Posted on February 28, 2011


In the news this week, we are numbed by reports of the death of hundreds of human beings not unlike ourselves. Some of these our fellow human beings were going about quietly in their everyday life in a city that is not only beautiful in myriads of ways but also ordinary like many other cities of the world. At 12.51 pm on February 21, 2011 an earthquake struck and to date, 147 have being confirmed dead, with still 200 people missing.

What do we, can we, say? For all these many years, that city like so many others in the human world was functioning normally with few if any extraordinary event ever happening. Then this thing happens and loved ones, colleagues and neighbours are taken from this life in a twinkle of an eye leaving behind heartache, anguish and bewilderment. Even those who are left without loss of loved ones face months if not years of rubble- physical and emotional- to cope with. Normalcy and routine as one resumes one’s life under these circumstances is not possible for a while.

Then, we hear that the man in Libya has arranged for live bullets to be fired at street protestors, and in at least one instance, even worshippers who were coming out of the mosque after Friday prayers. In his televised speech, he said that the arsenals will be opened if need be so that loyal supporters of his regime can be supplied with weapons and ammo to wage a patriotic war against the enemies of the country, that is, those out there who are demanding his removal. To date, more than 1,000 have lost their lives many of whom were where they were when killed by their own decision, seeking freedom from despotism and the suppression and corruption which come with it.

What do we, can we, say? Especially when each new day will see many more deaths in this fashion.

In the case of natural catastrophes, there is little if indeed any room for argument or debate. Death comes when it comes. If one happens to be there, the scene of the happening, one is there at that particular time of the catastrophe. Victims were not taking a conscious risk. It could not be said of them that they knew the risk involved. They were not going anywhere which could be regarded as a place of present or perpetual danger. To say that the place one is in is within the ring of fire (that is, earthquake prone) does not necessarily mean that nobody should be staying on there. If that were so, whole human populations (not to mention, animals) in countless number of places the world over would have to be moved or resettled. But where to, how to?

Obviously, the predicament faced by protestors against despotism is in a very different category of equation altogether. The danger to one’s wellbeing, limbs and life is clear to all such protestors especially in the case of Libya. Unlike in the case of the Philippines in 1986, you won’t get nuns (of any religion) going around and quietly, slowly, deliberately placing a stock of bright flower into the barrel of each gun pointed at the protestors. To go against this particular man, you would have to be making a conscious decision; you are putting yourself at great risk.

Clearly, for any person to go on the street who is not an obvious supporter of the power that be, would be to place him- or herself in clear and present danger. The chances of being hit by a live bullet or beaten up or arrested and shut away are bound to be very high.

It is a very humbling sight to behold, these people who are intentionally placing themselves in the line of fire. Humbling precisely because when people don’t have to be in a desperately dangerous place but knowingly choose to do so. It is a very sobering thought for us who view such scenes on television to know that this or that face we are seeing may be the next victim of a brutal act, may have lost his or life in the next moment.

Fastforward from Benghazi, Az Zawiyah and Tripoli to our own situation in Malaysia where the challenge we face is not guns with live bullets or any life-threatening or even necessarily job-threatening or captivity-threatening. The task before us seems very much easier, so much more doable. Like for instance, if I am not already registered to vote, I must do so immediately. If I am already eligible to vote, to just make sure I turn up to vote, despite the traffic or the queue or the weather. If any of the by-elections happens to be in my constituency, I must make sure that my name is not transferred to some other polling station without my knowledge. When I vote, I should bear in mind what my vote involves and I am ready to vote with good reasons and at least in a deliberate, intentional way, knowing who, why and what I am voting for.

Just taking a little trouble to think through certain things in the midst of my daily schedule, my at work or at home responsibility or my entertainment, sports or leisure schedule. To think about the nation, where it is going and where instead it should be going.

Itu pun tak boleh. Even this little we are unwilling to do?

Come to think of it, there is a third way of dying. That is, dying in effect by not living in a responsible, thinking way. Doing by not doing.

Posted in: Perspective