Holiday meltdowns | Inquirer Opinion
At Large

Holiday meltdowns

/ 12:13 AM December 16, 2014

In less than 10 days, families, clans, communities and even clumps of friends will be gathering in their homes and other locales to celebrate Christmas.

The day, including the eve of the occasion, is traditionally observed in the Christian world as a feast of faith, family and togetherness. But even in societies that are not predominantly Christian, Christmas is observed as a secular feast—marked with eating, drinking and shopping—an excuse to gather and share and give way to good feelings.


But the lead-up to the occasion has been marked not with goodwill and peace to all, but with incidents of remarkable meltdowns in public amity. What is it about the season? Is it the stress that attends the demands of a celebration that is increasingly materialistic and manic? Is it the steady breakdown in civility that has led to more and more public displays of bad temper and arrogance?

We don’t need to look far for examples. Still fresh in our memories is the incident with the driver of that blue Maserati and the beating he inflicted on the hapless MMDA traffic enforcer. Despite efforts to turn public opinion in his favor (with the help of a lawyer, some instant witnesses and cooperative media people), Russel Ingco the Maserati owner has since lost his license and found himself knee-deep in hot water over such issues as an unregistered car and a record of traffic violations. In this case, we’re seeing the perpetrator get his comeuppance, his rightful due.


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The same could be said of the COO (child of owner) of Korean Air Lines, who was forced to resign from the company (where she was a vice president) after an incident over, would you believe, a bag of macadamia nuts. The packet had been handed to her instead of being placed in a porcelain dish as etiquette demanded for first-class passengers. Apparently, not satisfied with the apologies made by the flight attendants and the crew chief (who were allegedly forced to kneel in front of her), the irate airline officer forced the plane to return to the gate to unload the “erring” crew members. Never mind if the flight was delayed as a consequence.

One almost felt sorry for her, as she faced the cameras and reporters to issue a public apology for her behavior. Local commentators seized on the news reports to point out that in similar incidents involving children of the powerful and influential here, the scions got away with their excesses. One story that comes to mind involves a relative of the owner of a local airline who allegedly pulled strings to get a friend of his on a departing flight, even if that passenger was two hours late for check-in.

And what to make of the Chinese tourists turned over to Thai police who allegedly kicked up a fuss aboard a flight of a budget airline, complaining about seating arrangements and even hurling hot water and noodles at a flight attendant? Escorted out of the plane, the misbehaving tourists earned a reprimand from the Chinese government, which reiterated previous reminders to their country folk to “behave” while abroad, saying unsavory behavior was besmirching the image of Chinese abroad.

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Even more disturbing is the news of a hostage-taking in a café in Sydney, where a gunman has held about 13 customers, threatening them with a heavy firearm and holding up a black banner against the front glass window bearing a traditional Islamic prayer.

Commentators have inevitably linked the incident to recent terrorist incidents—including beheadings—launched by the group Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (Isis), although Islamic groups in Australia have issued statements condemning the incident and rejecting any links to any organized effort.


Latest developments have said the hostage-taker (reports confirm only one gunman) has issued two demands, one of which is a radio “conversation” with Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott, a demand observers said would certainly not be met; and an Isis flag, though for what purpose is still unknown.

This is certainly jarring and disturbing, coming as it does during the countdown to Christmas, when most people’s minds are filled with thoughts of shopping and checking off their Christmas lists. Certainly, this puts a damper on the high spirits generated by the coming feast, not just in Australia but elsewhere in the world, including the observance of the close of the current year and a warm welcome for the new one. All we can do at this point is to pray that the hostage-taking ends with no fatalities or injuries.

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Still this spot of bad news at this time of the year shows us that evil knows no seasons, that motives for throwing populations into panic or to make political/ideological statements abound and are indeed inexplicable and immeasurable.

Muslim leaders in Australia have lamented the tendency to cover the incident under the blanket label of “Muslim terrorism,” even with the motivations of the gunman still left unclear. A radio host who spoke with the hostage-taker off air describes the man as a “lunatic,” albeit one who used propaganda phrases to capture the public imagination.

We might know by now, as you read this column, what exactly pushed this individual (if he was indeed acting alone) to take hostages and capture the world’s attention. Is the incident just part of a previous pattern of Isis-led incidents designed to break the will of an international coalition against them and “bringing the war” to where the allies themselves live? Or is it just the work of a deranged single person who has found an outlet for his anger, using the excuse of his faith? Our prayers for everyone at the receiving end of this holiday madness.

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