Saturday, June 05, 2010

Two Tragedies: A 21st Century Witch Hunt

pew pew...

At 3.30AM on a weekday, a horrible automobile accident took place. A speeding sedan had crashed into the road divider and entered the opposing lane. An innocent woman driving a small hatchback unfortunately crashed into the car. The sedan flipped over and the two people in the car were critically injured. The woman was not so lucky...

Mr AT was driving by that fateful day, and stopped his car immediately as would any reasonable person. He called 999 (emergency in malaysia) and notified the relevant authorities. There was a woman trapped inside one of the cars desperately calling for help. Mr AT noticed some flames starting to to come out of the front of the car and decided to seek help from the nearest petrol station. In the mean time, horrified onlookers tried desperately to help her out to no avail. Here is Mr AT's account of the incident published in an open letter:

"then i request for the fire extingusher from the attendant which is kept inside. There was 4 extingusher on the ground. But the attendant refuse to pass to me; the gas station attendant claimed dat the door cant be open; then i shout at him, i need it! i want it! someone is pinned inside the car and its started to burn! then the gas station attendant keep repeating he kenot borrow and open the door; then i was like WTF! if ur kiosk is burning can u come out? then he replied yes; then he still say he kenot open the door. Then he say his boss wont allowed to borrow. WTF!!! then i started to amuk kicking the kiosk and punching the glass of the kiosk; i even throw my IC to him say that if im dun return u report police; i saw i borrow.. if i use it i will pay for it. then he keep on just smile at me; then he ask another partner to come out. Then i start shouting and yelling at them with bad words saying dat if the girl dies you two are the murderer; then the 2nd gas station attendant shout back at me; i demand for their names, i told them i would complain bout them; then the 2nd attendant copy down my number plate and said that all my acts been recorded on CCTV and he gonna report to police tumoro."

A Tragedy
It is very unfortunate that someone would lose her life from an accident that wasnt her fault. The driver of the speeding sedan would be haunted for the rest of his life knowing that he had taken someone's life and caused grave injury to his passenger. Unfortunately, road accidents do happen...and we should all respect speed limits to minimize the risk of something like this happening.

Pointing Fingers
Mr AT was understandably distressed by the whole incident. He believes that the woman's life could have been saved if he had access to the fire extinguishers. Could the lady be alive today if he was given the fire extinguishers? We would never know. What we do know is that the gas station attendants refused to open the security door as per instructions from their superiors.

I personally believe that almost every human being has a heart. Almost nobody will just stand by watching as someone else dies. So why wouldnt the gas station attendants open the security doors to pass Mr AT the fire extinguisher?

It is very easy to demonize them and point the finger at them, but the reality is that they did feel very threatened by Mr AT's actions. From the bolded points in his own account above, we know that the attendants were thinking of calling the cops. It's not something a person who is trying to avoid helping another human being would do. The gas station attendant was genuinely scared to the point where he/she wanted to call the cops. Keep in mind this is 3.30am when gas station robberies are relatively common. Drug junkies use all sorts of excuses to rob gas stations. Getting violent, kicking and screaming only adds to the impression that you are some drug junkie desperate for a fix who lost his cool. There is a reason why gas stations have heavy security doors and bullet proof glass windows for the night shift workers.

Mr AT's Media Crusade
Mr AT started contacting all mainstream newspapers and even did a radio interview to tell of his story and how the PetrolCompany employees were responsible for the woman's death. He even started a facebook campaign to spread his message virally over the internet.

I initially had a huge amount of sympathy, admiration and respect for Mr AT. However, after reading through his own account of the incident, those feelings evaporated and I started feeling quite disgusted by the way he is handling this issue.

"FVCK YOU PetrolCompany!!! FVCK YOU!!! I personally from now on will boycott PetrolCompany... i dont know how about you all!!! gonna give PetrolCompany HQ a call tumoro... see what the fuck will they say about this kind of safety measurement they have!!!!! for the two PetrolCompany attendant!!! you are the murderer!!!!!"
  1. He is implying that if the gas station attendants gave him the fire extinguisher he would have saved the girl's life.
  2. He was kicking and shouting at them behind security glass. Any level headed gas station attendant would not open the door once there is violence outside. Thus it's not even the gas station guys fault in the first place.
  3. He should be mourning the dead, not trying to convince the world that the gas station employees are evil and make himself the guy who tried oh so bravely to save someone's life.
His behaviour after the accident is disgustingly inappropriate and patronizing. Not only has it shifted attention away from the real culprit of the tragedy (the speeding driver), but it unfairly casts a negative light on the PetrolCompany and the station attendants.

