1. Let's stop the fear and suspicion
For too long people in Malaysia have looked at themselves through race-tinted glasses
It was not racial. It was just a case of cheating. No, no, it was theft, pure and simple.
Yes, the police has made clear that race had nothing to do with the melee that occurred over the weekend at Low Yat Plaza in Kuala Lumpur.
And yes, kudos to the force too for acting decisively to contain the situation and prevent the violence from spiralling out of control.
They are arresting many of the perpetrators and are patrolling the shopping centre famed for mobile phone, electronic and IT products.
Calm has returned and we breathe a sigh of relief.
We all hope that this was yet another "isolated" incident.
Yet, deep down, there is a sense of disquiet among many of us because we cannot help but wonder why this violence occurred in the first place when it was just a case of cheating or theft.
According to the Inspector-General of Police, two men were arrested at 7.50pm on Saturday. One was suspected of stealing a phone from a shop and the other was his accomplice.
The two were caught by the phone shop staff and handed to the security guards, who called the police.
The suspect was detained and the accomplice released.
Going by this official account, is it normal behaviour for the thief's accomplice to round up a big group of his friends to seek revenge on the shopkeepers who had helped nab the duo?
One would think that after being questioned by the police and allowed off, he would be thanking his lucky stars he wasn't locked up, and would quietly go home and fret over whether he should confess to his parents.
Instead, he boldly returned with a mob to the mall and, in full view, attacked people and destroyed property.
It is said he lied about being cheated by the phone salesman.
Again, is it a normal reaction for people to coalesce into a group to seek revenge on behalf of friends this way?
What was said to incite these men to such rage to brazenly break the law?
And then when irresponsible people used social media to colour the incident in racial terms, why did more people so easily and quickly believe it and again gather at Low
Yet the next day to violently show their displeasure?
My take is that these men honestly believed they had the right to do so.
Our society has become so brainwashed into thinking about everything in racial terms that the moment any incident, accident or crime occurs, we instinctively want to know who was involved by race.
We also lap up every bit of good and heart-warming news that shows racial harmony and goodwill. Indeed, we are grateful for stories about Malay individuals trying to protect the Chinese victims from the attackers.
The Facebook post by Fais Al-Hajari on Monday about his long-time relationship with his phone salesman Desmond was quickly hailed as welcome news.
"This good relationship has remained over the last eight years.
Other handphone sellers in Plaza Idaman here, the majority of them Chinese, are also good to me.
"The secret? They don't cheat me and I don't steal their goods. We have mutual respect for each other and are supportive. The world is peaceful," said Fais, as reported by The Star.
Yet, there are far too many who seem to readily believe the bad stuff about other races to the extent that they see them as a clear and present danger to the well-being of their own community.
Who's to blame for this distrust and suspicion?
Who have been dishing out scare tactics to keep the races apart so that they can claim to be their protectors and keep their power base?
Who have allowed hate speech spewing from various sources, be it a government agency or a house of worship or a newspaper column, to harp on racial supremacy for one community and paint certain minority groups as interlopers and threats to national security?
A particular newspaper column, in fact, wrote an incendiary piece calling for an economic jihad against a specific minority race because of their dominance in business.
Over and over again, this same brainwashing message is made, which grows in the telling: that this race is out to cheat and rob and take over the country.
Is this why when said accomplice told lies about being cheated by a phone salesman, he was so easily believed?
After being constantly told in subtle and not so subtle ways that they are the enemy, the affected minority groups have reacted by closing ranks and retaliating in whatever ways they can.
This simmering pot of racial tensions doesn't augur well, as many social and political commentators have noted. It can only get worse if our touch points get fewer and fewer.
Already, our children don't attend the same schools, watch the same television programmes or listen to the same music. They speak in their own language and rarely eat or play together.
Ironically, with the Internet and social media, real inter-racial interaction and knowledge that can lead to better understanding and acceptance of each other is missing.
The result is we don't really know each other any more and have become suspicious and distrustful, ready to believe the worst in each other. That's why hate speech is enticing and believable.
