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Compassion through the crisis

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As the trucks carry the migrants and refugees into camps and hostile, unknown futures, do we feel safer, Sonia Randhawa wonders.

These are scary, terrifying times, made worse by a government whose legitimacy is razor thin and our inability to trust the information drip-fed to us.

Fortunately, there is one thing that can almost always rally us together as a nation in these times of crisis: picking on those less fortunate. It is a tactic practised by generations of school-yard bullies, whether in the school yard or after they’ve left it.

It is always easy to spot the victims. They are generally weaker, have poor social skills, their clothes might be hand-me-downs, and you just know they don’t have the resources to fight back.

We’ve spent years in Malaysia making just the right constituency – migrant workers and those migrants par excellence, refugees. The latter make great victims because not only are they poor and weak here in Malaysia, they also have nowhere else to run. They have no government that might try to defend their rights; nobody stands in their corner.

And so, with predictable inhumanity, we do the school-yard equivalent of pulling their hair and rubbing their faces in the muck: we load them onto trucks, just their hands reaching out to the fresh air, the sunlight; they are anonymous, at the back, in the dark, while we make malignant metaphors of grasping and greed.

Do we feel proud? As the trucks carry these people, people with lives and loves and hopes and dreams and fears and lungs that may carry a virus, do we feel proud? As these trucks carry the migrants and refugees into camps and hostile, unknown futures, do we feel safer? Do we sleep more easily at night?

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Or do we worry whom the trucks will carry away next? Selangor Mansions surrounded by razor wire was bearable, perhaps: after all, that involved ‘dirty migrants’, people whose existence we deemed ‘illegal’. Did it ring a bit closer to home when the razor wire sprouted around the centre of middle-class Petaling Jaya?

What, I wonder, are the consequences of being bundled into a truck at the age of four? Is this where radicalism starts?

Yet, while these atrocities – and let’s not shy away from that word – are taking place, we are witnessing acts of almost equally unbearable kindness. Unbearable because how can the two exist in the world at the same time? How can people, so similar in their needs and wants and loves, coexist with such violence and such grace simultaneously?

How do we decide which people, which strangers are worthy of love, with the food and care that accompany that love, and which are to be denied?

Will we find that in the gashes that these contradictions are creating in our soul? And in these gashes, will we find the resources of blood and heart and sweat that are needed to build a better world? And what will that world look like?

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