I could imagine the station attendants reading all the hate that is spread around towards them online. I could be potentially devastating. What if one of them commits suicide? Will Mr AT have blood on his hands then?

More importantly, it unnecessarily/unjustifiably evokes feelings of hate and anger. This hate and anger distracts from the other tragedy...

A Tragedy Ignored
It is disheartening that the real culprit for the reluctance of the gas station employees to open the security door has almost been completely ignored due to the amount of hate directed at them. I foolishly tried to defend them and received quite a bit of flak for it. But I am thankful I did, for it made me realize the second tragedy of this sad accident.

Accidents happen. The real tragedy is the situation in malaysia whereby crime is such a concern that even a plea for help could be misinterpreted as an attempted robbery.

To be fair, it was 3.30am, but we still do need to ask ourselves why it is so unsafe that gas station attendants need to be protected behind bullet proof glass and reinforced safety doors.

Security is a natural consequence of having an egalitarian society and an effective, functional police force. These are things that Malaysia has to work towards, and the recent push to expel foreign workers is a step in the right direction.

A 21st Century Witch Hunt
The dark ages was a rough period in history to live in. Medicine was garbage back then and most "cures" actually made people more sick than they were before. Life was tough and hedonistic pleasures few and far between. People had to bear with the tragedies of death caused by disease and plague. Most people turned to religionism to feel good about themselves. When religion met superstition, the era of witch hunting began. Under the guise of protecting humanity from evil, clergymen got on the bandwagon, and women who did not conform to society were singled out and tried for witchcraft. Eventually, many confessed under public scrutiny, alienation from their families, and torture. Witches burnt at the stake.

Fast forward a few hundred years, and basic human nature hasnt changed one bit. In the face of tragedy, humans still behave irrationally. I am no different from everyone else. When I first heard of the car accident, my sympathies went to the families of the deceased. I was also enraged at the gas station attendants (the witches) after hearing about Mr AT's attempt to persuade them to pass over the fire extinguishers.

Reading between the lines of Mr AT's own account of the incident, I noticed how all the hate was directed rather unfairly towards the gas station attendants. I then learnt that Mr AT had also worked very hard to convince other people that they are murderers via social networking sites.

How are his actions no different from those of the clergymen who hunted witches? Clergymen genuinely believed that those witches were murdering people with disease and plague. Ok, these witches often did something suspicious that incriminated them in the first place, but so did the gas station attendants.

Disease was endemic, and when people got sick, they started to look for the cause of their illness. They knew nothing of viruses and bacteria back then and when people got sick, they turned to their beliefs and it was surely easy to believe that the woman nobody likes anyway in the village was a witch.

The gas station attendants are universally scorned for not letting Mr AT have access to the fire extinguishers. But in retrospect, it's not their fault and im sure if they had known the truth they would have opened the kiosk security doors. It is easy to say that they are murderers and whatnot but the fact is that a normal human being would have done the right thing if he/she knew that another human being's life is at stake. The reality was that the attendants simply didnt trust Mr AT's story, and when compounded by violence, it was even more difficult to ignore the fear that Mr AT may have intending to rob them (eg. he could have been a drug junkie desperately looking for money for a fix)

The gas station attendants unwittingly became the witches in a 21st century witch hunt. I was foolish enough to try and defend their actions against the mob and quite predictably received some criticism for it. It's a bit frustrating, but it does seem that the message has gone across to the more level headed bloggers.

Credits and Afterthoughts
Special thanks to all those who helped me congeal my thoughts about this tragic accident which I believe highlights some very important issues regarding the level of security in our country (Malaysia). Namely those who responded in the ondscene blog post.

People tend to get upset when you say things they dont like to hear or when people they look up to are criticized. It's pretty much a fact that when I have touched a nerve, angry comments will ensue. This has happened before when I was discussing the role of attractiveness in the game of love. I dont really care what anonymous people say about me online and I found it immeasurably useful as a gauge to how relevant a stream of thought is to reality. When people start calling me names, I know that I am somewhat on the right track. I must be saying something that people dont like to hear. Why so? That is the question. Sometimes I genuinely make errors in my reasoning, and apologies are duly made, but often I will be on to something. I followed my intuition from reading Mr AT's testimony and came up with this blog post.

