30 March 2008

'Mas Selamat', my Facebook friend



He's everywhere. Or at least, his picture is everywhere.

His is the face - with and without facial hair - that launched a million police notices, MMS messages, newspaper articles (including this one), blog posts and Prison Break parodies.

For better or worse, escaped terrorist Mas Selamat Kastari is now the most famous man in Singapore.

He is more recognisable than MediaCorp's biggest stars without having to give a single magazine interview about his love life.

And more notorious than Paris Hilton, Lindsay Lohan and Britney Spears combined without having to make a single music video in a low-cut costume.



Even my children, who are in primary school, know who Mas Selamat is, but not the name of the minister who had to apologise for his escape.

Mas Selamat's mugshot has become a local pop culture icon, T-shirt-worthy even. Young entrepreneurs are hawking apparel printed with the former bus mechanic's apparently copyright-free image online.

How do I know Mas Selamat is a former bus mechanic? From his surprisingly up-to-date Wikipedia page, of course.

Have the police tried searching for Mas Selamat in cyberspace? Because there are at least 11 people on social networking site Friendster by that name.

And I have just added "Mas Selamat" as a friend on Facebook and according to his profile, he is playing Texas Hold'em Poker.

Never one to shy from jumping on the bandwagon despite a bad knee, I also created my own MySpace page as "Mas Selamat" at myspace.com/masselamat, as well as a LinkedIn page.

Unfortunately, others with more finely-tuned bandwagon-jumping reflexes have already beaten me to masselamat.blogspot.com, masselamat@gmail.com and masselamat@yahoo.com.

Even the domain name masselamat.com has already been taken by someone in Gilbratar - on 1 Mar, a mere three days after Mas Selamat's disappearing act. Talk about quick reflexes.

The good news, if you can call it that, is that as of this writing, the domains masselamat.net and masselamat.org are still available.

Are we making light of a serious incident that is potentially deadly to the country and region? Or worse, exploiting it?

Well, Mel Brooks made The Producers - a movie, and then a musical based on the movie, and then a movie based on the musical - about making a musical called Springtime For Hitler and he won awards for it.



And Adolf Hitler killed literally millions of people. Mas Selamat has killed no one as far as we know.

So which is more in bad taste, a musical about Hitler or a Mas Selamat T-shirt? Is there a difference?

The difference is Hitler is history. He is dead and poses no immediate threat to our security (unless those rumours about his clones hiding out in South America turn out to be true).

Mas Selamat is not dead as far as we know. He is very much an ongoing concern.

Hitler can't kill any more people. Mas Selamat can. Also, Mel Brooks made Blazing Saddles and Young Frankenstein, so he can get away with just about anything. Anyway, I may still order that Mas Selamat hoodie from cafepress.com. Just for the irony of it.

I wonder if they accept PayPal.

- Published in The New Paper, 30 March 2008

12 March 2008

Mas Selamat breaks our winning streak



Well, we had a good run. But every winning streak has to end eventually.

We won the bid to host the inaugural Youth Olympics, beating out no less than the default villain in all those old James Bond movies – the Russians.

We won the right to stage the first ever Formula One race at night (you know, to avoid ERP charges).

We won the second Asian edition of The Amazing Race with a guy who sounds like Marlee Matlin speaking Singlish.

Heck, we even won the first and likely only Asian Idol, thanks to pretty boy Hady Mirza and a quirky voting system.



But – and oh, what a big "but" (and I'm not referring to J Lo) – we lost a terrorist with a bum leg.

I guess nobody's perfect.

Even the American football team, the New England Patriots, were only 'perfect' – winning 18 straight games – until the Super Bowl when they were stomped by the New York Giants.

Even the No 1 tennis player in the world, Roger Federer, lost the Australian Open to a guy whose name I've given up trying to remember.



Even I have been known to misspell a word on occation.

But it's good to lose now and then. It keeps us humble. It's like that old Avis line: We're not No 1, so we try harder.

So we let Mas Selamat Kastari escape using the old "I need to go to the toilet" line. Doesn't anyone guarding the Whitley Road Detention Centre watch movies?

OK, we just have to suck it up and move on. Admit our mistakes and learn from them.

But have we?

When we were told the fugitive had a limp, I felt sorry for every Malay adult male in Singapore who stubbed his toe that day.

And then we were told he limps only when he is walking fast. I felt sorry for every Malay adult male in Singapore who stubbed his toe and tried not to walk fast that day.

What is so diabolical is that Mas Selamat's face is so commonplace. Why can't he have some evil-looking scar or an eye-patch or something? (Because he's not a pirate, that's why!)

I can think of at least three Malay acquaintances who vaguely resemble the Singapore's most wanted man. If not for their non-limp...

And that is why I would be reluctant to call the police if I think I have spotted Mas Selamat.

For one thing, I would most likely be wrong. On top of that, since I'm not Malay, I would be wrong in a manner that might make me appear racist.

And I'd rather not appear racist when I can help it.

But what if my fear of being political incorrect allows a terrorist to escape?

Well...

Chances are the guy I spotted isn't Mas Selamat anyway. Just some unfortunate Malay adult male who happened to stubbed his toe and walked really fast on the wrong day.

Like I said, nobody's perfect.

- Published in The New Paper, 12 March 2008

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