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Desperation in search for MH370 has driven us to superstition

Published in The Malay Mail Online


At the time of writing, it has been six days since Malaysia Airlines (MAS) flight MH370 went missing.

What frustrates everyone the most about this incident is that we know nothing about what happened. MH370, for all intents and purposes, has vanished.

As humans, we are not used to things happening with no discernible reasons.

Most of us go through our lives being told that good things happen to good people, that deeds are replied with rewards.

Similarly, bad things happen to bad people, and sins are replied with punishments.

You can imagine how this belief system gets turned on its head when good things do happen to bad people, and even worse, bad things regularly happen to good people.

Which is why when MH370 went missing, the same sort of people who hold on to this belief system were quick to surmise that since a bad thing happened to MH370, then the plane must be “bad” too.

Among others, we had religious preacher Abu Anas Madani linking MH370’s disappearance to the airlines being allegedly shariah noncompliant, such as serving alcohol inflight and its stewardess not covering up.

There was also a girl who tweeted implying that the incident happened because the passengers were going to Beijing to commit vice.

Somebody, anybody on board MH370 must have stoked the wrath of a higher power, which then saw fit to punish the whole plane by plunging it into disaster.

Other criticisms aside, I must commend Malaysian authorities for not entertaining speculations until they can verify any clues they get, unlike the Vietnamese who seem to have treated every single thing they found as clues.

It is perfectly fine to say “I don’t know” when you do not, in fact, have any fact-backed explanation.

Understandably, this is scant relief for the families of the passengers and crews. Perhaps less understandable is how this lack of explanation has irked the public who found solace in conspiracy theories.

There were many conspiracy theories, which I do not feel compelled to mention here.

One, which I particularly feel was totally irresponsible was made by Tuan Ibrahim Tuan Man, a vice-president with Islamist party PAS.

Tuan Ibrahim claimed that it is “usual” for objects from the world of human to enter the so-called world of djinns, thus rendering it invisible from the naked eye and any monitoring devices.

Irresponsible, since he cannot prove that it is “usual” for this to happen — or even possible — and even then, he cannot prove the possibility that this actually happened to MH370.

Weirdly enough, the one person who might have agreed with Tuan Ibrahim was the so-called bomoh who was at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport and claimed that he could see the missing flight using his bamboo binoculars and fish trap.

The plane is trapped somewhere: either still in the air, or on water, the bomoh said. Which was as helpful as saying that the passengers and crew are either still alive or have died.

The “bomoh” returned a day later with a bigger crew, and with a more bizarre ritual involving a “flying carpet”, an “oar, a basket, and two coconuts.

Many, including Opposition Leader Anwar Ibrahim, have remarked that their antics have brought shame to Malaysia in the eyes of the world.

Some, like Youth and Sport Minister Khairy Jamaluddin, urged authorities to arrest said “bomohs.”

Today, Selangor’s religious authorities are standing guard at KLIA, just in case they appear again. Probably to arrest them on the spot too.

This bomoh fiasco illustrates exactly our failure in addressing superstition and supernatural woo.

Not everything can, or should be legislated. Arrests are not the answer to combatting superstition, just like how it is wrong for Putrajaya to declare a war on Shiah followers and  prosecuting them.

The bomohs are there because many Malaysians still believe in them.

The bomohs are there because we have  people like the minister in charge of religious affairs, Jamil Khir Baharom, saying that it is okay to use bomohs’ help as long as they are shariah-compliant.

Like any other charlatans, bomohs prey on desperation, which in these desperate times, is all too common.

Perhaps the solution does not lie in segregating certified, shariah-compliant bomohs and those who are “fake.”

Because if bomohs are really any good at anything, our health system would have incorporated them long ago. Why waste money on expensive drugs and chemicals when kemenyan and water blessed with Quranic verses are enough?

When the people know better to not trust bomohs any more, the bomohs will fade away into history, just like the bobohizans.

These are desperate times indeed, and this might not end soon. Some people will turn to bomohs. Some to prayers.

Even if they do not work, they serve the same purpose: to ease one’s conscience, and to prolong hope. Because for some, that is better than doing nothing.

But when we finally find what happened to MH370, I know whom I will credit: the tireless international search and rescue effort which saw dozens of countries setting aside their political and geographical differences.

I will credit humanity.

Published inMMO column
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