Monday, February 26, 2007

[Malaysia] Editorial: Wrong rites

26 Feb 2007

WHILE ragging is not officially approved in the military, it is astonishing how its unofficial practice finds many apologists in the military circles who defend it as a tradition worth preserving.

While conceding that the vicious beatings of a trainee air force pilot in Alor Star seem to have been excessive, the argument seems to be that so long as hazing is not extreme, it is acceptable.

Mild ragging is OK, it seems, because it is a rite of initiation which instils the esprit de corps needed to face the enemy in battle. But the problem is that what some may consider mild, others may regard as extreme, and even the mildest of ragging can be traumatic.

In the matter of the the Royal Malaysian Air Force trainee, ragging seems to be a euphemism for what appears to be a case of collective torture.

The problem is not the excesses but the very idea that cadets have to be subjected to rites of passage that are cruel and abusive to develop discipline and build character.

The question then is whether the drills and instructions during the training they receive in boot camp are so inadequate that they have to be humiliated. The violent attacks on the air force cadet strip bare the malice and brutality in military culture. That it has been tacitly allowed is alarming because it lays the groundwork for things to get out of hand.

The fact that it took police and media reports to take the lid off the issue reveals the strength of the unwritten code of silence and the lack of oversight mechanisms in the military.

It raises questions about the need for the military to condone the practice and should spur the Defence Ministry to take measures to change the culture rather than dismiss the abuses as isolated incidents and blaming them on the aberrant act of a few.

While steps have apparently been taken to combat abuses in the past, their implementation seems to have been lackadaisical. While a board of inquiry has been established to prosecute the abusers, the pledge not to allow a repeat of the incident hinges on measures to address ragging in the armed forces.

The military should adopt a zero-tolerance policy towards ragging by laying down the ground rules and implementing them unequivocally and consistently.

Otherwise, the only way systematic abuses in the military academies would be highlighted would be for someone to report to the police and squeal to the Press.

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