The Low Yat incident serves as a wake-up call that all is not well in our race relations. The mob acted the way they did because they were incited by what they already believed to be true, and that they had the right to do so and get away with it.
It is truly to the police's credit that they have clearly shown that the perpetrators are sadly and foolishly mistaken.
We need more messages and actions like this.
At the same time, peace-loving Malaysians must send out the strong message to those responsible for this horrible and dangerous state of affairs to cease and desist.
More urgently, we must find ways back to reconnect like the days of yore and build bridges of trust and unity.
The meaning of Ramadan
2. Spiritual purification during Ramadan or is it otherwise?
There's often a tendency to romanticise Ramadan but people should not fall into that trap.
The Jakarta Post/ANN
Alhamdulillah (thanks be to God), we're finally approaching the end of Ramadan - only a few days to Idul Fitri, or Lebaran as we call it here.
Yup, after a month of restraining yourself from food, drink and sex in the daylight hours, it's time for a rave-up!
Things always get chaotic at this time of the year: Traffic jams are worse than ever because of the pre-Lebaran shopping frenzy and many people aren't focusing on work anymore as their minds are on mudik - that inevitable, annual Idul Fitri exodus.
In short, they're focusing on activities that are far removed from the fundamental aim of Ramadhan, which is spiritual purification.
Sure, during Ramadan, there's also an increase in pengajian (Koranic recitals), as well as itikaf (retreats) in a mosque, usually in the last 10 days of Ramadhan.
Muslims believe that the Laylat al-Qadr (Night of Decree), when the first verses of the Koran were revealed, was on one of the odd nights in those 10 days.
To pray on that night is purportedly better than 1,000 months of worship.
Sounds like a massive prayer sale - devout Muslims should be stampeding to the mosque on that night!
Ramadan is the ninth month in the Islamic calendar, when the Koran is said to have been revealed to the Prophet Muhammad.
This is why it's considered to be a holy month and the reason Muslims engage in sawm (fasting), one of the five pillars of Islam.
According to a saying of Muhammad, it's a time when "the gates of Paradise are opened and the gates of the hellfire are closed and the devils are chained."
Really? Does that mean that during Ramadhan, temptation, ego and negative emotions are more easily kept in check?
Hmmm, let's see how true that is.
During Ramadan, the benefits of fasting are constantly extolled, for both spiritual and bodily reasons.
With regards fasting, scientists back up religion.
They say that (intermittent) fasting allows the digestive system to take a break and go into "autophagy", or self-eating mode.
Self-eating? Yup, that's the process by which the system clicks into self-cleansing, purifying the body of toxins and allowing healing and tissue repair.
Scientists say that fasting even makes brains smarter this way, inducing neurodegeneration, without which brains neither develop properly nor function the way they should.
Wow, if that's the case, I reckon all our leaders and politicians should constantly be made to fast, to get into self-eating mode and to develop their brains!
The practice of zakat (that which purifies) - the third of the five pillars of Islam - is another aspect of the purification process Muslims are expected to go through at the end of Ramadan.
Zakat is the obligatory alms-giving and religious tax based on income and the value of one's possessions.
At least with regards alms giving, all religions agree, so no fighting over that. Phew!
As the verse Al Baqarah says, "Fasting is prescribed for you as it was prescribed for those before you, that you may attain taqwa [God-consciousness]."
The physical fast is actually a symbol and outer expression of the real, inner fast. If the aim is just to feel hungry you can achieve that every day by having lunch at 3 p.m. instead of your usual 12:30 p.m.
In a nutshell, on a spiritual level, fasting during Ramadan is meant to cultivate gratitude, simplicity and non-attachment, humility and selflessness, empathy and compassion, restraint and self-discipline and to renew solidarity and cultivate positive relationships with one's family and community.
Simple huh? What's the catch? Well, it's a tall order.
Religion prescribes, and humans with their unruly egos and all their frailties implement, sometimes well, sometimes badly.
You've surely heard of "road rage": aggressive or angry behaviour by automobile drivers.
