We have grown up after MH370, if only slightly

JULY 20 — It must not have been emotionally easy for a country to deal with one of its planes crashing. To deal with it when another plane had just suffered the same fate barely half a year ago, is even harder.

Yet, despite the eerily deja vu feeling, that repeated dread in our stomachs, we soldiered on.

As for the media, transitioning into crisis mode as soon as we found out about MH17 crashing has been less painful.

I was just about to start watching an episode of a favourite TV series before I called it a day, when I saw the first mention of the crash on Twitter. Mails started filling in my work inbox soon afterwards.

In less than half an hour, The Malay Mail Online was ready. We spent the next six hours or so over the night bringing in the latest developments from sources in Russia, Ukraine and elsewhere.

The readers and followers have been most kind, wishing us all the best and thanking us in advance for keeping them up to speed.

There were no politicians this time who made idiotic or uncouth statements about the crash.

Well, except for a certain joker from Solidariti Anak Muda Malaysia who compared the crash to the sinking ferry in Sewol, and had suggested the prime minister resign as a result. His response when he got called out was only to label his detractors “macai” (stooge) instead.

The rest from both sides of the political divide thought it was important that everyone set aside their differences and stand behind Prime Minister Najib Razak instead. And we did.

Najib’s response was surprisingly swift, considering his almost constant silence and no-show at events that needed his deft decision ever since he was re-elected in the last general elections.

He tweeted his response just around half an hour after the news broke. By 4am, he had addressed the media who had rushed to the KLIA in the wee hours.

“It was a tragic day in an already tragic year for Malaysians,” said Najib, and most of us could not help nodding our heads, and for that moment, we were all united in grief.

A woman lights candles at a memorial for victims of the downed MH17 in Kuala Lumpur, July 18, 2014. — Reuters pic
A woman lights candles at a memorial for victims of the downed MH17 in Kuala Lumpur, July 18, 2014. — Reuters pic

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On social media, there was a startling shift in attitude. As I spent the whole night monitoring the feed for news, there was markedly less speculation, fewer conspiracy theories, fewer inappropriate jokes.

Almost everyone was in crisis control mode, many reminding each other to not spread baseless rumours, and to wait for confirmed news reported by the media.

But of course, hoaxes and rumours were not totally absent.

One of the more disappointing hoaxes was a photo of a broken plane fuselage, photoshopped from the TV series Lost. But that did not stop people such as controversial Perkasa member Zulkifli Noordin from spreading it, and even the paper Tamil Nesan which even carried it in its front page.

One of the more bizarre conspiracy theories involved the fact that MH17 went down on July 7, to point to the verse 7:7 of the Quran which mentions the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem, and by extension it allegedly predicted the destruction of the Jews.

Singapore’s tabloid The New Paper also played into the number 7 conspiracy, pointing out on its front page that MH17 is also a Boeing 777 which went down on July 7, and MH370 is still missing.

There were also rumblings saying that the MH17 incident was engineered to divert attention away from Israeli Defence Force’s (IDF) attack on the Gaza Strip.

Some also claimed that the missile shot would be an excuse by the US to intervene in the Russia-Ukraine conflict, just as they did after accusing Syria of using chemical weapons.

When the opportunist IDF indeed did launch a ground invasion into Gaza the same night, just hours after MH17 went down, followed by a lockdown of the White House, I had that sinking feeling that the conspiracy theorists would only feel that they had been vindicated.

We had claimed that MH370 was “unprecedented”. MH17 might not have been that, but it is a first nonetheless to have our plane shot down over a war zone, when it had cruised at an altitude unreachable by shoulder-launched surface-to-air missiles.

Who would have thought that someone would be crazy enough to shoot at a commercial airline using a vehicle-mounted missile instead?

To the non-believers, praying to a higher power might be futile when so many are already dead. But it does not hurt to send good thoughts — a “prayer” of sorts — to fellow Malaysians in this testing times.

We sure could use some good thoughts at this moment, and if anything, I hope MH17 brings back some sense into us after so many years as a broken nation that seems to have lost its heart.

*This is the personal opinion of the columnist.

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