On the Beat | By Wong Chun Wai

When emotions take over

A family member of missing relative on Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 from China breaks down as she speaks to the media at Kuala Lumpur International Airport, Sepang, Selangor, Malaysia 19 March 2014. -EPA

A family member of missing relative on Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 from China breaks down as she speaks to the media at Kuala Lumpur International Airport, Sepang, Selangor, Malaysia 19 March 2014. -EPA

Amid speculation and suspicion, what is being done in the search for MH370 up to now is viewed by some people as inadequate.

THERE is a lot of anger and frustration out there, and understandably so. After three weeks, and despite the announcement that MH370 is deemed to have crashed in the remote southern Indian Ocean, there is still no closure in sight.

As we watch the images on our TV screens, and even via our smartphones, we can see that the search is intense and professional. After all, more than 26 countries are currently involved.

One recent TV broadcast commented that one of the reasons why so many countries are willing to chip in is that Malaysia is deemed to be a “friendly country” with friends who will always come forward to help.

The reality is that a full array of expertise and technology is currently being harnessed in the search for the plane.

But at the people level, emotions continue to run high. Amid speculation and suspicion, what is being done up to now is viewed by some people as inadequate. And when emotion gets in the way of reason, unpleasant scenes are bound to arise.

Personally, I have had enough of the persistent attacks on Malaysia as a country, and Malaysians as a collective whole. And I think all reasonable and rational Malaysians should speak up when abuses, verbal or otherwise, are hurled at our country.

We are not talking about criticisms against national leaders who have to take them in their stride. This is part of their job, after all, and I think it is also fair to point out the inadequacies of our frontline people when they fall short.

But why should ordinary Malaysians take the heat – for no reason whatsoever – over the disappearance of MH370?

Take, for example, the endless barrage of threats and emotionally-charged accusations coming from the country with the most number of passengers on board.

First of all, they have every right to be angry. And they can throw tantrums if that will make them feel better.

At times like this, the least we can do is to try and understand their anger and frustration.

But what I cannot understand is why is the situation being defined strictly as “us against them”?

Let’s not forget that there are 50 Malaysians among the passengers and crew. And the fact that this is a Malaysian Airlines plane puts us at the very pinnacle of the responsibility chain.

Malaysians grieving just as much

There are Malaysians who are grieving just as much because they have lost their friends and relatives. And as far as numbers go, we must also not forget that many Malaysians are now currently involved in one responsibility or another in taking care of the families of those affected by the tragedy.

Some faces have become so familiar over the past few weeks that they have practically become like family to us. And we are not talking only about the images of the victims plastered all over the newspapers.

This is not an aviation mystery that involves just one country. To be precise, those on board MH370 come from 14 countries.

But Malaysians are at the forefront to answer the queries, and many more are working in the background. All the daily abuses being hurled at our officials, who are already doing their best, are not going to help bring the plane back.

It is insane to suggest that the Malaysian government is, or Malaysians in general are, guilty of murder. This is when emotions have truly gone haywire.

And the condemnation of Malaysia Airlines has gone overboard. Point out the airline’s shortcomings in this present crisis, by all means, but one surely cannot be hysterical about the airline’s historical record.

There is only one blot on MAS’ flying record, but that happened in 1977.

And running down MAS in itself does not mean every other flight of every other airline is guaranteed safe. People will continue to fly, on MAS and other airways, despite the ongoing crisis.

Yes, we could have handled things better. We could have done a better job of crisis management in the early stage.

Yes, we slacked, but that’s simply because we have never had to deal with a crisis of this magnitude, whether natural or man-made.

Our leaders and officials have never been tested under such severe circumstances before. They’ve never had to face the international press up close and personal.

These are the people who not only ask tough questions but also some silly ones as well, like the reporter who asked our Acting Transport Minister if he is a cousin of the Prime Minister.

But we have to admit that our frontline people have learnt much along the way.

Conspiracy theories don’t help

The other matter that bothers me a lot is the accusation that we Malaysians are hiding information. That is something we regularly hear from the anguished family members and also the foreign media. But I was shocked that a Malaysian pilot with AirAsia X also made the same accusation on Facebook.

Seriously, Tan Sri Tony Fernandes, can you please give him your famous line, “You are fired!”

Whatever one may say about the disclosure of information, I must say that Acting Transport Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Tun Hussein has performed well.

He has handled all the questions posed, including even the personal one, professionally and in good English, which is something to be expected of a UK-trained lawyer.

I am glad that some of the uniformed personnel who appeared in the earlier media briefings have slipped into the background. Their poor command of English was certainly an unnecessary obstacle as we faced the world.

Much of the anger can also be attributed to the endless conspiracy theories flying all over cyberspace.

Not only are they false, but they also create unnecessary anger among those who may not fully know and understand the Malaysian environment.

Linking the pilot to the opposition and postulating the theory that he hijacked and crashed the plane is surely laughable, but the story did gain traction when even the print media picked it up.

It appears to me that the angry voices, even a minority, take on a life of their own because Malaysia is just a tiny country in the grand scheme of things.

That’s why it makes me a little sore because there’s such a thing called national integrity.

I believe many of us can no longer stand Malaysia and Malaysians being kicked around by these whimsical and loud protesters.

The search for physical evidence of MH370 is going on yet Malaysia is still being accused of doing a crappy job in the search and rescue operations.

As we can see for ourselves, there are 26 countries involved and, frankly, every country is eager to be the first to find something. As one analyst put it, each country is anxious to show off its “bragging” rights.

We need to be patient because every wrong announcement even from the right authorities will not help.

We may want to depend on the armchair analysts, including failed journalists, for quick information and analysis but these people are accountable to no one.

It is really tough because we are in a “damn if you do and damn if you don’t” scenario.

Our leaders get fired for holding press conferences that reveal little and they also get fired for not holding any press conference if they don’t have anything to share. For good measure, they end up being accused of hiding something.

In for the long haul

But the reality is that this is going to be a long haul.

Malaysia owes it to the families of those on board MH370 to search for the answers, no matter how long it takes.

The emotional outbursts are understandable. To lose an only child is surely painful, which explains why some nationality is taking it worse than others.

But the cursing, abusing and condemnation are not helping a bit.

Hurling empty water bottles at those trying their best to assist won’t bring back our loved ones.

Worse, demanding that our official kneel down and apologise is unbelievable.

Malaysians are decent, tolerant, forgiving and God-fearing people.

We may not be as efficient and competent to the level that others demand of us, but we all know what we have to do – and that includes providing answers to the families of many Malaysians on board MH370 as well.