Monday, December 10, 2007
The blame game that serves no purpose
By Abdul Malek Munip
Nurin Jazlin Jazimin (right) with sister Nurin Jazshira. Following Nurin Jazlin’s killing and that of other girls, it would be better to focus on solutions rather than pointing fingers for what went wrong.
LYING dormant within many tragic social phenomena are lessons necessary for their own reduction. Unfortunately, without the requisite wisdom and patience to glean the proper lessons, every tragedy has the potential to breed more tragedies. In this regard, the tragedy that befell eight-year-old Nurin Jazlin Jazimin more than two months ago is no different.
In the aftermath of the incident, there was an outpouring of rage, anguish and guilt. This collective bereavement understandably requires an outlet and manifested itself in our tendency to focus on recriminations rather than solutions. Our anger and guilt, it seems, compelled us to search for someone to blame, regardless of whether it was fair, useful or otherwise. After all, the need to blame may also have been motivated to assuage our sense of inadequacy.
Thus began the blame game for what happened to Nurin and the targets were first the police and other relevant agencies, and later the parents. The former was blamed for not treating the incident with the requisite respect and the latter, for being negligent. Under the circumstances, the need for recrimination is a very natural reaction.
It is almost innate.
Unfortunately, though blaming others is understandable, it is not very useful. To thwart complex social problems, we must first try to understand it. In this regard, blaming, unless it is part of the solution, simply doesn’t help. To my mind, within the context of finding solutions, it is more useful that they receive our support (morally and in terms of concrete suggestion), rather than our indignation.
Since Nurin, the crime statistics have added another child, Preeshena Varshiny, 9, to its growing list. And before Nurin, there was the tragedy of Ooi Ying Ying. Due to the extensive media coverage that they received, these are tragedies that we readily remember and know of. They are seared into our collective memory.
And yet, there could very well be others that have escaped our notice.
As such, it would be far more prudent to focus on solutions rather than recriminations. Blame will not prevent another Nurin or Preeshena from happening; only solutions will.
Fortunately, not all of us are contented to blame.
At both the level of private citizens and government, suggestions on how to create a safer environment for our children are being forwarded. The impending Child Protection Policy (CPP) that the Ministry of Women, Family and Community Development is proposing appears, by all reports, comprehensive and realistic in its approach to child safety. The early signs are good: it doesn’t try to substitute the role of parents in bringing up their children but, rather, reinforces it.
By advocating the role played by parents, community and all children-related organisations (government institutions, schools, hospitals, NGOs) in creating a safe environment for children, it attempts to curb the problem of crimes against children, before it happens.
But it also makes recommendations on how to improve the problem of child abuse after it happens: the witness service programmes are to be made more child-friendly and the procedure of waiting 24 hours before lodging a police report for missing children and, subsequently, commencing investigations is reduced.
Furthermore, a database for perpetrators of child sexual abuse is also in the pipeline. And, according to a Berita Harian report, the CPP will incorporate the early warning and detection mechanism called the Nurin (Nationwide Urgent Response Information Network) Alert. The Nurin Alert was initiated by a group of concerned citizens and is modelled after the Amber Alert in the US.
What the CPP and Nurin Alert demonstrate is that efforts to find solutions can be done both ways: not only top down by government policies but also bottom up by private initiative. As such, they deserve not only our commendation but also our reciprocation.
Thus, without suggesting any inherent shortcoming in the CPP, is there anything more that we can do? Should we look at the issue of child safety in isolation or within the larger framework of reducing crime generally?
To my mind, one way of looking at it is to have the longer-term objective of creating an environment that is safe for all — man, woman and child. After all, if the environment is not safe for adults, including physically well-trained adult males such as our angkasawan candidate Mej Dr Faiz Khaleed, who was attacked outside his own house, then it is fair to assume that it is not safe for children.
This begs the question: In terms of personal safety, what threatens us? Answer: Crime, or rather criminals.
