KL mall brawl's a wake-up call
IT WAS not racial. Yes, police have made clear that race had nothing to do with the melee that occurred at Low Yat Plaza in Kuala Lumpur over the weekend.
And yes, kudos to the force for acting decisively to contain the situation and prevent the violence from spiralling out of control. They are arresting many of the perpetrators and patrolling the shopping centre famed for mobile phones, and other electronic and IT products.
Calm has returned and we breathe a sigh of relief. We all hope that this was yet another "isolated" incident. Yet, deep down, there is a sense of disquiet among many of us because we cannot help but wonder why this violence occurred in the first place, when it was just a case of alleged cheating or theft.
According to the inspector-general of police, two men were arrested at 7.50pm on Saturday. One was suspected of stealing a phone from a shop and the other was his alleged accomplice.
The two were caught by the phone shop's staff and handed to security guards, who called the police. The suspect was detained and the accomplice released.
Going by this official account, is it normal behaviour for the thief's accomplice to round up a big group of friends to seek revenge on the shop staff who had helped nab the duo?
One would think that, after being questioned by the police and allowed off, he would be thanking his lucky stars he was not locked up and would quietly go home and fret over whether he should confess to his parents. Instead, he boldly returned with a mob to the mall and, in full view, attacked people and destroyed property.
It is said he lied about being cheated by a phone salesman. Again, is it a normal reaction for people to coalesce into a group to seek revenge on behalf of friends this way? What was said to incite these men to such rage to brazenly break the law?
And when irresponsible people used social media to colour the incident in racial terms, why did more people so easily and quickly believe it, and again gather at Low Yat the next day to violently show their displeasure?
My take is that these men honestly believed they had the right to do so. Our society has become so brainwashed into thinking about everything in racial terms that the moment any incident, accident or crime occurs, we instinctively want to know who was involved by race.
We also lap up every bit of good and heartwarming news that shows racial harmony and goodwill. Indeed, we are grateful for stories about Malay individuals trying to protect the Chinese victims from the attackers.
The Facebook post by Fais Al-Hajari on Monday about his long-time relationship with his phone salesman Desmond was quickly hailed as welcome news.
"This good relationship has remained over the last eight years. Other handphone sellers in Plaza Idaman here, the majority of them Chinese, are also good to me.
"The secret? They don't cheat me and I don't steal their goods. We have mutual respect for each other and are supportive. The world is peaceful," said the netizen, as reported by The Star.
Yet, there are far too many who seem to readily believe the bad stuff about other races, to the extent that they see them as a clear and present danger to the well-being of their own community.
Who is to blame for this distrust and suspicion?
Who has been dishing out scare tactics to keep the races apart, so that they can claim to be their protectors and keep their power base?
Who has allowed hate speech spewing from various sources - be it a government agency, house of worship or newspaper column - to harp on racial supremacy for one community, and paint certain minority groups as interlopers and threats to national security?
A particular newspaper column, in fact, wrote an incendiary piece calling for economic jihad against a specific minority race because of its dominance in business.
Over and over again, this same brainwashing message is made, which grows in the telling: that this race is out to cheat, rob and take over the country.
Is this why, when said accomplice told lies about being cheated by a phone salesman, he was so easily believed?
After being constantly told in subtle and not so subtle ways that they are the enemy, the affected minority groups have reacted by closing ranks and retaliating in whatever ways they can.
This simmering pot of racial tensions does not augur well, as many social and political commentators have noted. It can only get worse if our touch points get fewer and fewer.
Already, our children do not attend the same schools, watch the same television programmes or listen to the same music. They speak in their own language and rarely eat or play together.
Ironically, with the Internet and social media, real interracial interaction and knowledge that can lead to better understanding and acceptance of each other are missing.
The result is we do not really know each other any more and have become suspicious and distrustful, ready to believe the worst in each other. That is why hate speech is enticing and believable.
The Low Yat incident serves as a wake-up call that all is not well in our race relations. The mob acted the way they did because they were incited by what they already believed to be true, and that they had the right to do so and get away with it.
It is truly to the police's credit that they showed clearly that the perpetrators are sadly and foolishly mistaken.
We need more messages and actions like this. At the same time, peace-loving Malaysians must send out a strong message to those responsible for this horrible and dangerous state of affairs to cease and desist.
More urgently, we must find ways back to reconnect like the days of yore, and build bridges of trust and unity.
THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK