“MARAHKAN nyamuk, kelambu dibakar.” This popular Malay proverb seems to have an increasing relevance to today’s unfolding global events. Though contextualised in a rural setting where mosquitoes are regarded as a normal menace, it has now “invaded” the urban scenario with the on-going outbreak of dengue. The rural population of old used mosquito nets for an insect-free sleeping environment. This is an effective way of keeping out insects, and at times insect repellents were applied to the nettings to give double protection — a cheap but effective way to ward off mosquito-borne diseases.
But it needs discipline and even then, once in a while, a mosquito is trapped under the net without our knowledge. And this can cause a lot of nuisance, depriving one of a good night’s sleep. (Over) Reactions can lead to extreme behaviour such as burning the mosquito net as the proverb suggests, pointing to an action done in haste, without thinking much of the consequences that could lead to a “greater” loss to the individual, even the community, in the long run.
In modern times, the burning of mosquito nets may not happen anymore. It is taken over by overuse of aerosols, sprayed indiscriminately at the “invisible” pests, making the surrounding environment toxic to the body. We also light mosquito coils and pollute the air with irritating fumes.
The state of wars today, especially unconventional warfare warding off contingents that can be as menacing as mosquitoes, mirrors this proverb very well.
While it can also lead to the proverbial burning of the mosquito net, it is more likely about indiscriminate spraying of toxic chemicals as in the case of the Vietnam war.
Thousands were killed and many more maimed when the most toxic of chemical agents were used.
But the “mosquitoes” found shelters in a very complex tunnel system — famously named the Ho Chí Minh Trail — and thus were left largely unaffected. Not surprisingly, the trail is considered “one of the great achievements of military engineering of the 20th century”, acknowledged by the US National Security Agency's official history of the war.
In fact it extended into neighbouring Laos, prompting the US Air Force to systematically pound on it since the US command in Saigon regarded it as the “extended battlefield”. The trail led into the north-eastern and southern part of Laos as well and is said to be connected to the Sihanouk Trail in Cambodia.
Notwithstanding all the bombardment, the tunnel remained vital as one of the factors that led to the defeat of the US, like the colonialists before it.
In 1965, when President Lyndon Johnston approved an escalation of the bombing of the trail, there could be as many as 1,000 sorties flown in per month. This was in addition to the deployment of thousands of ground troops in the attempt to dismantle the network, for example by using gunfire to torch the trail.
It seems the siege on Gaza is a repeat of what the US did in Vietnam, perhaps with a number of exceptions due to Gaza being so dense a “strip”, congested with refugees already in a dire situation.
Vietnam, on the other hand, is more of a long and wide “corridor” with its eastern side bordering an open sea. Although the western part of the Gaza strip is exposed to the Mediterranean Sea, it is largely polluted with virtually no accessibility. The tunnels in Gaza are nowhere as complex as the one in Vietnam which was also well camouflaged by lush tropical forest. Gaza, by any measure, is more exposed and vulnerable.
Yet the bombardment is proportionally not less intense as evident by the number of civilian casualties which is fast approaching 2000; hundreds of thousands more are displaced within the “glass prison” that they are in. If schools have been reportedly fired upon, a prominent university in Gaza was shelled last week, causing extensive damage, though this is not the first time.
Gaza is literally burnt down over the last four weeks. The wisdom of the proverb “marahkan nyamuk, kelambu dibakar” went unheeded in averting a disproportionately tragic waste of human lives and property amounting to billions to rebuild. This is, no doubt, a sure case of tunnel vision. NST Learning Curve 10 AUGUST 2014 @ 8:01 AM