Thus, loosely speaking, we can envision a safe environment that is either protected from criminals (criminal-proof), or one where society’s supply of criminals is reduced or eliminated (criminal-free). The former assumes that criminal elements are a given and may be on the rise, while the latter assumes that it is not and can be reduced.
We have to protect ourselves in the here and now. But, in the long run, we have to create a safe environment, not by insulating ourselves from the underworld of society but, rather, by reducing its size.
In short, we must cut society’s supply line of criminals.
This will lead us to ask some fundamental questions: What is the root cause of crime and why is our society producing so many individuals who are willing to commit crime?
For a start, do we have a database recording the psychological profile and history of rapists in our country? If it does exist, how reliable is the quality of the facts and interpretations of them? Are reports on rape on the rise? And if they are, is it really because rape is happening more frequently or due to better reporting procedures?
To me, gleaning the proper lessons from such a database may help efforts to reduce and minimise the occurrence of rape. Preventing rape is, of course, the priority but, additionally, such a database may also serve to inform us better in designing more effective punishment. An effective punishment may also serve as an effective deterrent for potential rapists.
If such a database exists, maybe somebody could compile the common characteristics that such individuals have. It might indicate the general and particular factors that contribute to the rise of such individuals.
For instance, is it the social environment, break-up of the family unit, availability of porn (which was cited by serial killer Ted Bundy as contributing towards his sadistic nature) or the erosion of traditional sources of authority that leads to an increase in rape? Or could it be the fact that talking about sex so glibly nowadays has broken a taboo, a form of social control that previously had played a part in keeping it in check?
Perhaps it’s due to our changing values which can either take the form of useful traditional values that have been cast aside or the acquisition of new ones that have sinister repercussions that were not apparent at first glance? Or, maybe, an insidious combination of both?
Could it be possible that some people are simply born evil — giving weight to the infamous “criminal gene” theory? Of course, it is very reasonable to consider any rapist as emotionally and mentally ill, but why does the defect express itself in such a repugnant form? Thus, even if they are simply evil or mentally and emotionally defective, are such individuals increasing with the pace of development or decreasing? Perhaps, the intense pressure being exerted by the demands of modern life has triggered such a trait which, under more relaxed circumstances, may otherwise remain dormant?
Additionally, if there is an increase in rape cases absolutely and as a percentage, should we look at it in isolation? Or is it another symptom, albeit an extreme one along with the increase in crime and divorce rates, violence, corruption, etc, that the moral fabric of our society is tearing up? If it is true that the moral underpinning of our society is unravelling, then what does it say about the religious department’s attempts to inculcate religious values?
In more general terms, perhaps our model of development is flawed? Could it be possible that our development as it is currently interpreted and implemented dehumanises us?
If it does, is there an alternative model to adopt, one that strengthens our sense of community and brotherhood rather than undermining it?
The different reactions towards hardship and crisis of the people of Kobe and New Orleans do seem to suggest the importance of having the right model of development, including a proper sense of community and esprit de corps.
In 1995, after being crippled by an earthquake, instead of the looting and rampant crime that sometimes accompany such catastrophe, the people of Kobe were even more united in co-operating with each other to, firstly, deal with the disaster and, later, rebuilding their lives.
According to a 1997 paper by Kathleen Tierney and James D. Goltz titled “Emergency Response: Lessons Learned from the Kobe Earth-quake", the Kobe disaster produced a reaction that was “without precedence in Japanese history” whereby “most search and rescue was undertaken by community residents".
Yet, when New Orleans was hit by hurricane Katrina in 2005, all hell broke loose. Eddie Compass, the then New Orleans police chief was quotedby The Guardian as saying “We have individuals who are getting raped, we have individuals who are getting beaten".
Of course, in terms of ethnic composition, Kobe’s society is far less plural than New Orleans, but the violence and crime committed in New Orleans were not limited to individuals and groups from different races.
