(Petaling Jaya, Sunday): The statement by the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamad in Jeli yesterday that the government had told PAS and DAP not to politicise the mosque-temple issue in Penang which had resulted in rioting last Friday is most disappointing and offending.
Such a statement implied that the DAP had tried to "politicise" the issue when the DAP had given topmost priority to the preservation of inter-religious calm, peace and harmony, to the extent that DAP had withheld publicly our reservations about the handling of the week-long dispute involving the Sri Raja Raja Mathurai Veeran temple and the Kampung Rawa mosque.
On Friday morning, I telephoned and spoke to the Penang Chief Police Officer, Deputy Commissioner Datuk Abdul Hamid Mustapha, to convey to him the DAPís grave concern about the tensions caused by the temple-mosque dispute and I was assured that all measures would be taken to ensure that the situation would not get out of hand.
I was therefore most shocked when I disembarked at the Subang International Airport in an afternoon flight from Penang later the same day that riots had broken out in the Sungai Pinang area.
Yesterday, I flew back to Penang and joined a Penang DAP delegation to meet the Penang Chief Police Officer over the issue and we appealed to all people to remain calm and to help restore peace and harmony.
Penang DAP leaders had never tried to "politicise" the mosque-temple issue in the sense of trying to turn it to the DAPís political advantage, as we were always conscious of the critical importance of handling the dispute sensitively and delicately, in a way which would not disturb inter-religious peace and harmony and give Penang and Malaysia another bad international image after a series of adverse publicities recently.
The government must be bold to admit that there had been a failure in crisis management when it could not prevent rioting on Friday, especially as the temple had already been resited.
For the eight days that the mosque-temple issue simmered in Penang, there was another information deficit as a result of an official media blackout of the dispute, caused by a directive by the Information Ministry to the press.
Malaysians were kept completely in the dark about the dispute as far as the printed and electronic media are concerned, but there was no way in the era of information technology to suppress information that there is a mosque-temple dispute in Penang which is serious enough for news about it to be officially censored by the authorities.
The net result is that it gave a field day for all sorts of rumours to fly around the country which made the mosque-temple dispute even more serious and scarifying.
The government should consider whether proper information about the mosque-temple dispute rather than a total media blackout would have been more conducive to the avoidance of a situation resulting in a rioting on Friday.
The Prime Minister should ensure that he is given a full and proper briefing about sensitive incidents like the mosque-temple dispute so as not to give the public the impression that he is diverting attention from the real problems and issues involved.
We are concerned that in the aftermath of the mosque-temple dispute and the rioting last Friday, the fabric of inter-racial peace and harmony should be swiftly and fully restored and we are prepared to lend our fullest help and co-operation to defuse racial and religious sensitivities but we do not need gratuitous as well as baseless advice such as asking the DAP not to "politicise" the mosque-temple dispute in Penang - when our words and deed are proof of our highest sense of national responsibility on the matter.