Don’t let fear-mongers win

While the majority makes the best of the cards fate has dealt us, some are keen to destabilise the new order

by ZB OTHMAN / Pic By TMR File 

RM300 is not much, but that was the price to endanger our country and all it has stood for these past 60 years as the fallout of the incident at the Hindu temple in Seafield, Subang Jaya, threatened to escalate into a fullblown race issue.

That trajectory to tragedy has been doused somewhat after Home Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin revealed that thugs — who were paid as little as RM150 by lawyers of a developer who needed to vacate land on which the temple was built — had instigated the riot.

I wouldn’t be surprised that thugs had been paid before to clear out land for developers, but this time the clueless lawyers were tone deaf to Malaysia’s unique ways. They weren’t minding the racial sensitivities of our beloved land.

“Because they hired Malays to ‘take care of things’ at a Hindu temple, you can imagine the reaction it would trigger,” said Muhyiddin yesterday.

Since Monday, there have been mistrust on all sides. Indians were crying foul about desecration, Malays were incited to defend their honour and, while they were at it, also defend Islam from extinction.

Politicians, from both sides, were quick to insinuate the other side for either failing to safeguard the peace, or being cold-blooded anarchists willing to jeopardise the country’s peace to distract from their corruption.

Idiots on social media — or maybe they were simply evil — were quick to fan the flames by posting gory pictures of dead bodies that they copied from God knows where.

And in the end, all these calls to defend honour, righteousness and survival of a race turned out to be a sleazy deal of hiring thugs for a bit of land clearing.

If it wasn’t for the fact that a fireman — a medical technician who was one of those sent to douse the situation on the second night of trouble — is now fighting for his life, the Seafield temple fracas would have been just another one of those tragic and funny stories to add to our colourful history as a nation of strangers under one roof.

But it is not funny because a man is in the hospital and a nation is again reminded that for all that we have achieved since 1957, we are still living on a tinderbox of suspicions, bigotry and distrust that is fertile ground for exploitation.

Ever since May 9, when the rakyat chose a different course for the country, we have been feeling our way in this new Malaysia.

While the majority of the rakyat are looking forward and making the best of the cards fate has dealt us, some are keen to destabilise the new order through mischief and by stirring the insecurities of a multicultural pot that we call home.

This can be seen even in the weeks and months since the Seafield incident when racial rhetoric have been ramped up, which has found a new freedom under the present government’s more liberal approach to administration.

But no sooner did the incident flare up, that opportunists, clueless citizens, as well as predatory politicians flocked to stoke feelings.

In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised that even the more sanguine liberals among us are secretly wishing for the return of the good old days when we can just round up the troublemakers, put them somewhere where the sun doesn’t shine and throw away the keys.

But that would be playing into the hands of the fear merchants who benefit from a country where citizens are perpetually suspicious of each other.

There are always opportunists seeking to exploit Malaysians, who — despite all the positive reinforcements that we receive daily — are still Malay, Chinese, Indian, Dusun, Dayak or Mat Salleh just a scratch away under the skin.

But the thing I want to take away from this unfortunate incident is that, despite the stoking, social media, inflammatory rhetoric and gutwrenching fear that something worse would happen, it was nipped in the bud. Well, maybe not in the bud, but early enough that we are able to step back and say, “I think we did quite well on the whole.”

We have grown up a bit, but let’s keep working on that Muhibbah thing. (Also, our utmost prayers that fireman Muhammad Adib Mohd Kassim recovers from his injuries.)

ZB Othman is the editor-in-chief of The Malaysian Reserve.