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The Star - Musings - Let’s stop the ‘hatewave’ (26 Aug 2018)
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AROUND the world, climate change is causing heatwaves where people are unused to very warm weather. Back home, due to another type of climate change, we are experiencing a different kind of wave, which I call a hatewave.

There are people who are still unable to accept that the cliched “new dawn” has arrived in our beloved country. A new environment where inclusivity, indeed democracy itself, is the byword for all things from now on. People want to be listened to, want things to be done transparently, want wrongdoings to be punished and justice for everyone. They want the rule of law, which applies to everyone and not where some people are above and beyond the law. Most of all they want to be left in peace and to live in an atmosphere of goodwill and neighbourliness with everyone else.

But some people still have not gotten it into their heads that the reason they lost power was because they totally misread what people wanted. It could even be said that they were so cocooned that they didn’t really know what people wanted or simply refused to believe it.

And so despite it being a failed formula, they are still using the same one to try and gain popularity or if not, to make the current lot in power look bad.

Hence, we see endless hate campaigns on social media, this time not so much about race, but about religion. One can only shake one’s head at the amount of energy directed towards devising ever more ludicrous stories about the weakest people in the country, which, this time, happens to be the LGBT community.

I don’t want to repeat some of the shocking things being said about a community that is comprised of fellow human beings, citizens and let’s not forget, voters. But it takes zero amount of courage to pick on people who cannot really respond without endangering themselves, their friends or families. There are no bravery medals to be handed out for calling for the killing of fellow citizens using pseudonyms on social media. There is no honour in the name-calling of people, especially when hiding behind the cloak of religion.

To say that these are just words and cannot do any harm in real life is a mistake. Recently, a human being who happens to be transgender was set upon by eight (presumably non-transgender) men and beaten up so badly that she wound up in hospital. The photographs of her wounds should horrify any decent person. Apparently those men set upon her for the simple reason that they didn’t like transgender people. Now why would they suddenly get that idea?

The police are investigating the case and hopefully this time they will actually catch and charge the perpetrators. We are supposed to have the rule of law in this country and the law does not allow anyone to beat anybody up, regardless of their gender identity or sexual orientation. We should all be horrified when people openly defy the law. Once we allow this, where will it all end? In anarchy, where anyone can take the law into their own hands?

I really hope that the police do their duty without fear or favour. That’s what professionals do, regardless of what profession they might be in. (In the latest development, five people have been charged for the crime).

Imagine going for treatment by a doctor and the doctor openly states they don’t like your race/religion/gender/sexual orientation. Would you ever go to that doctor again?

People who spew hate often don’t realise that they can be victims themselves from the same sort of bile. Hate is always directed at the Other, the person whom you perceive as different, and often inferior. In one set of circumstances, you may be the dominant person. But change the circumstances and you become someone else’s Other.

Muslims in particular should be very aware of this. Immediately after Donald Trump was elected, there was a rise in the number of hate crimes towards people perceived as “the Other” – African-Americans, Muslims, Latinos, Jews, anyone who is not white. An analysis of FBI statistics showed that “hate crimes more than doubled the day after the 2016 election, with a 92% spike in average daily hate crimes in the two weeks following the election compared to the daily average from the beginning of the year. Crimes against Latinos increased by the greatest percentage, followed by Muslims and Arabs and African-Americans.”

This spike was because, through his words and actions, Trump seemingly gave permission to white supremacists to be bigots.

For the first time in several decades, people were proud to display their Ku Klux Klan affiliations openly such as in Charlottesville, Virginia, and the President refused to unequivocally condemn them.

As we saw with our own local supremacists in the past few years, if our leaders don’t condemn them unequivocally, they will only become emboldened.

The same thing occurred after the Brexit referendum in the UK.

The Leave campaign promoted the notion that by remaining in the European Union, they would be swamped by refugees, most of whom would be Muslim. The Independent reported that “police figures obtained through Freedom of Information (FOI) requests showed incidents surged by 23% – from 40,741 to 49,921 – in the 11 months after the EU referendum, compared with the same period the previous year, marking an unparalleled rise.”

Is it therefore any surprise that given the hate campaigns against sexual minorities, there has been even more violence against them, especially the more visible transgender population?

The thing for everyone to remember is this: hate comes from fear. And fear comes from ignorance. I have seen so many comments on social media that are fuelled only by hysteria and over-active imaginations. None of them are grounded in reality.

It makes me wonder about the mental health of these commenters, given the amount of time and energy they spend to whirl themselves into hurricanes of hate. Any professional psychologist would recommend meditation to calm them down, preferably five times a day.

The point is, if you can’t even walk outside without the fear of being beaten up just because of how you look, then we don’t have a civilised country. What more an Islamic country, which is supposed to be a peaceful and stable place, a haven for all of God’s creations. What sort of representation of faith is it that is expressed in anger, in slander, in insults and even lies?

There are many people who find it hard to refrain from judging others. That’s probably human. But there are consequences to voicing out those judgements.

Hopefully, you’re not the sort of person who can sleep well knowing what you’ve just said has, at minimum, caused hurt or in the worst of cases, caused that person to be killed. Consideration for the wellbeing of others is a central tenet of most religions, is it not?

Nobody is forced to accept people who they do not approve of.

But non-acceptance surely does not mean condoning violence against them. Non-acceptance surely does not mean letting criminals go scot-free. Non-acceptance cannot possibly mean denying anyone the right to live.

People who think of themselves as good people of faith cannot at the same time avert their eyes from violence against fellow human beings, especially in their own backyard.

There has been equally as much slander about those who defend the weak and marginalised. Apparently being kind and compassionate is also unacceptable. That is the kind of thinking that allowed us to be oppressed for 60 years. If we are to truly celebrate our second Merdeka this coming week, we have to free ourselves from the shackles of the old thinking – especially that we need to be cruel to others in order to be true followers of our faith.

There is a lovely authentic hadith (sayings of the Prophet Mohamad, peace be upon him), recorded by Muslim, which goes, “You will not enter Paradise until you believe. You will not believe until you love each other.” As far as I can tell, there are no conditions attached to this, that you should only love certain people.

Many people want to emulate the Prophet. The Quran describes him thus: “O Messenger of Allah! It is a great Mercy of God that you are gentle and kind towards them; for, had you been harsh and hard-hearted, they would all have broken away from you” (Quran 3:159). Yet, how many refrain from being harsh and hardhearted?

Last May we gave ourselves new freedom, based on the rule of law, on equality of all Malaysians and on justice.

Let’s not be selective about who that applies to.

Happy Merdeka! And Happy Malaysia Day in advance!

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