Wednesday, July 04, 2007

A curious silence

Rewritten for Malaysia Today

Urban life in the early 21st century has been utterly transformed from what it was just a few short years ago--the quiet signs of upheaval are ever-present. Everyone talks on or messages one another on mobile phones. Ipods zombies drift through the streets, oblivious to all around them. Laptops and gadgets are seemingly everywhere.

And there is another nagging reminder of how life has recently changed--publicly posted anti terrorism messages. One cannot watch television, travel on public transportation, or traverse public spaces in cities as diverse and far-flung as London, New York, Sydney, Seoul, or Singapore without seeing conspicuous reminders to watch out for public enemy number one. This photo here is one such recent public anti-terrorism announcement posted in downtown Sydney. The Australian government has placed similar messages throughout Sydney and in all the other major cities in Australia. The same holds equally true for other cities in the UK, the US, and elsewhere.

Regardless of nation or location, all such announcements constantly exhort the same message. ‘Report anything suspicious or out of the ordinary. Report unattended parcels to the authorities.’ It’s a somber, ubiquitous reminder of the restive times that we live in.But there are some places where ignorance is seemingly preferred. And Malaysia is one of those places. So, what does this precisely mean?

Well, walk through the streets of Kuala Lumpur, or any other Malaysian city, for that matter. Mingle with the tourists in downtown KL, many of them from South Asia or the Middle East. Ride the trains and the buses. Watch the local TV channels. How many anti-terrorism messages will you see or hear?

Zero. Zip. None.

You won’t find any anti-terrorism awareness programs for the masses in Malaysia, not in English, Mandarin, Bahasa Malaysia/Melayu, or any other language. A very curious silence, indeed.

And it’s not just the authorities. Not one Malaysian seems to be ready to even consider the possibility that terrorists may strike their country. It’s a nationwide case of denial and an entire nation essentially sticking their collective heads in the sand--it can’t happen here, it won’t happen to us. It amounts to group think and cognitive dissonance on a mind-bending scale.

When Malaysians are asked about the possibility of terrorism occurring on Malaysian soil, they usually shrink back from such questioning, aghast. They are horrified at someone even daring to think such things, let alone say it out loud. The answers invariably run along the lines of, “Malaysia is peaceful,” “Malaysia has no enemies”, and so on. All these notions are fanciful in the extreme, for anyone who knows the genuinely savage and bloodthirsty nature of the adversary.

Now, what could possibly explain this total lack of anti-terrorism information in the Malaysian public sphere? Well, there is a theory which might possibly explain this peculiar Malaysian myopia.

For the Malaysian government, it is far better to pretend that Islamic terror doesn’t exist. And why? Well, too many Malaysians—quite likely the majority of the population—and including major decision-makers in the government, are only too willing to continue believing that Islamic terrorism, despite all evidence to the contrary, is actually one or more of the following:

1. a figment of the paranoid West’s imagination

2. merely an understandable--if perhaps misguided--Muslim reaction to evil non-Muslim governments and/or policies (and hence entirely the fault of the infidels)

3. a massive plot of the West/Israel/CIA etc. (you name it) to discredit Islam

4. all of the above

Once you've bought into this line of, ahem, 'thinking', then any such 'anti terrorism awareness programme' for the public becomes not only superfluous, but subversive.

And the real causes of Islamic terrorism--namely Islam’s intrinsic intolerance, aggressive teachings, and violent tendencies? Well, in Malaysia, mention of any of these inconvenient facts is discouraged if not outright banned in the media, the schools, and in government circles. Even private discussion of such truths is risky.

This is the true reason why anti-terrorism as a message is so dangerous, as in politically destabilizing, to Malaysia. No one must be allowed to think about terrorism too deeply, and why terrorism is almost exclusively a Muslim enterprise nowadays. Nevertheless, it is a tragic, but undeniable fact that many, if not most of the recent victims of the Jihad have been other Muslims...either as ‘collateral damage’, or as the intended victims.

This dangerous degree of denial can only make terrorism ultimately more likely in Malaysia, not less. So it’s not a matter of ‘if’ the Great Jihad will attack Malaysia.

Sadly, it is only a question of when.

No comments: