Recent lamentable events have reminded us of the need to be careful with our use of words, and this applies particularly to public figures.
An article submitted to FMT last week sought to chastise IGP Khalid Abu Bakar for the language he used when he spoke some time ago about the police’s preparedness against terrorists. Speaking to the press, Khalid, in a message to Daesh fighters, said: “Come back if you dare.”
In the wake of the grenade attack in a bar in Puchong, Khalid tried to exonerate himself by saying that he never used the word “challenge” in his earlier statement. He said it was therefore wrong to accuse him of having issued a challenge to the terrorist group.
However, as the FMT contributor pointed out, the phrase “if you dare” is often a provocation. It’s heard in school yards everywhere and in alleys where gangs face each other down. It is futile for the IGP to try to divorce his words from their meaning and context.
Prime Minister Najib Razak too has had his gaffe from 2014 thrown back into his face again as netizens dug up his speech to the Umno general assembly, in which he exhorted the party faithful to be “brave like ISIL fighters”, using one of the official acronyms for the Daesh.
The Prime Minister has since taken some steps to distance himself from that bit of imprudence.
Another recent example of back pedalling on one’s words comes from the Mufti of Pahang. After being widely criticised for calling DAP and its supporters “kafir harbi”, a term traditionally used as a reference to non-believers whom Muslims are justified in killing due to their militancy against Islam, he tried his best to retract his words, but he wouldn’t apologise. Perhaps, if he would exercise more humility, his words might stop haunting him.
Indeed, words often affect people more deeply than our leaders want to admit. To admit responsibility for one’s words would be to admit that one is, to some extent, responsible for the ills associated with those words, and our leaders have never been fond of implicating themselves. But we have come to a point where it is clear that extremism has become a real problem in our society. More than ever, leaders are expected to lead by example in both deeds and words. More than ever, they should think before they speak.