Tuesday, August 11

Freedom from fear – a criterion for developed nation

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MALAYSIANS were shocked by the recent horrific traffic accidents in Peninsular Malaysia, especially the one involving tourist buses and the deaths of passengers.

As a result, the public have developed an uneasiness or phobia of using buses, especially for long-distance trips.

In the bus accident at Genting Sempah, seventeen-age passengers were killed and 39 other passengers were injured. What the public find hard to believe is that the bus driver never had a licence!

We cannot help but worry about our daily commutes and travels after hearing such news as we have no way of knowing where or when the next accident will occur. Even if we feel confident of our own driving, such worries will persist because we cannot feel just as confident of other drivers.

Now, let us review the recent news, especially around our region. Our neighbour, Indonesia, has been devastated by earthquakes and tsunamis in addition to volcanic eruptions. Thailand has its share of calamities, the lastest in the form of the worst flood to have hit the country in more than 10 years. The Philippines has not been spared and it recently reeled under force of the strongest typhoon ever recorded in the world this year.

While our neighbours are beset with all these natural disasters, our country remains safe and peaceful in comparison. In school, children learn that our country is blessed to be situated outside the Pacific Ring of Fire (earthquake zone) as well as the typhoon zone. This one fact has remained unchanged over the past 50 years even though a lot of facts in textbooks have changed with new discoveries over time.

Despite our country being disaster-free, our people are still constantly living in fear. In recent years, security issues were their main concern. Most claim they do not feel safe even at home, especially in the cities. They feel unsafe not only because of possible break-ins but also smaller issues such as termite infestations, necessitating constant check of the rooms and walls.

Little creatures like termites are capable of causing us worries because we do not know when or where they will strike, just like unpredictable traffic accidents. In fact, the word ‘accident’ is not appropriate in incidents caused by human errors or flawed policies.

How do all these relate to termites? Well, when we discover these destructive insects gnawing at our homes, we get very worried over such a ‘natural disaster’ striking inside what is supposed to be our impregnable fortress. Fearing what the termites could wrought, we hire pest control personnel to get rid of them.

But then, how would you feel if they told you the termites were attracted to your house because the developer used rotting wood as a base for your house?

In this case, termite infestation obviously cannot be categorised as a natural disaster since it is caused by irresponsible developers and poor enforcement of housing regulations.

Malaysia aims to become a fully developed country in 10 years but how can people in a soon-to-be developed country constantly live in fear? Of course, we not only dread things like termites but also worry about bigger issues such as the recent announcement that history will be a must-pass subject in the Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia (SPM) and the planned erection of the hundred-storey Merdeka Heritage Project under the 2011 Budget.

Malaysians are paying a lot of attention to these two things as they worry about their future and the government’s policies. Malaysia may be free from natural disasters but we cannot escape man-made worries and fears.

According to the UN and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, there are four essential freedoms — of speech, of conscience, from wants and from fear — expected of developed countries.

If Malaysia wishes to become a developed country in a decade, perhaps we should first strive to fulfill these criteria, especially the one on the freedom from fear. — (translated from Oriental Daily)