SELAMAT Hari Raya Aidilfitri to all my Muslim brothers and sisters. For me, Islam is a great religion of love, understanding and peace. Over 65% of the Malaysian population are Muslims and definitely the Aidilfitri celebration will always be merrier than other festive seasons. Moreover, the victory in fasting the whole of Ramadan makes Syawal even more meaningful.

This year, however, the incident in Low Yat Plaza may somewhat dampen the festive spirit. But it serves as a great lesson for all of us.

First of all, we know that Malaysians believe postings on social media too easily, especially those with racial sentiments that arouse our emotions. It is a general perception that if a topic is being discussed repeatedly at large and when hatred is sown, then the issue could be considered true and real.

Sometimes, topics discussed on social media are neither true nor correct. Even the explanation by the Inspector General of Police, which was widely published in the media, can be refuted by the counsel to the young man suspected of the theft. How then can we truly believe all the words and news reports without being an eye witness to the real situation?

Thus, the main lesson for us is to determine the authenticity of any news before sharing them in social media, otherwise restrict them for discussion only.

Freedom of expression, assembly and the right to form associations is provided for in Article 10 of the Federal Constitution, and we must wisely make full use of this freedom, especially in social media. Discussion through social media is a healthy platform to sharpen our minds and express views. However, just like any seminar or conference will have a moderator to guide the discussions, I feel that the owner of the post or sharing on social media should also stand as a moderator to control the situation before things get out of hand.

Many online forums have just that – moderators to guide a forum for discussion. If we can be self-moderated in the space of social media and act wisely upon unwanted conversations, there should not arise the question of whether social media should be curbed and controlled.

Secondly, I feel that the suspected theft case in Low Yat was merely a very little spark that, when mixed with stories of racism, cheating and aided by news spread widely through social media and so swiftly, ignited a huge burn in the hearts of people. To add fuel to the fire, a blogger was suspected to have written a blog that misled and caused the subsequent events, leading to a car being badly damaged and injuries to a few innocent people.

After that, there was also a viral spread of messages that the surrounding areas of Bukit Bintang, a tourist hotspot, were no longer safe to visit. I work at Yayasan Usman Awang where our office is at the Sun Complex and I find no threat going to and from work every day. It is very clear that unity in our country is so fragile, our people are easily poisoned by fear and this situation is not healthy for development, especially when we are on the final lap to achieve the status of a developed country.

What will the Government do next to deal with such cases so that it does not happen again? Are we Malaysians also responsible for this incident? Those who spread inaccurate news, which was thought to be true and interesting, through the social media, rarely apologise for their mistakes.

It is rare to see someone withdraw their wrong arguments through social media and face up bravely to a shameful situation. Many chose to hide behind their computers and keyboard and stay as shadowless warriors that way.

Datuk Seri Nazir Razak suggested making racism a crime. Although I do not personally agree with the proposal, I feel there is a need for all of us to learn and increase our level of maturity after this incident at Low Yat Plaza. If we, the younger generation, have never felt the pain of the May 13 incident, let this Low Yat Plaza fracas be a gentle reminder of the importance of national unity and maturity of minds.

Let bygones be bygones. As the Malays say, “ambil yang jernih, buang yang keruh”. We keep that in mind, and the lessons learnt from this incident, and forget the differences among us.

To apologise and to forgive is our culture. I feel that the Low Yat Plaza fracas would not have happened if the theft suspect and the shop salesmen could forgive and forget. The young men who were beaten on the night after the fracas did not hold grudges against the youths who beat them. I feel that the youths responsible for the fight should also be given a chance to apologise.

For this year’s Aidilfitri, let us visit our Muslim friends to celebrate the occasion. If you do not have a Muslim friend, just walk over to a Malay neighbour to wish them Selamat Hari Raya. As far as I know, Malays are known to be always warm, welcoming and friendly.

Chief Executive Officer, Yayasan Usman Awang

(Published in Letters, The Star, July 17, 2015)

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