Turns out, there's also "Ramadan rage": the increase of crime during the holy fasting month. Studies have shown that this phenomenon exists worldwide, as fasting can induce migraines, dehydration, dizziness, nausea, circulatory collapse and even gout.
Besides the medical risks, the side effects of not eating, drinking and smoking in the daytime can result in irritability and short-temperedness, spilling over into violence and crime.
So perhaps it's not surprising that anti-social behaviour and domestic abuse surge throughout the Muslim world in the holy month.
A 2014 study in Algeria revealed a staggering 220 percent increase in petty crime during Ramadan.
Fights, disputes and assaults rise by 320 percent, domestic violence by 120 percent, various accidents by 410 percent and deaths by 80 percent.
The findings of the Algerian study are said to be widely corroborated, from Egypt to Indonesia. On the other hand, in some areas in countries like Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Iran, crime rates decreased during Ramadan.
Recently, a friend told me about an incident she experienced with her brother, a haj.
She had calmly told him she was disappointed he hadn't informed her about something related to a family project as she felt it was important to coordinate their activities.
In front of their aged mother, he suddenly yelled at her, got up in a huff and stormed out of the room.
Both my friend and her mother were stunned.
By the principles of Ramadan, he had clearly broken his fast by getting angry.
Cognitive dissonance, machismo ("No woman tells me what to do!"), or simply hypocrisy?
The increased crime rates or flaring tempers have nothing to do with Ramadan or any other principle of Islam.
It's to do with Muslims who fail to uphold these principles, because of their characters, temperaments and sometimes also because of corrupted interpretations of Islam.
The fault lies not with Islam or Ramadan, but in its implementation by weak humans.
There's often a tendency to romanticise Ramadhan. Let's not fall into that trap.
In the end, don't you think that the practice of tolerance, compassion, social solidarity, gratitude, etc. should be practiced all year round.
Meat scandal in China
3. The threat of 'zombie meat' scandal
The "zombie meat" scandal has transformed into war of words between two journalists and their followers on the Internet.
Beijing-based technology journalist Hong Guangyu cast doubts on a previous Xinhua report that said customs officials in the Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region had seized smuggled frozen meat, some of which was up to 40 years old.
After calling four officials, Hong challenged the details of the "zombie meat" story.
Xinhua journalist Li Dan responded by claiming his report was authentic without saying how old the seized consignment of meat was.
Given the controversy, the two journalists have to give some clear answers to the people.
Both journalists and the netizens who have joined the debate agree on the significance of food safety, because the expired smuggled frozen meat posed a threat to people's health.
For long, Chinese consumers have been voicing concern over food scandals - from expired food products and gutter oil to poisoned rice.
On the one hand, this indicates rising public awareness of health issues. On the other, this shows how arduous the authorities' task of tackling the food safety problem is.
But the smuggled frozen meat scandal should prompt the authorities into action.
They can no longer afford to keep silent or just send out paradoxical signals on whether the meat had been frozen since the 1970s or 1980s.
Hong's question is not groundless: How could the smugglers have stored the expired meat for such a long time at such a low cost?
On July 12, the national food and drug supervising body said customs and related officials had solved some smuggling cases and seized smuggled meat, including some frozen four or five years ago.
In the Xinhua report, an anonymous law enforcing officer said the meat had been frozen in the "1960s and 1970s", leading to the term "zombie meat".
Some people say the public should not get lost in the argument over the age of the "zombie meat" because all expired frozen meat, smuggled or not, is harmful to human health.
By getting involved in such arguments, people tend to miss the point.
For ordinary consumers, meat frozen four decades ago is apparently a greater health hazard than that frozen, say, four years ago.
But the fact that, if such aged expired meat could enter the market, it would show there is a big loophole in the food safety supervision system.
If the authorities don't have evidence of such zombie meat, they should not present the story in way that allows journalists to look at the worst case scenario, because that could spread panic among the people.
People are waiting for the authorities to explain the "zombie meat" scandal.
And the authorities are obliged to provide clear answers, based on scientific tests, on this case and more importantly, prevent similar cases in the future.