Saturday, March 29, 2014

Rising above unfair criticism

EVEN more shocking than the tragic loss of Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 has been the disturbing and unedifying sight of the Chinese, both family members of those presumed to have perished, and Chinese government officials, reacting to the tragedy.

  I can understand the anguish and sorrow through which they have gone in the past few days and weeks, but they are not alone in having to cope with this unprecedented tragedy.

  There are Malaysian, Australian, Indonesian and many other families from several countries who have lost their loved ones. They, too, are grieving, but unlike the Chinese, they have shown great restraint and have not gone over the top with vicious and appalling imputations of improper motives and casting aspersions on our integrity in handling the crisis.

  I may be forgiven for wondering if this is what 4,000 years of civilisation has taught them to react in a crisis! Their invective is too crude to repeat and, while we may forgive them their behaviour, I personally will find it difficult to forget their insults hurled at my country and people with scant regard for our feelings.

  I know Chinese is a "tonal" language and the tone of their assault against us has taken us completely off-guard. I am proud of the behaviour of Chinese Malaysians who have lost their beloved family members and Malay Malaysians who grieve with great dignity.

  My charitable take on their behaviour is that after a long history of communist dictatorship, the Chinese, as a nation, have become so used to being given the run around as far as official information is concerned that they have become highly suspicious of any official information they are given by any government agency.

  Their demand for information about the fate of their loved ones is understandable, but to expect the Malaysian authorities to produce information when there is none to be had for love or money is bizarre to say the least.

  They should remember that it was their own authorities that released to the world that they had sighted two pieces of debris in the South China Sea. That bit of news was later withdrawn by the Chinese authorities.

  What they would like the world to see as the new China aspiring to global power status is really a nation with a thin veneer of sophistication and still unsure about its place in the global geopolitical scheme of things.

  The legal vultures in the most litigious nation on earth are rubbing their grubby hands with glee in anticipation of a windfall from representing the families of those presumed dead on board the ill-fated MH370 that disappeared on March 8. They have their noses in the trough of human tragedy.

  The haste with which they are dragging both Boeing, the aircraft manufacturer, and MAS, the airline operator, through the courts in Chicago is indecent. It is not fair to tar all lawyers with the same brush, but it is the few whose unethical behaviour which has given this great profession a bad name.  

  Malaysia has been unreasonably blamed for the handling of this crisis that any fair-minded person would readily concede as unprecedented in the history of aviation. An American friend of mine from New York sent me an email ten days after the disappearance of MH 370, in the following terms: "The disappearance of Malaysia Airlines flight 370 after its departure from Kuala Lumpur International Airport has given the world a very unsettling demonstration of how fragile our lives can be... The feeling here due to perceptions of the management of the search for flight 370 is turning quite negative on Malaysian officials."

  I responded by saying that perceptions are real in that they exist, but do not forget that more often than not, they have no basis in fact. Nothing like this has happened before to a large commercial airliner; it is unprecedented.

  To suggest that we are withholding vital information, as many are doing, when nearly all of the so-called information is nothing more than idle gossip and pure speculation, is to encourage and condone the passing on to emotionally drained relatives and friends unverified bits of "news" garnered from CNN, the New York Times and the Telegraph newspaper, and the usually unreliable sensation-peddling tabloids for which Britain is noted.

  Do you think, I asked him, in identical situations, other countries could have done any better? We won't know until another mysterious disappearance, God forbid, will we?

  What the world seems to forget is that they are not talking about a Mickey Mouse airline: MAS is a world-class airline, among the best in the world.

  There had been, until now, only one fatal crash, in 1977, killing more than a hundred people when the plane was hijacked on a domestic flight. It has had a safety record second to none, better than many "national" airlines anywhere in the world.

  Two people who have stood out in managing the crisis are undoubtedly Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak and  Acting Transport Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein.

  With the pressures and uncharitable innuendoes and all kinds of allegations swirling around their ankles, they remained totally focused and unflappable.

  Hishammuddin, whom the opposition had done their level best to ridicule, has shown in very trying circumstances, an unprecedented crisis no less, that he has risen like a true professional, above the murky depths of opposition politics.

  Even traditionally hostile foreign journalists have decided to give him a grudging endorsement.

  I will not waste too many words on the behaviour of the opposition beyond saying I deplore their behaviour in these difficult times: many people overseas are aghast at their conduct in a national crisis, but there is an element of some black humour when the party that could not hold its central executive committee election in an open and transparent manner is trying to make us believe that they could have done a better job of managing this unhappy affair.

  My concluding words of deep sympathy and love must go to the members of the cockpit and the cabin crew who perished in the service of a great iconic airline that Malaysia is fortunate to be able to call its own.
By Tunku Abdul Aziz

Read more: Rising above unfair criticism - Columnist - New Straits Times

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