When moral outrage is misdirected

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A crammed cubicle in a 'third class' ward at the Penang General Hospital. Where is the moral outrage?

We seem to focus on the frivolous and the divisive, and our perspective is framed by a narrow lens at a time when serios issues are plaguing the nation, observes Anil Netto.

As I write this, the large Pas rally in support of Hadi’s bill was scheduled to take place in KL on 18 February 2017.

While it is well within Pas’ right to hold this rally, its private member’s bill (Hadi’s bill) has raised uneasiness, especially in our plural and multi-religious society.

Many of the older generation can recall a time when religion was not such a divisive subject in the country.

Ideally, everyone should be equal before the law, so that there is one set of laws that govern the nation and not different standards.

Universal values – such as, natural justice, solidarity, fundamental freedoms as enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and related international treaties that should govern the nation – have evolved over centuries to form the basis of common law.

What has happened over the years is that certain quarters appear to have exploited religion for their own political ends. The changes they are seeking could alter the character of the Constitution, which was designed for a plural society of many different faiths and ethnic backgrounds while acknowledging certain local realities.

These days, it seems that our moral outrage is often misdirected. We seem to focus on the frivolous and the divisive, and our perspective is framed by a narrow lens. Whether this is intentional (divide-and-rule) or otherwise is hard to tell.

Is it a coincidence that this is happening when the economy seems to be faltering and we are embroiled in one of the world’s biggest financial scandals (1MDB)? Perhaps some feel that we need an alternative order to rescue us from the depths we have sunk.

Unfortunately, no matter what our faiths, we seem to be largely silent about the serious issues of the day.

Democracy has not been tried in our country and found to be wanting. In fact, we haven’t even given genuine participatory democracy a real chance.

Ours has been a fettered democracy, shackled by all sorts of repressive laws. Our heavily centralised federation needs greater decentralisation, not even more centralisation of powers.

Our lop-sided electoral system has been muddied by money politics, malapportionment and gerrymandering.

While grand corruption flourishes and our national debt climbs, moral guardians barely raise a squeak.

While Orang Asli and indigenous land is trampled upon or grabbed or degraded, not many seem concerned.

When land reclamation destroys fish breeding grounds, we say ‘development’ should trump the livelihoods of the fisherfolk.

While we are outraged over snatch-thefts and petty crime, many remain silent about those who have illegally amassed great wealth or siphoned away public funds or transferred public assets into private hands.

While we are concerned about how people dress, we don’t seem to be too bothered about our wasteful, materialistic lifestyle that is fuelling global warming and aggravating climate change, which is wreaking havoc on global weather patterns.

While many are clamouring for harsher punishments in the belief that this will improve morality, where is the moral outrage over the wide gap between the rich and poor?

Where are the shrill voices when university and healthcare budgets are squeezed and the lower-income group is burdened by the rising cost of living?

If we really want to uplift and empower the people, then the first place to start is to improve the standard of education. We need to open young eyes to the many larger issues that confront us: the evils of corruption, the importance of the ecology and the threat posed by climate change, the arms race, the unsustainability of relentless economic growth.

We need to build more bridges, not erect walls — which have suddenly seem more fashionable — that divide us.

Two small initiatives in our society deserve to be highlighted.

Some 60 Muslims and Christians from St Anne’s Church in Bukit Mertajam, forming mixed teams, participated in a successful bowling competition in Kulim last weekend. Bishop Sebastian gave away the prizes.

Similarly, ethnically mixed teams have kicked off matches under the Harmony Cup tournament organised under the auspices of Gabungan Bertindak Malaysia (GBM), a coalition of civil society organisations.

These are small initiatives that should show us what is possible when we build small bridges right where we are. May we have more such bridges instead of walls.

This article was first published in the Herald.

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Anil Netto
Anil Netto, the honorary treasurer of Aliran, is constantly amazed at how Aliran miraculously keeps afloat financially. A former corporate finance head and external auditor, he believes in social justice for all and environmental stewardship.

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