As stupid as this may sound, it took me quite awhile to figure out why people were mad at me for calling Mr AT an idiot (for using violence on bulletproof glass). I guess human beings will always empathize with the person they perceive to be the hero in a situation, and look past his weaknesses. Hey, Superman saved Louis Lane, but I still think he should be arrested by the fashion police for wearing his underwear outside his tights. Let me state clearly that what Mr AT did was appropriate up to the point where I contend he was being an idiot trying to use violence against a bullet proof window.

By default I will always try to empathize with both sides of a dispute. In the ondscene blog, I had tried to see it from the gas attendant's point of view as they were not represented at all. That was why I (ok, rather foolishly) made the comment that Mr AT was an idiot. This really pissed alot of people off as they had come to empathize only with Mr AT. I suspect racist undertones (Mr AT is chinese / gas station attendants are usually not) but im not even going to go there...

Ironically, it was the criticism directed at my person (ad hominems) that made me realize the relevance of an emotive response to an incident and how it could skew attention away from the real pressing issues behind the situation. It also provided me with the motivation to pen this blog post, that I hope provides an alternative analysis to the accident that has become a rather hot topic in Malaysia.

Let us not forget that the real victims of this tragedy are the families of the deceased who have been burdened by the loss of a loved one. My heartfelt condolences to the families of those involved.

Let their deaths not be in vain. Let it be a reminder to us all about the dangers of speeding and reckless driving; along with the need for better security in our country.

Mr AT, if you are reading this
I suggest that you end your media crusade as soon as possible to put an end to the hate that is spawned from this tragedy. I do not believe that we should hate the driver of the speeding car, as he/she (i've read conflicting news about this) was badly hurt as well and would have to live with the burden of knowing that he/she ended a person's life. But if you absolutely need to feel anger towards somebody, it should be the driver responsible for the accident. If you want to start a media campaign, it should focus on addressing the underlying problems in malaysian society (the need for more egalitarianism / effective policing) that led to your story being dismissed by the gas station attendants. They are human beings too and im sure they would be deeply hurt by your allegations. They are not murderers. They were simply people doing their job and they responded the way someone in their shoes would have responded given the current security situation of the country. Start a facebook pledge group to raise funds for the families of the diseased. Start a group to encourage road safety and respect of the speed limit. Start a facebook group to remember the deceased. There are so many things you could have done but you chose to label two people as murderers and you did so in the most patronizing way possible (reasons in list above). I am not sure if there are legal repercussions to this, but be careful with what you put in black and white. Slander and defamation are very real legal consequences of such serious allegations.


  1. Again, people are upset that you undermined Akina's credibility by stating in your earlier posts implying that he's probably seeking attention. You also failed to give Akina any sort of credit in your earlier posts (however, you changed your mind later on as you realized you weren't being fair to one party in an attempt to support an unrepresented party).

    Consequently, whatever ounce of support you have for the BHP attendants are rendered meaningless (as you showed an element of bias in your initial responses) despite your arguments which may be true but certainly not accurate.

    And again, don't take those fragments written by him at face value. He was under duress. Notice the excess exclamation marks?

    He probably has thought about it now and may feel differently. Give him a few days to settle down and think about it rationally. Although, ultimately he would still be upset thinking he didn't even have a chance to save that poor girl. I can forgive him for acting like a total douche but judging from the story, it is clear that the gas station attendants never intended on passing him the fire extinguisher. IF they wanted to, they would have found a way.

    Your wordings could have been improved. You obviously did want to stand out among the rest and there is no harm. But injecting a different perspective should be done in the right manner (total objectivity).

    I responded to your game of love theory which is flawed imho. Would love to see what you think about it.


  2. Sorry for the late reply. Been kinda busy. Will reply properly in due time.

    I was not trying to stand out or anything. Just got a bit emotional (ok that was stupid) and sorta felt bad for the gas station attendants. A friend of mine working nights at a gas station just got robbed, and i could see how it has nothing to do with them.

    That's why I called him an idiot in my initial post.

    Btw, you responded in the post titled "Creeped" not "the real game of love"

    I'll reply there when time permits.