Malaysia: tops at spotting bare nips, less so at running airlines

Unanswered questions remain in the matter of the sunbathing backpackers on mount Kinabalu. (For the record, I cannot stomach the notion that a young, fit woman’s breast, bared in a natural environment, can be offensive to anyone.) The principal question to me is whether the Malaysian government played a part in hyperinflating this minor, run-of-the-mill episode to a clash-of-civilizations mudstorm.

A commenter has suggested that Malaysia may have been desperate to draw the public’s attention away from the tribulations of Malaysia Airlines, declared technically bankrupt last week. (Incidentally, it barely avoided a major accident last Friday in Melbourne.) The company cannot merely shake off responsibility for losing MH370 last year, even though the cause of its disappearance remains unclear. Some may argue that Malaysia Airlines could have avoided the downing of MH17 by diverting its flight path away from the war zone, although it was hardly alone in that imprudence – just the most unlucky of the unwise airlines.

Naturally, one can be forgiven for asking whether Malaysians are as good at aviation safety as they have lately been at detecting naked breasts on hilltops. Ironically, Eleanor Hopkins has an M.Sc. in aeronautic engineering.

A more specific question is who uploaded photos of the disrobed tourists to social media, if they truly were uploaded. It has been reported that the tour guide who ascended the mountain with the tourists decided to file a complain after a park service official showed him some of those images. I am skeptical of this narrative. I suspect the undressing ritual is a must in a backpacking/globetrotting sub-subculture and those harmless pranks had happened dozens of dozens of times without anybody getting offended. Something was different this time: perhaps the earthquake interfered, but possibly Kuala Lumpur as well.

Another of the secondary questions is the part played by the social media provocateur Emil Kaminski, who seems to have acted irresponsibly in more ways than one. The online abuse he has been subjected to proves how easily some people are provoked into extrene nastiness. In general, there has been plenty of anti-Western racism in the online backlash against the Kinabalu backpackers. Others have merely demanded “respect,” even though it is hard to respect people who believe, or pretend to give credence to the idea, that nudity in the wild causes earthquakes.

I definitely respect those Malaysians who have said the matter should be brushed away as trivial and best forgotten.

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