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A question of the right choice

The New Straits Times, January 6, 2002

By Dzulkifli Abdul Razak

THE year 2001, in the main, can be summed up in the first three letters of the alphabets — A, B, C. The first letter of the alphabet stand for attack, America, Afghanistan, accursed, arrogance, anarchy.

B stands for bioterrorism, blunders, bellicose, belligerent, Bush, Blair; C for collision, carnage, confrontation, collapse, cohesion, conspiracy.

None of these words needs further expansion because they are being elaborated upon in practically all reviews of the yesteryear. Many conclusions point to the letter D, for: double-standards. These have resulted in more Ds: damage, death, dispossessed, desolation, despair, and perhaps even doom for some.

Looking back, one recalls precisely the feeling of doldrums, yet another D. In a way this is illustrated in an e-mail message entitled ‘Safely home but the heart is in Afghanistan', which came through towards the dawning of 2002.

It is a message from Dr Jemilah, after Mission III in the war-torn nation, graphically spelling out her memories of the two-week long mercy mission with her team.

As we count our blessings in a nation of abundance, we wonder how much we have taken it for granted. Just think about the many preventable disasters, the countless avoidable accidents, and the numerous deaths that may have come a little too soon. They are not confined to any one individual, or one society. The entire nation was involved. And at times we are all put to the ultimate test by irresponsible hoodlums.

In this year's inaugural column we would like to share some excerpts from that e-mail to give more meaning to Prime Minister Datuk Seri Dr Mahathir Mohamad's new year call that we should value our achievements (NST, Jan 1).

Dr Jemilah penned the following, which she said would haunt her for the rest of her life.

Memory 1: "The faces of children who walked in the clinic, full of dirt, despair and pain. Yet, after five to ten minutes with the team, they are clean, warm (with new clothing and bonnets) and injected with some hope to face the day again." Memory 2: "The face (sic) of ladies who walked into the clinic pointing to their tummies in pain. Not from a medical ailment but from the little red stones that they gathered, kept in their pockets and swallowed from time to time to suppress their hunger." Memory 3: "The look of amazement among the men of Afghanistan when they witness a female president telling other men and them as well what to do. But later, the look of respect they had when they realised that we all had a role to play." For many of these people, the countdown to 2002 is devoid of meaning. The new year will not be any different since for them life is just one long continuum of suffering and hardship.

It is made worse by the military confrontation with at least three of the world's mightiest nations: the UK, the USSR and most recently the USA, together dubbed the U group.

It has been two decades now, and for at least another decade, hardship and suffering will be a constant on their horizons.

But this is not only for the Afghans. It could have been us too since the civilisation of the 21st century is still primitive. Dr Mahathir likened it to the Stone Age (NST, Jan 1). An age where "the measure of truth is the ability to kill the most people".

"That is the modern world we face," the Prime Minister added. No doubt this is no different from the world that Afghanistan is use to. May be for Afghanistan there is no other choice, but in our case, it is a question of the right choice.

Our immediate concern however may not be the U group of nations as such, may not be at all. Yet there are a host of U factors that could create havoc; being unbalanced, unjustified, unlawful, unlearned, unimproved, unnecessary, unregulated — this U list is endless.

Worse still, in the aftermath of Sept 11, such U factors are even more prevalent. According to one observer, "the Western establishment found it easier to quell its critics and opponents", extending into areas unrelated to security, such as the environment.

The New York Times (Nov 18) reported: "Before the attacks, environmentalists seemed to have political momentum in casting President Bush as unfriendly to the environment and his administration as beholden to the extractive industries. But in the last two months, environmentalists have been stymied for fear of appearing unpatriotic or even petty in the face of a national crisis." Consequently, since 911, writer Katherine Seelye of the NYT (Nov 18 and 29) noted the following policy changes in the US: * Abandon negotiations for a treaty to control global warming; * Ease energy-conservation standards for air conditioners; * Make it easier for home-builders and commercial developers to eliminate wetlands; * Shelve a plan to reduce air pollution from coal-burning power plants for fear of power shortages in waging "war against terror" * Reverse ex-President Clinton's policy that stopped road-building, oil and gas leasing, and most new logging in nearly-untouched national forests.

Last year alone, reportedly more than 25,000 people died in major natural disasters, including earthquakes, floods, and freezing cold. The figure is said to be twice the number of victims from year 2000 (NST, Dec 30).

This figure discounted man-made disasters such as the collapse of the World Trade Center Towers, but some cannot be completely dissociated from many of them. A seemingly natural disaster quite often can be the result of human negligence because anyone of the U factors listed above, for example floods and global warming (http://www.worldenvironment.com/).

As such, let us heed the Prime Minister's advice to "ponder on our good fortune and ensure we do not become victims of the primitive civilisation of the 21st century".

We must resolve to ensure that beginning with the year 2002, peace and harmony will continue prevail, by making the right choices for Malaysia in particular. 

Recommended website: http://www.ombwatch.org/info/2001/access.html

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