COMMENTARY,. It is difficult not to let emotions and anger take over the narrative of a developing story, especially when it involves identity politics and the matter of one’s faith.
On Monday morning, the country rudely awoke to news of unrest at the Sri Maha Mariamman Devasthanam temple at Seafield, USJ25, Subang Jaya.
Pre-dawn clashes on Monday at the temple resulted in 18 cars and two motorcycles torched, while a gathering on Tuesday night by demonstrators at the temple area later turned violent.
Five more cars and offices in MCT Tower nearby were damaged in the second rioting incident.
A 24-year-old firefighter, Muhammad Adib Mohd Kassim was seriously injured after being attacked by the mob, and is still in critical condition.
And just hours ago, police foiled a separate attempt by a group of demonstrators wanting to march to the Sri Maha Mariamman Devasthanam temple in the so-called interest of “Malay rights.”
For the past two days on social media, the persistent narrative that is being framed of the unrest is one that is racially-tinged, involving Indians and Malays (the alleged ethnicity of those who attacked the temple on Monday morning.)
At a time where we count on fast news updates, we are flooded by a wave of half-truths and lies designed to stir up anger and pit Malaysians against one another.
On Facebook, some people have shared so-called news that Muhammad Adib had died at the hands of “Indian terrorists.” The Selangor Fire Department had to issue a statement to deny this.
Politicians and even religious leaders aren’t doing too good a job of trying to shift the incident from being branded as a racially-charged one either.
Perlis mufti Datuk Mohd Asri Zainul Abidin said in a Facebook post that the protests by temple devotees were proof that “good gestures are not always appreciated”, and that Malay groups planning to hold a December 8 rally to oppose the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD) should instead hold a rally for “Muslim survival.”
When was this about the survival of one race, or did I not get the memo?
Selangor state Socio-Economic Empowerment and Development and Caring Government Committee chairman V. Ganabatirau was forced to correct an erroneous statement on the temple incident he had originally posted on Facebook on Monday — where he concluded that the temple attackers were a group of Muslims trying to stir up racial tension.
I don’t know which is worse — his original statement or his half-hearted apology after that. Either way, it is unbecoming of a state executive councillor or lawmaker to be making such remarks, without all the facts in hand first.
Another instance was when Minister in the Prime Minister’s department in charge of national unity and social well-being P. Waytha Moorthy and four other Pakatan Harapan (PH) MPs criticised the police by alleging they were late by almost two hours in responding to the Monday incident.
Surely, as minister you could have checked with the relevant authorities before making such a statement.
Of course, the icing on the cake was the action of none other than Opposition leader Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, who tried to defend the police by indirectly accusing Waytha of abusing his position to undermine racial harmony.
For context, Zahid is the Umno president who warned Putrajaya that the Malay-Muslim community will “run amok” to protest the PH government’s pledge to ratify the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.
Yes, politicians can sometimes be quite silly.
But that doesn’t mean we have to be.
Back to the temple riot. What do we know so far?
The original attack on Monday is believed to be linked to a land dispute matter, with the High Court in Shah Alam already recording a consent judgement in 2014 for the temple, said to be over 100 years old, to be relocated from its current site that is under the ownership of One City Development Sdn Bhd.
In fact, Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad issued a statement yesterday evening stating that the attack, and the subsequent riots had nothing to do with race or religion, but was a criminal matter.
“Racial issues or religious issues did not arise at all although it is related to the temple’s relocation,” he had said, which is in line with what authorities have been saying as well.
We must have faith in ourselves and in each other, in our ability to overcome these times of adversity with patience and understanding because I believe many Malaysians out there do not buy into this race-baiting.
We must also have faith in our officers in blue. They have done an admirable job so far at maintaining peace and order, and we should support them and have confidence in their ability to carry out their duties in a professional manner.
We must let them continue to do their jobs, without fear or favour. Keep calm and let cooler heads prevail may be a cliche but it also happens to be the correct thing to do.
So, how can we (ordinary Malaysians) help?
We can help by exercising caution each time we receive an unverified rumour via WhatsApp, Facebook or Twitter. Relax that trigger-happy finger and the urge to “share” that message or video. Verify the news first.
The police, fire department, Home Ministry all have active social media accounts, which means you can also check for the latest verified news there.
Please don’t be an idiot. It won’t hurt to double-check that rumour or if you can wait an extra five minutes, the Malay Mail will do the checking for you.