By Fui K. Soong | firstname.lastname@example.org
Crisis often brings out emotions that rule over rationality because fear of the unfamiliar is an unknown. A flurry of chats among my relatives pertaining to the recent earthquake in Sabah sparked an interesting point for us to ponder upon the many ideals we hang on to.
When an unknown fear eclipses our senses, do we believe it or continue to follow rational thinking? A cousin of mine living in Canada lamented the way local media deliberately twisted news of the remand of “some happy tourists” in Sabah to suggest the archaic parochialism so often stereotyped by narrow-minded right-wing writers.
Right away, words like “strictly conservative Muslim country” and other associated words conveniently come into play. Their contradiction is both blinding and glaring at the same time. Is the concept of individual liberalism justified over the control of society?
I subscribe to the early philosophers of the Enlightenment as the movement has, without doubt, brought about phenomenal societal changes in modern times. Women’s rights comes to mind as an important milestone, for example.
The recent tragedy on Mount Kinabalu ended 18 precious lives, and drove villagers into a frenzy of fear that saw some abandoning their homes as tremors continue to shake the ground. Some foreign media, angered by the fact that the Malaysian government had seemingly acted in a barbaric fashion by arresting the nudists for “causing the earthquake”, started attacking the local authorities for their actions. Clearly, it is to make the Malaysian authorities look archaic.
To top things off, when Sabah Deputy Chief Minister Joseph Pairin Kitingan and Tourism, Culture and Environment Minister Masidi Manjun – both with legal backgrounds – called for “justice”, they ended with a tirade of name-calling between them and the so-called mastermind of the nudist camp, Emil Kaminski (a Canadian national known to organise “group nudism” at iconic locations around the world as part of his – presumably – expression of individualism).
What do we do when the fervour of our beliefs – whether you believe that the mountain is sacred or that your individual expression precedes all else – crosses the line? When does one say individual freedoms override the weight of society’s combined value system?
In the case of Mount Kinabalu or Aki Nabalu, which means “the revered place of the dead” to the indigenous peoples of Sabah, stripping naked and purportedly urinating over the top of the mountain is an act akin to someone urinating on your ancestor’s grave. It may not have caused exact harm, but you would want to ask for justice over the matter, nonetheless.
Simply put, it is a violation. Call it bad luck or misalignment of the stars, the act by the nudists coincided with a seismic movement of the Eurasian, Philippine and Australian tectonic plates. The difference here is that instead of violating one ancestor, they violated thousands of ancestors.
Some Western media defending individualism would be careful to push the line of fervour and the law, for one must be clear over one’s agenda. If one’s agenda is to argue that nudism is an acceptable art form, then one must also concede that there has to be space for other people’s civil liberties to practise ancient beliefs and cultures.
When the nudists were remanded, the decent thing was to ask the nudists for an open and public apology – rather than continue to ridicule people about having to sacrifice animals to appease the gods – or some other customary compensation demanded by the villagers.
Right now, the authorities have to deal with mob rage among the villagers. You can’t blame the authorities for coming down hard on the nudists as society, in this case, demands some form of justice. Despite the people’s highly emotional state, we also know that there is no law to punish people for causing earthquakes.
In our anger, we have not lost our marbles, but a sincere apology would go a long way, thank you very much. Poking the bear right now will not help the nudists in their rather exposed situation, so to speak.
Published The Straits Times, 13 Jun 2015