On the Beat | By Wong Chun Wai

Cool heads should prevail

An anti-austerity banner depicting former (L-R) Prime Ministers George Papandreou, Antonis Samaras and current Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras reads "We have bled enough, we have paid enough," hangs off the tallest building in the port of Piraeus, near Athens on July 11, 2015.-AFP

An anti-austerity banner depicting former (L-R) Prime Ministers George Papandreou, Antonis Samaras and current Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras reads "We have bled enough, we have paid enough," hangs off the tallest building in the port of Piraeus, near Athens on July 11, 2015.-AFP

The people should not jump to conclusions but take into account the final outcome of investigations regarding any incident before they pass judgement.

NO one would have imagined that Greece, which gave so much to the world, would be in such a sorry state today.

From Socrates to Plato to Aristotle, the foundations of Western philosophical thought were rooted in ancient Greece. The Hippocratic Oath which all medical doctors subscribe to had its origins in Greece. Malay­sia is still waiting to win its first gold medal at the Olympics which was birthed in the ancient city of Olympia more than 3,000 years ago.

Demokratia, Greek for “power of the people”, was born in Athens in the 7th century BC. Athens also introduced to us the concept of trial by jury. And surely, the world will be much the poorer without the heroes and villains of Greek mythology which we are so familiar with.

Today, Greece is bankrupt and unable to pay off its debts. Banks are shutting down and the people cannot even get cash from the ATM machines. The unemployment rate is high with all the marks of a failed society and, worse, the people have voted in a populist, leftist government that has refused to conform to the rules of global finance.

Now, we are seeing an actual Greek Tragedy being played out in real life. In ancient Greek theatre, the tragedy happens when the protagonist, often a man of high standing and influence, falls into disaster through a combination of a personal failing and circumstances which he cannot deal with.

According to the Ancient History Encyclo­pedia, Greek Tragedy was a popular and influential form of drama performed in theatres across ancient Greece. It led to the emergence of the Greek Comedy, where playwrights poked fun at politicians and philosophers. Theatre, in fact, is one of the legacies that the Greeks gave to the world.

Unless you are a student of Greek philosophy, all these terms are likely to be well, Greek, to most of us. That is an idiomatic expression that we can always use when we do not understand any difficult issue before us.

Some of our politicians, in fact, should simply say, “It’s all Greek to me,” rather than pretend they know everything and spew out nonsense in the process.

Although Greece is so far away from us, we are also seeing the emergence of the Malaysian tragedy and comedy, all being rolled out at the same time.

Over the past few months, we have grabbed global headlines for the wrong reasons. People are looking at us differently, I am afraid.

From nudist trekkers at the summit of Mount Kinabalu to allegations of corruption over Mara’s purchase of property in Melbourne to the ongoing 1MDB saga, Malaysia has been making headlines repeatedly across the globe.

And, of course, the world media love our passionate, no, overzealous implementation of the dress code that makes Bermuda shorts and above-the-knee skirts such talking points. It is virtually impossible to keep track of the jokes and parodies that creative Malaysians have come up with and openly shared on social media.

There are both tragic and comic elements in what is happening in our country. We are not very good at arguing our cases, and so what may actually be a small issue that could be easily nipped in the bud becomes a major controversy that we cannot handle.

We lack the persuasive powers and the skills to articulate our position. No thanks to our education system and, to a larger extent, our inbuilt cultural heritage, we never encourage our young to speak up, thinking that this is a challenge to the elders and authority.

So, whether in classes or at conferences, most of us Malaysians will not put up our hands to express our views nor challenge the speakers.

I have also noticed that at concerts involving some major world entertainers, Malay­sians are too shy to even get off their seats and move along with the music.

So when we have to defend ourselves, which may include our ministers and top officials having to write letters to the foreign media, they are not able to rebut the allegations with coherent and convincing arguments. Instead, it is usually rhetoric. Well, at least the ministers do take the trouble to respond.

And why in the first place does Putrajaya have to respond when it should be the job of the overseas missions in countries where the reports are published to correct any misconceptions about our country?

This would be the work of the press liaison officers, not even the third secretary. The sad story is that our embassies are not known for defending the country when we are under attack in the media. Perhaps they just lack the ability.

Our institutions are under the spotlight now. Those holding positions of power and influence need to understand what they do and stand for will have serious implications for the country.

The members of the task force that have been given the job to investigate the 1MDB controversy must remember the responsibi­lities they are carrying.

Malaysians expect them to deliver a professional and politically unbiased report based on their own investigations.

Likewise, we expect the same from the Auditor-General and Public Accounts Committee. The MPs who sit on the PAC, be they from the Opposition or Barisan, must investigate in a truly bipartisan manner and not try and score cheap political points in the process.

These investigations by various groups are not just about power but also about credibility and accountability, values that are essential in all the arms of government and democracy. We need to believe that there is still hope in these institutions.

The investigators must go after both the whistle blowers and culprits. The controversy has attracted much attention. But everyone should wait for the final outcome of the investigations before they pass judgment.

We need to believe in our media. Malay­sians seem to have better faith in the foreign media – never mind if they have also been party to many false allegations. From reports about the so-called weapons of mass destruction to recent accusations by CNN that China has banned Muslims from fasting, these ­foreign media are held in high esteem because they question the credibility of the local media.

A Google search for the mistakes by the Wall Street Journal would show a long list of fiascos too despite its powerful brand.

But let us not forget that the Malaysian media is sometimes perceived to be too submissive to the authorities. When the people lose faith in it, the media, which could be a valuable conduit of information between the governed and the government, will be of no use to anybody.

The people will just believe whatever they read on social media. There is so much information, misinformation and disinformation out there that it is extremely difficult to separate the wheat from the chaff. Most people just believe what they want to believe based on their own political stance.

Last week, a report went viral about former cop Sirul Azhar Umar purportedly wanting to testify in an Australian court that he was ordered by the Prime Minister’s wife to kill Mongolian Altantuya Shaariibuu. It was clearly a hoax with Sirul’s lawyer, Hasnal Rezua Merican, having to rubbish the claim.

Likewise, there are now attempts to link the killing of Arab-Malaysian bank founder Ahmad Hussain Najadi in July 2013 to the 1MDB saga. The Ambank founder had relinquished ownership of the bank, which he founded in 1975, in 1982.

The hitman, Koong Swee Kwan, was sentenced to death by the High Court in September 2014 for the murder.

It’s a tragedy, no doubt, but at the same time, it is also comical that Malaysians would actually believe that a retired banker, who no longer had any role in Ambank for ­decades, would be playing a role in the 1MDB case.

At times of uncertainty, every story, even if far-fetched, will gain credence if those in authority are not able to address the issues properly.

Perception can sometimes be more powerful than reality itself. It will be a tragedy for our politicians to dismiss what the people are saying and thinking.

The numerous twists and turns have confused most of us. But all we want is for truth to prevail so that this country can move on.