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A nation of bystanders

 | January 28, 2017

The infamous Ampang assault wasn't the first incident to expose our moral failings. Nor will it be the last.

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The video recording of the infamous assault on the lorry driver in Ampang is a commentary of what we have become. We are a nation of bystanders.

We are grateful when we escape life’s challenges. When something bad happens to our neighbours, we breathe a sigh of relief. We say, “Thank God it happened to them and not us.”

In the Ampang incident, the two security guards at the scene were powerless to stop the attackers. There is a massive breakdown of law and order. Why is this happening?

Some readers mocked those who questioned the guards’ reluctance to act and the other witnesses’ failure to rescue the driver. These readers had many excuses for the lack of civic mindedness. One said, “What if the assailants had a gun and trained it on them?” Another said, “What if thugs are sent to attack their families?”

Of course, if firearms are involved, we must think of our safety, but in this particular case, it was just fists and legs.

Basically, the problem is apathy.

Sadly, the attack on the driver was not the first – nor will it be the last – incident to expose our moral failings.

When a wife and her children are abused by a violent husband, neighbours will convince themselves that it is not their business to interfere. When they discover that the wife and children have died, or been hospitalised for injuries, the usual response is sorrow, but the remorse is usually short lived.

One former bank official knew that her boss was making false claims for his expenses. She kept quiet because she was more interested in keeping her job, her perks, her chauffeur driven car, the private lift and the expenses paid travel. When asked to explain herself, she said, “My children are still studying. I can’t afford to lose my job. It’s dangerous talking to you.”

She could have contacted the MACC, but she didn’t. Why? One presumes it was because justice is not seen to be done and she feared she would, in the end, find the tables turned on her. The MACC needs to work on its reputation if it is to be respected and trusted.

It happens elsewhere too. If we know that someone is being sexually abused, we close one eye because we do not want to be involved in a lengthy investigation. For most of us, our rice bowl matters most.

So what would you say if, by a nasty quirk of fate, you had been the driver in the Ampang assault? While you are pinned to the ground and your head is being kicked like a football, you manage to see, through the corner of one eye, bystanders watching the attack and wincing at every blow you receive.

As you lapse in and out of consciousness, wouldn’t you be praying that someone would stop your assailants? Or would you understand why no one wants to lift a finger to help?

Mariam Mokhtar is an FMT columnist.

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