Thus, at a cursory glance, could it be that the model of development used in Malaysia has, inadvertently, been promoting too much market values, such as selfishness and predatory behaviour, rather than human ones, such as compassion and selflessness, and, inadvertently, started a process that stifled the development of altruistic tendencies?
To some, many of the questions I raise may seem unrelated to the incidence of rape. Maybe they are right. Maybe all the questions that I am asking are, indeed, sheer gibberish.
But, to my mind, nothing happens overnight or, as Alfred Marshall succinctly puts it: “Nature makes no sudden leaps". In short, every scenario, however extreme, comes into existence gradually and is usually the prolonged accumulation of small changes that appear unrelated.
The capacity to rape is an extremely evil act and if it is indeed occurring more often, then, in my opinion, this increasing trend must have its forerunner in more insignificant examples of moral unravelling.
Offhand, I do not have any statistics to back me up, but statistics are merely one reflection of the quality of our society while our concrete daily interactions with them are another.
On far too many occasions I have been witness to one form of social breakdown or another. I have seen snatch thieves in action, and I have lost count of how many times I have witnessed the wanton arrogance of Mat Rempit to intimidate and bully other road users and break the law.
For the last 15 years, divorce is no longer a rarity, and neither have stories of people under 30 getting married for the third time. In fact, instances where a mother is willing to leave her child and husband and press for divorce so she can marry somebody rich are also not unheard of (an extreme form of commercial joint-venture, so to speak).
On YouTube, judging by their school uniforms, there is even a clip showing Malaysian schoolgirls beating up one of their own. And all of us are familiar with the phenomena of buang bayi (abandoning babies).
All these examples, and many more, show that there exist too many individuals in our society who do not understand the meaning of responsibility and are devoid of compassion, mercy and love. When an individual does not have compassion and mercy, or its presence is below a minimal amount, then, in a sense, that person is emotionally retarded and defective.
There is a high possibility that these individuals are unable to differentiate between appetite and ambition, between lust and love, or between justice and revenge. Under the circumstances, he or she will be open to all kinds of evil temptations, from petty offences, like pickpocketing and vandalism, to more serious ones, like gangsterism, murder and rape.
As a Muslim, I am taught that all of us have the potential for greatness as befitting our preordained role as God’s vicegerent on Earth.
But potential is not the same as reality. In reality, men can be the most wretched of creatures as the murderers and rapists among us have shown time and again.
After all, our behaviour is determined not only by our minds but also by our emotions, both the good and the bad. If we use our minds in conjunction with the feelings of compassion, mercy and love, then we are indeed capable of great things as was proven by the lives of Gandhi, Mother Teresa and Bangladesh’s Muhammad Yunus.
On the other hand, if our intellect is used in the service of negative emotions such as anger or hate, then we are capable of being the most despicable of God’s creatures as was made evident by the Hitlers, the Stalins and the Ted Bundys.
It is good to remember that nobody is born with a full array of emotions, good or bad.
As such, parents play a fundamental role in nurturing not only individuals who are mentally able but also those who are emotionally balanced. When spoken in such terms it sounds so commonsensical and easy to achieve.
Yet, in actuality, the values that parents teach their young can and often do diverge from such axiomatic wisdom.
In reality, the values that parents promote will often be greatly influenced by not only their perception of what is required to be successful in life but also their conception of what constitutes success.
If they perceive that in order to be successful and respected one has to be greedy and self-centred, then they will promote such values to their children.
If they perceive that success in this life and the next requires living a virtuous life, then they will try to inculcate in their progeny values that correspond with such beliefs.
As such, though the task of inculcating moral values is primarily the responsibilities of parents, the government can facilitate the process by creating a social milieu that prods parents in the right direction.
If we can nip the chain reaction of moral unravelling in the bud (family), hopefully that, by itself, will have a positive affect in reducing the more extreme manifestations of social breakdown (of which rape, child abuse and other serious crimes are examples).
Datuk Abdul Malek Munip is attached to the Department of Special Functions (Jasa), Ministry of Information. He is a former member of parliament
- New Straits Times