Unity in the midst of terror

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SABAH STANDOFF: Patriotic fervour quashes uncouth cyber remarks

FOR those of us thousands of kilometres away, the sense of frustration and impotence is palpable. There is nothing much we can do except keep ourselves updated with events as they unfold across the South China Sea. As planes swoop low, airstrikes launched and bombs lobbed, we can only wait. And pray.

We pray for a speedy resolution to the crisis enveloping Sabah. For the heroes who have lost their lives defending the nation. For those still there giving their all to ensure we continue to stay out of harm's way. And for fellow journalists on the frontline.

Unfortunately, there are those who choose to do more. At a time when support is required and expected, they instead bare their teeth and growl, sniping at everything that is, and has, taken place. Social media networks give them the platform to be who they perhaps aspire to be -- master military strategists, negotiators, historians, police chiefs, army generals and ministers.

There has, from the start of the crisis when a group of Sulu gunmen landed on the shores of Sabah's east coast, been a steady barrage of criticism and vitriol on Facebook and Twitter over almost everything that has transpired.

These overnight experts have an opinion on everything, from the mode of transport that should be used to bring our troops to the troubled areas to the whens, hows and wheres of launching a counterattack.

Hurtful comments are posted without restraint or inhibition. There is no respect for those risking life and limb, even for the dead.

Controversial remarks are put up on Internet forums and chat discussions for no other reason than to provoke an adverse reaction from others.

Worse, some think this act of aggression by terrorists against our country is a laughing matter.

While husbands, wives, mothers, fathers and children anxiously await the return of loved ones from their call of duty, there are those who think it appropriate to post: "There has to be some sort of ceasefire early tomorrow morning, our army guys and the Sulu fellas also want to watch the Man United v Real Madrid game."

Some suggest bringing in Rambo or Chuck Norris to do what our police and army apparently can't -- demoralise and drive the band of Sulu terrorists out of our country.

It is easy to type whatever comes to mind in the comfort of a cybercafe, the office or home. It is not at all difficult to offer opinions and spew venom, but less so to walk into the line of fire, fully aware that the conversation you had with your wife and young children earlier in the day could perhaps have been your last.

The brave men and women who are willing to do what most of us can't or won't -- the eight fallen police personnel in Sabah among them -- are the heroes and warriors, national icons that deserve all our gratitude and respect.

Cyber warriors and keyboard mercenaries who hurl irresponsible accusations and shoot off words without a thought for others better than them, don't.

Ironically and optimistically, all this negativity has managed to bring about a response contrary to what the perpetrators had hoped to achieve -- galvanise the people, irrespective of race or religion, to unite behind the national flag.

The tempest of dissension is slowly being quelled as others speak up, urging for peace, unity and cool heads to prevail. Those with divergent views on politics and everything else are posting photos calling on friends and followers to #prayforsabah and #prayforlahaddatu, and for those defending Malaysia against the insurgents. Patriotic songs are being shared and status updates underscoring the need for all Malaysians to unite against a common enemy posted.

It's a scenario previously seen only during sporting events where a Malaysian is competing. Before this only sports, a unifier like no other, could bring everyone -- whether tall, short, thin, horizontally challenged, rich, poor, a Barisan Nasional or opposition supporter, Malay, Indian, Chinese, and dan lain-lain -- together.

Every time we won the Thomas Cup right up to 1992, Malaysians slapped each other on the backs, and cheered as one nation.

We are seeing this fervour again. Unfortunately, what's rallying the people together is something damaging and destructive. This time around, there's much more at stake than a medal and national glory.


Chok Suat Ling is New Sunday Times editor.

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