Humans, Rights, and the Haze

During a Sekolah Falsafah session at the Pusat Rakyat LB, the philosopher-instructor Fuad Rahmat remarked that how insane it is that, in this polluted season, construction workers are still busy building on another skyscraper.

Perhaps soothed by its annual occurrence, Malaysians seem readier to endorse the haze than dodgy donations. It is business as usual in the Klang Valley, with employees dutifully going to work and a controversial rally planned on Malaysia Day. There is no news of a proposed protest in front of the Indonesia embassy, nor is there any indication there will be. We are really a tolerant and docile lot, in the most curious manner.

During Idearaya last Sunday, Professor Syed Farid Altas commented that the papers are wrong in using haze as the term to describe this breathing crisis. Pointing to the Malay word jerebu, he argued that the English equivalent, smog, better describes our dusty skies. This is because haze seems like a natural phenomenon. Smog, on the other hand, implies a man-made catastrophe, an unnatural abomination.

This wordplay is not meaningless if we could internalise the nuances. The very fact that our own oxygen supply is threatened should be more than enough to trigger alarms to launch us into angry action. There is little point in politicking and highbrow talk about human rights when our noses are blocked and our throats run dry from annually consistent forest fires, an envious reliability we miss when our partners forget important anniversaries.

Yet even if this internalisation aka education is successful on a large public scale, it is not enough. Education cannot change situations without action. Our lawmakers, both state and federal, must convene, condemn, and construct an action plan to remove this threat for good. Malaysian civil societies should take the lead in rallying Malaysians to a display of our concern and anger, preferably in front of the Indonesian embassy. The current calm and contentment to do nothing on this challenge to our respiration is inexcusable and could literally be fatal.

Where hymns and praises once played in the air, burnt wood and dusty soot now fill the atmosphere. Money is to the company as God is to the church. It is time we fight this God, not only with the strength of our minds, but also with physical protests. After all, it is our human right to oxygen.

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Daniel Teoh Tzu Yong is a Malaysian.

Posted on 26 September 2015. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0.

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