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Monday, June 26, 2017

Why the shock, when we taught them how to bully?

It is time society admitted that our everyday behaviours in so many aspects, fall miserably short of the values we claim to espouse.
COMMENT
Zulfarhan-Osman-Zulkarnain-T-Nhaveen-1Most of us are, I believe, still coming to terms with how two young men, barely out of boyhood, with their whole lives ahead of them, were savagely assaulted and murdered recently – by their peers no less and worse still, for trespasses that were most likely imagined by the perpetrators and employed as a convenient excuse to justify their actions.
Malaysian National Defence University (UPNM) cadet, 21-year-old Zulfarhan Osman Zulkarnain had been bound and beaten, after being accused of stealing a laptop.
By the time he was taken to hospital, 80% of his body was covered in burns and bruises. He had been viciously tortured with a belt, hanger, rubber hose and iron. Those who subjected him to such brutalities were none other than his university mates. Thus far, five have been charged with murder, whilst the others involved in the incident have been charged with voluntarily causing hurt.
Two weeks later, 18-year-old T Nhaveen also suffered a barbarous and inhumane death, similar to Zulfarhan’s.
The teenager who harboured dreams of someday becoming a music composer and was about to pursue tertiary education to realise that ambition, had his life cut short after being tormented so brutally that he was pronounced brain dead upon being admitted to hospital.
He had been physically and sexually assaulted so savagely that it resulted in extreme internal and external injuries. His only crime? Being too soft-spoken and gentle in the eyes of his assailants who allegedly took issue with Nhaveen’s purportedly effeminate ways and wanted to turn him into a “real man”.
Both atrocities have sent shock-waves through the nation, predominantly due to the barbarous ways in which Zulfarhan and Nhaveen had been tortured, but also because of the highly disturbing reality that those who stand accused of committing and abetting the fatal assaults are all young men themselves.
We are understandably heartbroken and furious at the steady stream of innocent, young lives that seem to be regularly snatched away so callously. We are all undoubtedly angry and aggrieved.
Our outpouring of grief and sorrow at such travesties however is pointless if they are not matched equally by our fervour in asking the difficult questions and accepting the equally difficult answers, that arise from such tragedies.
Why are such incidents continuing to occur at an alarming rate in our midst? What could possibly drive anyone to unleash such inhumane and merciless cruelty unto others? What are we neglecting to teach our young and how are we failing to guide them, resulting in them having little or no regard for the well-being and lives of others?
Some have laid the blame on the families of the perpetrators for not raising them to know and act better, whilst others have suggested that external influences such as films are responsible for normalising, and perhaps even glamorising, violence and aggression, turning them into attributes to strive for, rather than shun.
Whilst such accusations may well hold water, we cannot overlook the collective role we have played, as a society, in allowing for such terrible traits to fester and eventually take root within our communities.
Bullying has become such a normalised and accepted part of our culture and every day lives. Common courtesy and respect is sadly not so common any more. Intimidation and the abuse of power are rampant and permeates all walks of life.
From the halls of Parliament, to classrooms, to prison cells, to Ramadan bazaars, we see violence being legitimised as an acceptable means of communicating disagreement and differences in opinion.
Non-mainstream identities are often poked-fun at and constantly spoken of in disparaging contexts. We even have competitions on a national platform to “address and mend” such identities. Words like “samseng” are thrown about casually, by elected lawmakers no less, as something to be proud of.
So really, is it fair to expect any different from our young, when all they are doing is merely taking a cue from what they see happening all around them?
Is it fair to expect them to use their brains and not their hands when trying to settle a dispute over a missing laptop?
Is it fair to expect them not to pick on and try and “fix” a boy who they think might be gay?
We can preach endlessly about respect and courtesy to our young. We can send them to all the moral and agama lessons in the world. Yet, the unfortunate reality is that in many, many instances, our words don’t match up to our collective actions.
From the highest echelons of power, to our actions in our everyday lives, our behaviours in so many aspects, fall miserably short of the values we claim to espouse. Our cakap is, as they say, unfortunately tak serupa bikin.
We failed these young men, long before they went on to fail us. We would do well to remember that.
Gayatri Unsworth is an FMT columnist.

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