(Petaling Jaya, Tuesday): The rioting in Penang last Friday over a mosque-temple dispute was the latest in a series of blows to Malaysia’s international image as a model multi-racial, multi-religious and multi-cultural nation which is peaceful, tolerant, modern and progressive.
The government should take a very serious view of the rioting in Penang last Friday and it should establish an independent commission of inquiry to pin-point the causes of the rioting, the trouble-makers and to prevent any such recurrence.
The independent commission of inquiry should also consider whether the government had adopted a "smart" information policy when it ordered a mass media blackout of the incident for over a week which gave room for all sorts of rumours to circulate both inside Penang and the rest of the country.
The Sun today reported that the Kampong Rawa, Jalan Pattani mosque committee had appealed to all Muslims to remain calm and practise tolerance towards their fellow Malaysians.
Its secretary, Ahmad Johari Hamzah said the rioting last Friday resulted from the ringing of a bell by Hindu devotees at the nearby Sri Raja Raja Muthuraiveeran Temple which affected Muslim worshippers, causing the situation to go "out of control".
This version cannot be correct as the temple concerned had already been relocated by last Friday’s prayers. The question that must be answered by an independent commission of inquiry is why there was a rioting when the mosque-temple issue had already been resolved, with the temple relocated to another site.
Ahmad Johari Hamzah estimated that most of the 5,000 to 7,000 people who gathered at the mosque last Friday, compared to the usual 800, were from Kedah, Perak, Kelantan and Trengganu "because they heard rumours that the mosque had been razed and our people stabbed". He said "Nothing like that had happened".
This raises another question: Those who came from outside Penang to the mosque would have seen with their own eyes that the mosque had not been razed and should have been told that no one had been stabbed. Furthermore, they should have been informed that the mosque-temple issue had been resolved with the relocation of the temple. This makes the rioting after the prayers at the mosque last Friday even more inexcusable, justifying a full and independent inquiry into the whole series of events and the handling of the whole incident.