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Praba Ganesan

Praba Ganesan is chief executive at KUASA, an NGO using volunteerism to empower the 52 per cent. He believes it is time to get involved. You can contact him at prabaganesan@hotmail.com or follow him on Twitter @prabaganesan

MAY 11 — Is it possible, if the word mosque, church or temple ― or all three ― appears in the first paragraph, then context is torn to shreds? Casual bystanders going berserk ― as if on horse steroids ― over allegorical duties they deem imperative? 

I’m talking about Johor Baru, a car trashed and its driver sprawled on the ground.

Let’s recognise the givens here, the irrefutable findings. The driver, later victim, provoked the congregation even if they constricted his vehicle’s mobility. It’s fair to assume he was irate. The sticking point here is, remove all the labels and demographics, no one takes pride joining a mob setting upon a lone individual.

For the victim, the fear, the knowledge of impending doom, is devastating. We only have a taste of it when film-makers replicate the sheer horrors of overwhelming and certain violence on the silver screen.

The perpetrators will have to endure guilt trips as they replay it in their heads. Unlike fisticuffs or gang battles, a mob knows it wins and without risk. There is no self-defence excuse or being compromised.

In this incident, society is conflicted as sides emerge based on prejudice, history and dominance. It threatens our plural identity. Yet, fault does not lie with race and religion as much as with poor governance.

It is far more a failure of city planning than scant regard for multiculturalism. It’s about loss of foresight rather than about fractures in the psyche of the people. Better government would have reduced the severity of the problem.

I draw lessons from standing in a suburb parking lot in Leverkusen where some of the 30,000 spectators were transported to and from to the Bay Arena Stadium within an hour either way; or the walk from the eponymous World Cup Stadium Subway Station to the stadia proper where drummers and dancers cheer home fans throughout to overcome the autumn chill and Incheon FC in the cup final; or the burst of revellers thronging Melbourne’s main avenues on New Year’s Eve; or even the scratching of a round of debates at a global debating competition because the Scottish janitorial staff had to leave for their nation’s true national holiday.

That in the course of life, space will be flooded and in other instances, vacated.

Second, the word tolerance has been abused to no end.

Some answers

I’d like to approach the debasement of the term tolerance.

Tolerance ― in this scenario ― is a conscious decision to accept detriments in order to respect different beliefs and practices. You do not need to know Islam in order to understand that it is important to committed Muslims.

Which is why, private sector employers explicitly agree to Muslim employees excusing themselves to double lunch time on Friday, as a sign of tolerance.

The employee will not serve his firm during the hour, losing productivity. However, this is unavoidable as he needs to fulfil his religious obligations.

Respecting the employees' absence, because praying is important to him and not necessarily for his employers, is tolerance.

The public sector now allows Sikhs to excuse themselves for their religious holiday, Vaisakhi, without losing pay or annual leave. That’s a form of tolerance.

No civil servant needs to understand the intricacies of Sikhism, only that it is immensely important to professing Sikhs.

For two decades, the older lads at the nearby pitch to my home would let Joe run off 30 minutes before end of play. If anyone else departs even five minutes before we call it a day, verbal expletives explode in unison, ones which would make a brothel owner blush. No one has issues with Joe, because Joe is Muslim and it is understood he has to pray.

Even foul-mouthed teenagers comprehend tolerance.

However, those abusing the tolerance to gain a personal advantage, their actions require reflection.

I want readers to have that in mind, when we attend to the key issue, that of overcapacity.

When everyone wants in

Overcapacity most often has reasons. Sometimes, unexpected.

Cities are aware they choke up during rush hour, there is not enough road to match number of vehicles. City dwellers accept a fair amount of traffic, but not an obscene amount.

Festivals generate economies, but they are hell for local residents.

Imagine Gombak. It is one of the more modest Muslim zones in the valley, however it accommodates annually the madness which is Thaipusam. Tamils know it gets mad during Thaipusam, it’s half the allure for the non-religious. The Middle-Ring-Road II is held hostage for weeks, and at its zenith, it is more parade ground than pivotal artery for the valley.

Closer to home, on Tuesday evening, Kajang town was at a standstill as a Wesak Day parade paralysed vehicular passage for two hours.

For all these instances ― rush hour, Thaipusam, Kajang’s chariots and Friday prayers ― there are clear challenges and at the same time predictability.

Local government and respective authorities can co-operate and co-ordinate, and engage with the community to reduce the disruption from cyclical events.

They can mediate with partners, moderate information and mitigate stress to all affected.

It is a logistics barrier, not a theological one. So much grief can be alleviated even if several inconveniences will be present. 

I alluded to transporting football fans via buses from spider-web parking lots adjacent to highway exits, and for the second set of fans in South Korea, relying on mass rapid transit. The fans are no less macho, queuing up, as evidenced by some from both groups being topless in the cold.\

The cities can plan for events, by presenting options and information. If people are informed early, they may not leave their homes. It is the surprises which upset.

In short, the majority of events can be better managed. While it is difficult to imagine vehicles not parked on yellow lines when temple, church and mosque are full, engagement can reduce in the short run at least in situations where they are double-parking on both sides of the road.

There are exceptions.

If the event is truly unexpected, like funerals, then neighbours would put up with discomforts within reason.

If someone dies on your street, it is inconceivable to hope the family immediately sense the congestion they will cause to the street while they grieve. 

But they happen less, and the vast majority of events have lead time.

It is the indifference which breeds contempt.

Society here is handicapped not by its multiculturalism or even its fluid nature, but rather down to the failure to plan, to communicate to handle the situation, and worst, to lamely expect self-corrections.

Society therefore can untangle things, care for all its inhabitants’ personal needs without opting for the lazy option. It can tell between those compromising the well-being of their fellow citizens to a reasonable degree and those abusing the opportunity cultural righteousness grants them to have it easier.

The topic merits a broader discussion, and not just admonishments, because the factors for repeats remain with no reasonable intervention.

* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.

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