Monday March 11, 2013
Rumour mills are working overtime
One Man's Meat
By PHILIP GOLINGAI
THE most gruesome image to come out from the Semporna shootings is a video clip of a gunman cutting off the fingers and head of a man tied to a chair.
The brutal decapitation was posted on Facebook, Whatsapp, Twitter and SMS with a photograph of a policeman killed in a gun battle with Sulu gunmen in Semporna, Sabah together with the man who was beheaded.
The man in both photographs appears to be the same person.
“Is this our guy?” a 40-something friend from Kota Kinabalu asked via Whatsapp.
“Some say the background noise are men speaking Mestizos – (a language which is a mix of Bisaya and Spanish). Suluk boys say it is definitely not the Suluk/Tausug language.”
I replied: “It is from a Mexican drug cartel. They were killing a police informer. In Semporna, the houses (where the shootings happened) are wooden whereas that house (in the video) is concrete”.
My friend replied: “Possible. Can’t verify so need to ask expert. Wooden house noted”.
I replied: “It was definitely not taken in Malaysia. There are weird people out there who find it funny to post rumours on the Internet”.
Welcome to Sabah Darul Rumour.
Right now, I’m in the media centre about 15km from where Malaysian joint forces are flushing out Sulu gunmen at Kampung Tanduo and Kampung Tanjung Batu.
Every other hour, I will receive messages via SMS, Whatsapp, Twitter, Facebook and phone calls from friends and strangers asking or informing me about the security situation in Sabah.
> “Boss, just received this from a police friend in Sandakan. Kinabatangan police station was under attack and controlled by armed intruders.”
> “My brother who knows a cop in Bukit Aman says there were weapons seized in Keningau Batu Enam.”
> “About 300 boats entered Sabah last night. A police friend in Bukit Aman said they are preparing to attack Lok Kawi (army camp headquarters in Kota Kinabalu).”
It seems that every Malaysian has a husband, father, brother, son, grandfather or boyfriend working in Bukit Aman.
Sometimes, I feel that I’m chasing my own tail – the rumours take on a life of their own until some parents have bought enough rice to last them a lifetime and stopped sending their children to school.
Constantly, I have to contact sources to confirm whether the rumours are true. About 95% of the time, they are false.
But many in Sabah believe them. Wild rumours that there were shootings in Semporna between the police and Sulu gunmen on the night of March 2 became true.
One of my favourite rumours is the one about the invisibility of the Sulu gunmen.
According to urban legend, the armed intruders possessed anting anting (Tausug language for amulet) which made them able to move without being spotted.
“Villagers claimed that they have seen these gunmen in front of them and the next moment, they disappeared,” a government officer said.
“That is why they cannot be captured.”
I rolled my eyes as of last count, 53 Sulu gunmen have been killed.
Even after the Sulu body count was reported, a 30-something Sabahan messaged me: “I received this information from two friends saying that the mundu (Tausug language for pirates) are ghaib (invisible) and kebal (invulnerable). They can only be killed if it is a head shot or are bombed.”
“But I called the brother-in-law of Raja Muda (Azzimudie Kiram, the leader of the Sulu gunmen in the battle zone) and he said ‘no’,” I replied.
On Wednesday, I phoned Abraham Idjirani, the spokesman of self-proclaimed Sulu Ruler Sultan Jamalul Kiram III, who is the brother of the Raja Muda. In Manila, Idjirani denied that the Raja Muda had black magic power.
“The bombs (dropped from jet fighters) did not hit him and the Malaysian forces can’t find him because God is helping him,” he said.
On social media, it is quite exasperating to read postings by civilian friends who suddenly became military experts after our security forces launched an offensive to end the armed intrusion about 120km from Lahad Datu town.
Some, who probably the closest they ever got to a battle zone was through watching Saving Private Ryan on HBO, criticised the aerial bombings on March 11 because no gunman was killed.
“It is to soften the ground,” I tweeted.
Some were clueless about the military terms.
Perhaps they should watch Tropic Thunder, an action/comedy about “a group of actors who shooting a big-budget war movie, through a series of freak occurrences, are forced to become the soldiers they are portraying”.
A much quoted movie to explain the Sulu gunmen intrusion to Sabah is Wag the Dog (The plot is “before elections, a spin-doctor and a Hollywood producer join efforts to ‘fabricate’ a war in order to cover-up a presidential sex scandal.”).
I debated endlessly with friends and contacts on this conspiracy theory.
Some likened the operations to a movie and that it should have ended in 90 minutes.