civil rights movement.

In our country, more and more people are opposed to race-based policies.

In all cases, the initial lack of response from governments has meant a withdrawal of support for that government and sometimes open rebellion.

Why therefore do we think that any discriminatory act against a particular faith community is going to elicit a different reaction?

What examples do we have of people willingly accepting humiliating discriminatory measures against them?

By all means, governments should go after the perpetrators of such bloody violence for the sake of the security of their people. But governments are no more rational than the human beings who lead them.

Between January 2012 and November 2015, there were almost 40 cases of fatal shootings at schools, colleges and universities in the US but the government has done nothing to stop access to guns.

Why should we expect rational responses by governments to cases of mass murders in even more public places?

Their only response to mass murder has been more mass murder, preferably far from their shores.

Meanwhile, we should examine our own attitudes towards others to see if we consider ourselves peacemakers, bridge builders or warmongers.

It starts in our own neighbourhoods, communities, villages, towns, cities and countries. And we should reflect whether what the Japanese-Americans in their internment camps suffered was just.

05 November 2015

Malaysians have a tendency to not appreciate something until we’ve lost it.

IN an effort to lose some weight recently, I went on a diet which required me to eat smaller portions of healthy food.

When food suddenly became a precious commodity, I found myself eating more slowly and savouring each bite. The same thing happens during Ramadan when you find yourself appreciating food more because you haven’t had any all day.

Similarly, after months of unheal­thy haze, the return of blue skies and sunshine last week prompted everyone to take out their cameras to record something that we had never really noticed or appreciated before.

I found myself letting the sun beat down on my face and enjoying the warmth, as if I lived in a temperate climate unused to such an abundance of Vitamin D.

And yet, before we lost those rays all these months, we would complain about how hot it was and how our air-conditioners, already turned down to freezing temperatures, just couldn’t cope.

Is it a particularly Malaysian trait to appreciate things only after we’ve lost them? Or do we simply not think of that possibility, so we fritter them away as if there were no tomorrow?

We don’t appreciate our trees and forests until they are gone and we finally make the link between their disappearance, the heat and flooding. We even demand that trees in housing estates are cut down because we hate sweeping up fallen leaves, and then find ourselves keeping our air-conditioners on all day. Then we complain about electricity rate hikes.

We are eager to buy cars for ourselves but then complain about traffic jams – caused by other motorists, of course. The building of public transport facilities such as the LRT is meant to ease the congestion but meanwhile, we complain about the inconvenience their construction causes.

It’s not as if those of us currently in cars are going to use public transport much anyway when it is ready. No, we’ll stay in our cars and continue complaining, thank you very much.

The only way to get people to use public transport is to have incentives to use it and disincentives to drive cars, but what would some people do without their chauffeur-driven Mercedes?

Maybe we need a tipping point when traffic jams become so frustratingly bad that it becomes a major incentive to use public transport. Then we might see our politicians using the LRT like everyone else.

The point, really, is that we have a tendency to not appreciate something until we have lost it. Take our wonderful multi-ethnic, multireligious society. The way things are going, one day we may look back with nostalgia at a time when we all got along without any problems.

Despite some assurances by our politicians that they value our diversity, we find ourselves unable to trust their words when we know that often, they aren’t matched by their actions.

Harmony to some of them means accepting things “in the Malaysian way”, even though we are increasingly finding that the long-term effects are injustices that fewer people are willing to put up with.

I read with barely controlled nausea one speech which talked about the need for democracy, good governance and human rights as the way to fight extremists and terrorists, as if extremists are the only reason to have democracy in our country. The majority of us who aren’t extremists don’t deserve it somehow.

But perhaps we deserve to lose some of the things that we have always enjoyed due to our own laxity and penchant for taking things for granted. We don’t seem to appreciate how quickly we are losing so many of our freedoms, for example.

Every day, through one law or other, our freedom to say what we feel about anything is being curtailed. Some of us may think that the way to avoid trouble is to simply not say anything. But then we become complicit in the curtailing of our own freedoms, which are guaranteed by our own Constitution.

We think none of these will matter to the majority of us – only troublemakers need worry. But given the almost random nature of the current persecutions of people who speak their minds, how do we know we won’t be next?

We might think that only “famous” people need to watch themselves, yet there are many previously unknown people who have been caught for one thing or another. We might not care too much about them now, until one day it’s us cooling our heels in a lockup.

There would be no point in being nostalgic then, to finally appreciate our right to speak once we’ve lost it. Once it’s out of the gate, it’s hard to bring it back. Better to do all that we can to protect it now.