Seafield and the fissures in our society

The Seafield Sri Maha Mariamman Temple stands on commercial land. A consent judgement was obtained to compel the temple to relocate. The landowner donated 2 pieces of land for the relocation and also RM1.5 million for the construction of the new temple. Still a faction within the temple opposed the move.

According to Muhyiddin, the Home Minister, Malay thugs were hired to deal with the standoff and they attacked the temple in the wee hours on November 26. The situation escalated the next day as some 10,000 supporters gathered and began to riot. They attacked fire and rescue personnel who arrived to put out fires and one fireman, Mohammad Adib, was severely beaten up. He succumbed to his injuries a few weeks later.

I tried to imagine what kind of emotion I must have that would compel me to want to hurt a total stranger who has done me no harm, to the degree that he would suffer fatal internal injuries. I could only come up with blind rage; the kind that short circuits the rational mind.

This is what race and religion can induce in a man.

In the weeks before and after this incident, race and religion were very much up in the air. The proposal to sign Malaysia onto ICERD was used to stir up emotions around race and religion. Mahathir defused the situation somewhat with a statement that ICERD will not be signed by Malaysia but UMNO and PAS, and other groups who feed off these issues, wanted a show of Malay strength through a rally like the Bersih rallies.

Several people told me not to go out on December 8, the day of the rally.

In 1987 similar tensions were stoked. MCA was up in arms trying to defend the Chinese vernacular schools and made a show of strength with a gathering of Chinese leaders to issue an ultimatum to the Government.

UMNO Youth, led by Najib Razak, responded with its own rally where Najib was alleged to have threatened to soak a keris in Chinese blood, evoking fear of 13 May repeating within the Chinese community. Many Chinese businesses around the city were closed for a few days for fear of any potential attacks from the Malay ultra-nationalists.

I remember the fear and the silence in the city, which was rudely broken by a Malay soldier who fired off an M16 rifle in Chow Kit Road. Thankfully the situation was contained.

Mahathir subsequently launched Operation Lalang and put many leaders in jail, defusing the tensions.

I don’t think that as a society, Malaysia will ever overcome the racial divides. I think the volcano will always be capable of eruption. It can and should be managed and perhaps one day it can be declared dormant. But the riots that modern Europe experienced are a grim reminder of its destructive power that cannot be disarmed.

Those who say it’s a new Malaysia because the anti-ICERD rally was incident free, I think, are deluded. UMNO is considerably weakened and no longer have the cover of being the government. Those who bayed for blood after the death of the fireman perhaps don’t realise how their words can drive individuals to worse actions than they are calling for. Those who criticised Mahathir for giving in to the anti-ICERD crowd did not see beyond their own agenda. Those who said cancelling the Human Rights Day event on December 8 was just giving in to bullies (an obvious reference to the anti-ICERD rally) don’t understand what was at stake.

I see in my mind’s eye a group of people attacking a young fireman to the point that nearly 4 weeks of intensive care could not save him. And I think, let’s avoid such madness.

Race and religion are easy issues to exploit and unfortunately politicians and political parties do exploit them, with success. These are the people who remind everyone of the racial and religious perspective of every issue and incident. I cannot see people rejecting racial and religious politics. I think this is an area where leaders must show the way.

Here is one:

Umno vice-president Datuk Mohamed Khaled Nordin urged Malaysians to stay united following the death of firefighter Muhammad Adib Mohd Kassim.

Khaled said the tragedy should lead towards a more harmonious and peaceful Malaysian society.

“Adib is a victim of a crime which aimed to damage the lives of the people and country. They caused interracial tension on issues which were not even a racial problem.

“Therefore, Adib’s loss must be an inspiration for us to unite as a nation and not distance one race from the other. If not, his death in the quest to find harmony will be vain,“ he said in a statement.

The Permas assemblyman added that Adib’s death should be a driving force to fight all forms of prejudice against any religion, race and beliefs.

“This country belongs to all and we should have a sense of belonging to one another. This must remind us that all Malaysians should live in harmony and peace, so that such tragic incidents will not occur again,“ he said.

Khaled also remind politicians in the country to take Adib’s sacrifice as an example and stop politicking.

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