The January 7 arson attacks on four churches in the Klang Valley have unleashed the best and the worst in Malaysians.
While the mainstream media has been exercising restraint in their reporting of the incidents, not all bloggers have demonstrated the same level of mindfulness. Some of the bloggers I have previously followed expressed such prejudice, hatred and suspicion in their opinions that I have decided that they are not people I wish to retain as my friends. Others made unfounded and preposterous allegations of the arson attacks being political manoeuvres by either party, depending on which side you are on. The more erudite bloggers have been holding forth endlessly on how the random acts of violence are the results of years of corruption, reverse discrimination, marginalisation of certain groups and the undermining of the independence of the judiciary and the doctrine of separation of powers.
I am not convinced that the attacks are the outcome of political machinations. I am not convinced that the situation is under control, as our nation's leaders would have us believe. I am not convinced that the incidents were isolated and unrelated incidents.
What I do know, however, is that is it now truly a battle between "us" and "them".
"Us" constitutes those of us who are not merely paying lip service to the ideas of peace and tolerance, but who actively reach out to others in a spirit of friendship, compassion and conciliation. "Us" is those of us who believe that a fundamental way of battling corruption is by living our lives with integrity -- by not offering or accepting bribes; by not "pulling strings" and relying on "connections" to secure jobs, contracts, titles and places in favoured institutions; by not transgressing housing and public order regulations and then expecting the authorities to "close one eye"; by not purchasing illegal and pirated goods or patronising illegal outlets; by not creating opportunities for dishonesty and corruption. "Us" is those of us who believe that the way to lasting and peaceful change is through democratic means and through public education efforts, and that the only way to counter bad ideas is through better ideas, and not through censorship, the suppression of civil liberties or exploiting the ignorance of certain groups.
"Them" is made up of those who respond with hatred, suspicion and malice. "Them" are the ones who utter incendiary words and expect the worst of people. "Them" are those who spread fear and hatred and disseminate unfounded rumours and implicate individuals and groups. "Them" are those who hold the "I am better than you" and "Serves you right" mentalities. "Them" are the ones who are arrogant, unthinking and fearful of those who are different.
I urge all of you, gentle readers, not to respond in fear and suspicion, but to pause to reflect instead, on how the arson attacks have also brought out the best in Malaysians.
Consider the goodwill gesture of a group of Malaysians of different faiths and backgrounds who responded to an appeal on Facebook and came together at Bukit Bintang to hand out flowers to passersby in a gesture of goodwill and friendship. I may not be entirely convinced that "everything's going to be alright", but I do know that with individuals such as Chi Too and his friends who courageously turned up at Bukit Bintang, there is immense hope that our country will rise above its failings and shortcomings to be united, strong, progressive and resilient.
Youths giving away flowers as a sign of friendship and unity at a busy intersection at Jalan Bukit Bintang yesterday in the wake of arson attacks on four churches on Friday. — M. AZHAR ARIF / The Star
Photo and caption reproduced from The Star, without permission but in accordance with the principles of fair use.
And today, 130 Muslim NGOs volunteered to help protect churches by patrolling and checking on churches in their neighbourhoods and reporting on suspicious activities in a gesture of goodwill.
These sincere gestures touch our hearts precisely because they are so rare that they have become newsworthy.
Our duty today and henceforth is to make an earnest effort to ensure that goodwill gestures such as these will no longer be exceptional or isolated.
I foresee the attacks are not going to stop immediately. But if we were to react with fear and hatred, we would be letting "Them" win. Our duty therefore is to respond with courage and goodwill, as the groups above have.
The only way we can make our nation strong is by extending a hand in friendship, compassion and trust to others. Don't just sit there complaining that the investors have lost confidence in Malaysia -- play your part by living your life with integrity and reducing opportunities for corruption and illegal activities! Don't whinge about how Malaysian society is no longer what it used to be -- say hello and introduce yourself to a neighbour, a new colleague, the postman or waste collectors, the stranger who happens to share your dinner table at an event! (P/S: Thank you, Mum and Dad!) Be diligent at work, but also take the time to volunteer your time and skills and contribute your resources to worthy causes, because sharing is a privilege and a pleasure.
The groups above have taken a step towards creating a better and more peaceful Malaysia for all. Let us make it our New Year resolution to follow their lead and make peace, stability and unity our responsibility. For we are One, and we are strong, and we are better than those who try to stoke the fires of hatred. And we shall overcome, but only if we all play our part.