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With MH370, no room for false hopes

Published in The Malay Mail Online


In years to come, most Malaysians would remember the moment they heard Prime Minister Najib Razak announcing on March 24 that the missing flight MH370 “ended” in southern Indian Ocean.

For me, I was driving home after close to 12 hours covering Parliament, tummy growling and body feverish, and hearing the tragic announcement over the radio made me so sick that I skipped work the next day.

The announcement was not really a surprise for many of us. We had an inkling, obvious or not, that the only possible conclusion after so long was not going to be something positive.

Early on though, many of the journalists, myself included, had hoped that the plane landed somewhere safe, if only because it would make a much more intriguing story.

Najib’s announcement only confirmed the worst.

Despite that, we still have those who question the prime minister’s announcement of the plane’s fate, citing lack of physical evidence… that debris is yet to be found.

Among them are Pakatan Rakyat leaders — led by DAP’s Lim Kit Siang — who called Najib’s announcement “irresponsible” and a “closure without closure.”

However, when asked if they have any other alternative explanation about what could have happened to the plane, they readily answered that they too have no idea.

In my opinion, it is much more irresponsible to suggest otherwise, that nothing untoward has happened to the plane and there might still be hope that the passengers and crew survived.

Because, let us face it, those chances are so slim.

I believe Najib’s announcement was correct. The conclusion was based on meticulous mathematical calculation and application of physics, that the only logical position of the plane was somewhere over the south Indian Ocean.

It was not based on a whim, on the words of witch-doctors armed with bamboo binoculars, nor on the words of a self-styled “ustaz” who received revelations through mystical dreams.

Considering that there is no land mass near the spot where the flight ended — which is one of the most hostile areas on Earth — the most probable conclusion is that the plane crashed and there are no survivors.

This refusal to come to terms with the conclusion might be attributed to the lack of understanding of the scientific method.

The conclusion was reached from the empirical evidence available so far, with the least uncertainty.

Until better, more robust evidence surfaces, it is totally fair to assume that there are no survivors.

The story could have ended at that, but then as Malays, our penchant to avoid offending others, and to wrap our words in layers of euphemisms might have been our undoing.

Right after Najib’s announcement that the plane “ended” — you can think of it as a euphemism for “crashed” or as a disclaimer that we do not know more — it was up Malaysia Airlines to clarify again that the public must assume the worst.

The National Fatwa Council too refused to consider the deaths of the passengers and crew, despite admitting that they are “missing”, and as such decreed that the special prayer for the deceased is not required yet.

The biggest blunder, however, must fall on the shoulders of Defence Minister Hishammuddin Hussein who is the public face for the operations.

Despite Najib’s announcement, Hishammuddin insisted again and again that he is still “hoping against hope.” But what for exactly? The safety of those onboard?

This kind of pussyfooting has given false hopes to some of the families that their loved ones are still alive.

And as a result of this false hope, unnecessary pressure and scorn has been directed at Malaysia for its failure in bring them back.

This is especially clear from the Chinese families, who accused Malaysia of a cover-up, and had asked for their loved ones to be returned.

Where exactly do they think their loved ones are? Do they think that there is a secret warehouse somewhere where the Malaysian government has stowed the missing plane and everybody inside it? And Malaysia is refusing to disclose that for some reason?

We have peddled false hope long enough, with continued prayers for the plane to come home and for the passengers to be kept safe by some higher power.

The most self-indulgent of the many prayer campaigns is, in my opinion, the one that went like this:

“Dear Indian Ocean, keep them safe, warm them, hug them, take away all the fear, take good care of MH370, until we come to take them home.”

Suffice to say, caring, warm and huggable are certainly not the traits of an ocean, and especially not the Indian Ocean.

By the end of this week, the battery of the flight recorder — the “black box” — of MH370 will run out, and with it any chance of finding it in a short period.

Just like Air France flight 447, it might take some time, even years, before the debris of MH370 will be found, and almost impossible at all to find the bodies.

The families of those onboard MH370 would not need to suffer that long, if we had not offered such false hope that they might be reunited with their loved ones. Because by the looks of it, they will never be.

Reality might be cruel. Some might even accuse me of being cruel for pointing that out.

But for me, it is those who offer false hope to those afflicted by sorrow who are truly the cruel ones.

Published inMMO column
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