• Watching my mouth

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    EI SUN OH

    AS someone who is perhaps slightly keener in commenting on regional current affairs and development, I am constantly sought for my opinion on what’s going in this very interesting part of the world not only by members of the media, but also by friends who perhaps also have some business or professional interest in these matters.

    I am all for sharing my admittedly limited knowhow to make sense of the fast-changing regional scenario with all and sundry, but more often than not I need to be careful about what I say and write, so as to not to inadvertently invite “unwanted attention” in the form of constant bombardment of hate messages, some more threatening than others.

    Recently, I did run into such a melee. Without going into specifics so that I won’t run into “trouble” again, I was approached by a member of the media to comment on what a regrettable error caused by what must have been an oversight concerning a national symbol of one country in a spectacular event held in a neighboring country. As the relationship between the two countries have traditionally been strong though dotted with occasional disagreements, I made perhaps the strategic mistake of not having characterized the unfortunate incident as a major or grievous one, at least in the eyes of many netizens of the supposedly “offended” country.

    My conscience was clear and my intention proudly noble, as I was trying my best to downplay the incident and emphasize the strong bonds between the two countries which can surely weather such incidents. In fact, profuse apologies have by then already been rendered by the authorities of the country where the incident took place. To magnify the incident further would only have harmed the otherwise cordial bilateral relationship.

    The journalist in question sent me a link of the news piece bearing my comment the next morning, and I only browsed over it. By noon, the “tsunami” was building up its momentum. I started to receive, on an online messaging platform I use, condemnatory messages one after another with the foulest language imaginable. They came by the dozens every 10 minutes or so, strangely with very similar content, leading me to think whether this might be a concerted effort, a “campaign” of sorts, to try to bury me with condemnation – but to what end?

    Many netizens felt strongly about their national symbol being somehow mishandled, and proclaimed their willingness to die for the symbol, and perhaps drag me down in the process! The onslaught continued into the next day, and I was forced to switch my messenger to private mode just to have some peace of mind. I decided not to lodge a police report over the “swarming” but I guess I would perhaps not be able to visit the country in question, as many such “enthusiastic” netizens warned that they would be “waiting for me” to make my visit there.

    But I cannot help but wonder, if only they could channel such intensely jingoistic energy of theirs onto proper national development efforts, how prosperous their country would be. I do not in the least blame the media for misquoting me in this instance, but I deplore the apparently hugely “concerned” netizens who perhaps somewhat deliberately took my comments out of context and zoomed in on the portion to highlight their misguided jingoism.

    I will continue to make what I consider to be fair and “uplifting” comments on regional development, because I am strongly convinced that if only some of my comments on international relations were taken into consideration by various farsighted national leaders, at the very least the generally amicable bilateral and multilateral relations could be maintained. We must not lose sight of the forest by being blocked by but one tree.

    Sometimes even in private occasions, I must also watch out for what I say or even just nod or shake my head. Of course, there are those unscrupulous “friends” who would like to “frame” or “trap” me with certain innocuous comments of mine for their own imaginably self-serving ulterior purposes. But more often not, I find that a lot of people are simply looking for affirmation of their own opinions, especially from somebody like myself who is supposed to be an “authority” on such or similar matters. A simple or polite nod from me will be taken as affirmation in front of other friends, and could be spread far and wide, often to my detriment.

    A friend came up to me at a gathering just the other day and asked, “The ongoing fighting in Marawi is a good thing for Sabah, isn’t it? I mean, it lures away the terrorists from our shores, and thus fewer kidnappings would happen?” Of course, I cannot agree with such a “prosper thyself, beggar thy neighbor” attitude. So, I patiently explained to those around that fighting terrorism is not a single-nation effort, but it takes all neighboring countries to band together to stand firm against terrorism. I emphasize to them that in a sense, all of us in Southeast Asia are fighting the scourge of terrorism together, and the battle could very well have taken place somewhere else. So, good neighborliness must always prevail.

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