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A lot more than monkey business

While a fireworks celebration was scheduled for the evening of the second day of the Lunar New Year on February 9, the real fireworks exploded some 24 hours earlier on the volatile streets of Mong Kok.

The no-holds-barred slug out between police and a local mob continued until the shadows lifted on a new day, leaving perplexed cleaners removing debris and an even more perplexed government groping for explanations.

The sober light of day revealed that clearing away street hawkers operating without a licence may have sparked the battle, but undoubtedly it is not the real issue any more than the two gun shots fired by a policeman, and discussions over whether they were warning shots or not and the long established new year customs of Mong Kok are not likely to either quell the anger or get near its kindling source.

Whatever the chief executive of the special administrative region, Leung Chun-ying, really thinks is behind the sudden outburst on New Year’s Day, a usually jolly time in this normally peaceful city, he is not telling.

His clipped, “I think you have to ask the people who appeared to be the organisers behind this riot” is at best not helpful and at worst worrisome, suggesting a revealing ignorance of what is going on in this city.

But while no rational person could take issue with his outright condemnation of the irrational behaviour of those who ripped up footpaths, lit fires and attacked police on the ground, when all the huffing and puffing is over, we will still be left with the status quo and none the wiser.

This is an extremely serious incident in a city that was able to host a 79-day occupation of its busiest streets without much more than a few skirmishes. It is also complex, as the irrationality of the violence nullifies the rationale of police restraint, as well as the other extreme of meeting violence with more violence.

However, when no one seems to know what way to move, we need to look for wisdom wherever it can be found.

Coincidently, on the same day the South China Morning Post released its story on the riot (February 10), it also carried a letter from Kate Weisman entitled, Organised religions in Hong Kong can be a catalyst for creating unity.

She says religions are in a position to take the lead in creating bridges of understanding… by promoting cross cultural dialogue. A timely insight, as it is equally important among the sub-cultures in the city as well.

A little gem of wisdom from Indian Archbishop Thomas Menamparrampil almost passed unnoticed at the January Eucharistic Congress in Cebu, but it may just be a bigger gem than it was given credit for.

Reflecting on the experience of the Church, which in most of Asia lives within a hostile environment, Archbishop Menamparrampil spoke of the need to engage with cultures and heritage, to bring inward-looking communities out of their shells and deal with the angered or the vengeful radical with respect and sensitivity—rather than condemn or speak from the high moral ground.


Worth a thought, as this Year of the Monkey opened with a lot more than monkey business. JiM