OCTOBER 30 — During the first spring of the 20th century, Theodore Roosevelt wrote to his great friend and best man, “Death is always and under all circumstances a tragedy, for if it is not, then it means that life itself has become one.”
Roosevelt would be president a year later, and at the time of writing of the letter where that haunting line rests, Cecil Spring Rice was the British Ambassador in Teheran.
A message from a rancher to an aristocrat halfway across the world, from a friendship formed through a chance meeting, on a voyage across that same ocean where the letter travelled, years before.
Stating, how we celebrate, preserve, dedicate, threaten or destroy life reflects deeply on our state of affairs as a country, perhaps even as a civilisation.
A time of living dangerously
I speak of dead men and their words because it appears uttering those by men alive today might warrant mortal threats. It seems that these days in Malaysia, death or bearing it down on someone for their ideas or actions is absolutely fashionable.
The latest being about canines, but my disgust is not limited to a park event. It is becoming too convenient to threaten the lives of individuals not seen as invaluable to the regime or if the ones issuing them are considered above the law.
Right now, a real shmuck for happy thoughts, Syed Azmi Alhabshi, is in hiding after his camera-feast event exploded into too much life that several online knights touch-padded death threats to him. (Read here)
I don’t care much about dogs — the only and last one my family owned bit me. I don’t want to talk about bibles, Lassie wannabes or theological discourses.
Argue all you want, as hard as your fingers can type or autocorrect impresses you on. I can appreciate that grown adults in the information age having caravans of backups to their views thanks to Google and Wikipedia — for any reading presumably leads one from the darkness of ignorance — wanting to enlighten the masses.
However, can you take it easy on the “I will strike down upon thee with great vengeance and furious anger” every time someone disagrees with something personal you hold? Because you now live in a world filled with people who will inevitably disagree with you, right or wrong.
Righteousness can quickly get out of hand.
For example, there’s a bunch of multinational dudes, looking like the lost crew of an Italian Western without Clint Eastwood but with a real body count, marching around the Middle East silencing dissent. If you don’t want to be grouped together with the United Colors of Benetton-gone-wrong, then chill the world wide web sabre-rattling.
You are making me nervous, not just Syed Azmi.
Bandana, tablet and a crooked smile
It’s all fun and games till someone gets hurt, is a line ringing awfully true in Malaysia today.
The various politicians I worked with have been wont to say main (play) Facebook. Suggesting actions online are less real and perhaps are more play, at least to their minds. I found this mirthful, but now not so, because they are not alone in assuming cyberspace is not real space.
Freudian slip or not, there is a certain levity assumed about text that’s transmitted electronically. It is so easy to fill a comment and press enter, that the ease of it, the perfunctory nature of it blindsides commentators on the actual effects of their actions.
You are no less menacing sending it as such, than if you were to take a bus, walk a block, trot pass the gate and slip it under the victim’s door.
More so when these deadly pronouncements are remarked with no logical punctuation, they embolden others to join in. Just like the other noble Romans striking Julius Caesar once Casca sheaths his dagger first.
With government regulators and enforcement agencies shying away or pointing fingers at the other, the chips mount and a stupid act edges ever so closer to us.
If self-restraint in cyberwarriors — Pakatan or Barisan, young or old, public low-cost flats or gated community, paid or likes the challenge — does not kick-in soon then we will all going to be surprised soon enough.
Not experienced with loss?
I have some experience with grief, losing people you love.
No funeral rises above sorrow, as the finality brought by death begs questions.
For those in power who are currently indifferent to the plight of those confronted by threats, they may need to acknowledge the severity of the situation and look to their own feelings about the sanctity of life.
Rights to privacy, love or ambition end with death. So while I am open to those who feel affronted, ignored or humiliated by the ideas or actions of other citizens, and accept their feelings are real and reasoning solid on the terms they subscribe to, I ask them to not pry open the option to end others from disagreeing or maybe in the future agreeing with them.
Death usually negates reconciliation.
I vow to thee, my country
That’s pretty much it. As Malaysians we can argue on all things, I just beseech some to not end quarrels with violence, or the threat of it.
Hate when it builds up steam needs none of us to fuel it anymore, just all of us to suffer it.
I draw back to Teddy’s (Roosevelt) affinity for Springie as Rice was affectionately referred to. Everyone seems more tolerable when they have television-friendly names.
Well Springie (Sir Cecil Spring Rice) later wrote the words to the hymn I vow to thee, my country, part of the effort during the Great War in 1918.
As Malaysians, maybe parts of the first verse may resonate in varying degrees:
I vow to thee, my country, all earthly things above,
Entire and whole and perfect, the service of my love;
The love that asks no question, the love that stands the test,
That lays upon the altar the dearest and the best;
The love that never falters, the love that pays the price,
The love that makes undaunted the final sacrifice.
And after that perhaps, let sleeping dogs lie.
* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.