AHMED stood in a daze — horror, grief and bewilderment written on his face. He was holding the mangled body of his seven-year old daughter and staring at what used to be his house, his home. It had been reduced to a pile of rubble and under it were the rest of his family.Stjepan looked at the young man. He was a mere boy of barely 18, but there was nothing boyish about his steely look and there was nothing innocuous about the M16 rifle he had in his hands.
“Get out!” he screamed, “This is my home, my country. Get out.”
This was the boy whom Stjepan’s wife helped to deliver into the world and whom he watched grow up from a baby to a strapping young man. The small village in the mountains of the former Yugoslavia was a very close knit community.
Ahmed and his neighbours were the victims of a car bomb which ripped his Shi’ite village apart and took with it a few dozen lives. Stjepan was at the wrong end of a racial strife which reared its ugly head at the disintegration of the former Yugoslavia.
I don’t have to give the date and location of the occurrence of the above events for we all know they happened. Man has plumbed the depth of inhumanity and depravity with sickening regularity for some years now. In fact, these days we cannot open a newspaper without seeing reports of scores being killed here, dozens being bombed there and thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, being driven from their homes. Whatever the complex political and historical reasons behind this madness, at the bottom of it all is the fact that there are people who just cannot accept the idea of sharing this world with others, equally. They seek to deny and exclude all whom they consider do not belong to their race, religion or sect. Such manic acts are driven by a pernicious evil genie who goes by the name of racism, sectarianism, bigotry, fanaticism, etc.
Sitting in our relatively calm and peaceful nation it is very easy for us to be complacent and think that these hideous things can happen only in faraway places. It is like sitting in the comfort of our TV room watching a war movie. Yes, it happened “a long time ago, in a country far away…” We take comfort in the belief whatever disagreements we may have among individuals and communities here will never grow to such monstrous proportions. In Malaysia we take pride in the fact that ours is a society where people of different races and religions live harmoniously together. ‘Unity in diversity’ has been the hackneyed political slogan for some time.
But the evil genie is particularly insidious and tenacious. Once it worms its way into the psyche, it can negate all rational thoughts and suck out all the milk of human kindness. Its seed, if planted, can transform a group into a mindless herd. It may start small but once it is out of the bottle, it could grow into an uncontrollable ogre, devouring all and sundry. The pictures and the news in the international pages bear testimony to this unpleasant fact.
Thus, it is disturbing to note that of late some people have been egging this evil genie to come out of its bottle. It starts with some chauvinistic remarks and gestures and recently developed into what can be considered as open baiting.
First, I read of two men who masqueraded as Christians, attended a mass and partook in a ritual which is reserved only for confirmed Christians — the receiving of the communion host. The host is a thin wafer representing the holy bread which symbolises the body of Christ. Thus, it is a very sacred and holy. The men justified their action on the pretext that they were investigating the authenticity of news that some Malays have apostatised from Islam. If that was their motive I am sure had they tried harder, they could have found a less provocative way of doing their job. To make the matter worse, the duo then spat out the host and took photos of the pieces which were published in their magazine along with their expose, which turned out to be a non-expose at all for they found no truth in the rumour of apostasy. In one way, perhaps, they did everyone a service for it killed the rumour of alleged apostasy. However, they were certainly reckless.
On the other hand, recklessness was not the only failing of the people who protested against the proposal to build an Indian temple in their vicinity.
The protestors erred in the first place for they displayed little faith in the resilience of their own belief. It appears that they think the mere presence of a place of worship of another religion would lead their followers to abandon their religion in droves.
The protestors erred even more seriously when they chose to add insult to their protest by carrying the severed head of a cow and spitting on it. As we all know, the cow is considered a sacred animal among the Hindus and Sikhs. They have gone beyond the realm of recklessness into premeditated intent.
Such are some of the disturbing signs of our time. However, I take solace in the fact that many political leaders have come out to express their disapproval, some even condemnation, of this last dangerous act of some irresponsible elements in our society.
Last week I was discussing gloomily with friends the intolerance of the protestors in the Indian temple case.
“It is so sad that people can be so bigoted.”
“At least it is not the case here in Sarawak,” said Jack,
“There is a huge Chinese temple in what is a Malay majority area.”
“Just a few kilometers from the centre of Kuching.”
I hightailed to the place with my camera. There, in Taman Malihah, a predominantly Malay housing estate, I found a huge and magnificent Chinese temple.
It has been said, “All it takes for evil to win is for righteous men to remain silent”. However, the opposite of ‘remain silent’ is not just to speak out. It demands more than that, it demands taking active steps to thwart the growth of evil, it demands emulating the best in harmonious living. Since the launching of the 1 Malaysia theme and during this Merdeka month, there are many films and documentaries on television depicting ‘unity in diversity’. Perhaps someone should make a documentary about the case of Taman Malihah and many others here in Sarawak, and on how we have kept the evil genie firmly bottled.
(The writer can be contacted at [email protected])