Shaun Tan reflects on the tragedy, and the tragedy that followed.
One of the main reasons I write is in the hope that I can help make people slightly less stupid.
And so I find myself compelled to write to protest the great tragedy of the Sabah earthquake.
No, it isn’t the casualties of the earthquake, though those too were tragic of course. It isn’t the Malaysian government’s inept rescue operations. And it certainly isn’t the naked photos taken by foreign tourists atop the mountain.
No, the greatest tragedy of the Sabah earthquake is the response of many Malaysians to the foreign tourists stripping off on Mount Kinabalu for some harmless fun.
The naked photos they took have triggered a response out of all reasonable proportion, with many Malaysians online calling for vengeance against the tourists who ‘defiled’ their ‘sacred mountain’. The Sabah Criminal Investigation Department chief has announced an investigation into the ‘incident’, the Sabah Police Commissioner has said the tourists will be prevented from leaving the country, and a European man was arrested at Kota Kinabalu International Airport yesterday and questioned by the police over it.
Then there was the ludicrous statement by Sabah Deputy Chief Minister Joseph Pairin Kitingan that the earthquake happened because the naked bodies of the tourists ‘angered the spirits of the mountain’, a statement that has made Malaysia a laughing stock around the world.
There was also the ridiculous Facebook post by a Sabahan defending this crackpot theory and the thousands of equally ridiculous people who liked or supported it.
Worst of all was the vitriol heaped on Emil Kaminski (who claims to be one of those who stripped on the mountain), who mocked the Sabah authorities in a Facebook post.
‘People of Tawau…find him until you get him…look in every hotel…kill him!’ wrote Larius Opung in furious response. ‘Don’t let him run away!’
‘u will be stuck 4ever..n go to hell with u fuck friends..only u have to is., just fuck!!fuck!!FUCK!!with u girls..b4 u die,’ wrote Nina Kejora.
‘you’re mom is such a whore…and I’m gonna fuck your mom everyday!!!’ wrote Amir Syafiq.
Many other commentators vowed to harm or kill Kaminski for ‘shaming the country’.
Incidentally, I do think this episode has shamed the country, though not in the way those commentators think.
It is shameful that so many Malaysians are losing their minds over something so trivial. It is shameful that so many Malaysians seem to lack even a primary school understanding of science and geography. It is shameful that civilisation in our country is apparently so tenuous that all it takes is a few people taking off their clothes on a mountain to reduce Malaysians to a band of frothing primitives.
It is shameful that people think mountain spirits that murder innocents because other people got naked are worthy of respect.
But wait, say some, shouldn’t we respect others’ beliefs, even if they seem dubious?
The answer is no.
A stupid belief without a shred of empirical evidence to support it doesn’t deserve any respect, no matter how zealously held, whether by an atheist or a Christian, a Muslim or a Dusun. This is the bedrock of rationality. By pandering to silly sensibilities we encourage them. No one should be harmed for doing something that did no harm to anyone else — and, no, imagined harm from offended hair-trigger sensibilities doesn’t count.
I therefore call on my fellow Malaysians to drop this farce. Grow up. Stop persecuting those harmless tourists and concentrate on the things that actually matter.
Because, ironically, the Sabah authorities and those commentators have done more damage to Malaysia’s already battered reputation than a thousand naked climbers ever could.