Are you afraid to die?

Why fear death? It is the most beautiful adventure in life. – Charles Frohman, American theatre producer

Ladies and gentlemen, are you afraid to die?

The more superstitious among you would probably rebuke me for asking this question so early in the morning or even for bringing up this topic for discussion. Among many Chinese families, death used to be a taboo subject, especially during Chinese New Year.

In the Dewan Rakyat this week, Bintulu MP Datuk Seri Tiong King Sing caused a motion when he said “DG (Health director-general) takut mati (is afraid of dying)” while debating the Supply Bill 2020.

Tiong had questioned why Health director-general Tan Sri Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah did not go out into the field to see the situation of the Covid-19 pandemic and instead, held daily press conferences via live telecast.

“Why didn’t he go out into the field, such as in Kota Kinabalu, which is very bad? Why didn’t he visit every hospital give moral support to the frontliners — doctors and nurses?” asked the MP.

“Don’t just send doctors and nurses there. Those frontliners aren’t afraid of dying but DG. His deputy did not go either. What is happening? No need for daily briefings. I hear that he now wants (to become) WHO (World Health Organisation) secretary-general. That’s not right,” Tiong added.

The MP angered many with his statement; they asked him to stop “attacking” Dr Noor Hisham and to retract his statement. And the war of words over Tiong’s statement continued the next day in the Dewan Rakyat.

But Tiong insisted he would not retract the statement, adding that he was merely expressing the voice of the frontliners.

Commenting on the issue, Deputy Chief Minister Tan Sri Datuk Amar Dr James Jemut Masing said Tiong had a point.

“If the director-general has been to ‘ground zero’, then Tiong’s criticism is out of place,” he said.

Tourism, Arts and Culture Minister Datuk Abdul Karim Rahman Hamzah said the attack on Dr Noor Hisham was uncalled for and shouldn’t be done in the first place.

He pointed out that Tiong should not have hit out at a civil servant, especially when the person had done a lot to contain the Covid-19 situation nationwide.

Abdul Karim said that the attack was simply too much and too harsh on someone who had served well, adding “If you ask Malaysians, I believe they would say they love the director-general more than they love our politicians and ministers.”

Yes, indeed as stated by Abdul Karim, Dr Noor Hisham is much loved by not only Malaysians but also the world for his approach in handling the pandemic.

The endocrine surgeon has served as the director-general since March 2013 and became famous when he led Malaysia in the fight against Covid-19. He has won many awards this year. For instance, the China Global TV Network (CGTN) recognised him as among the top doctors of the world for his approach in tackling the pandemic.

Dr Noor Hisham has also appeared as an animated character alongside characters from the BoBoiBoy franchise in a one-minute public service announcement reminding Malaysians to take steps to prevent Covid-19. He was also among the heroic trio named by the Singaporean news outlet, The Independent.

This year, Dr Noor Hisham was awarded the ‘2019 Most Notable Alumni’ award by Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia’s medical faculty — his alma mater. He also received the BrandLaureate Award from the World Brand Foundation for Outstanding Brand Leadership 2020, the national 2020/1442 Hijrah Maal Hijrah Figure award as well as the Darjah Panglima Setia Mahkota (PSM) award that carried the title of ‘Tan Sri’ conferred by the King.

During his daily press conference recently, the esteemed doctor confessed that like other frontliners, he was facing a lot of pressure in dealing with Covid-19 and was has had sleepless nights. This confession made Malaysians love him more because of his humility and humanity.

In my opinion, Tiong who is known to be a straight forward person, was merely performing his duty as a MP when he made the ‘DG takut mati’ statement in the Dewan Rakyat. He was, as he explained, voicing out what most of the frontliners were probably feeling.

There is currently no cure for Covid-19. To date, about 1.3 million people have died from the virus. Despite the precautions they took, many frontliners have died from the virus as well. Just imagine, if you are a frontliner and you are sent to the Covid-19 battlefield — how would you feel, even though you know your job is to save lives? For the young and newly married and those with young children, it would be like a meeting with death!

Dr Noor Hisham, when replying to Tiong’s jibe, was very gracious. Waving off the MP’s statement, he said he accepted the fact that death does not discriminate.

“There is no issue of us being afraid to die. Muslims accept that death can happen whenever, it is not a matter of going down to the field or not,” he told the press.

He added he had visited Sabah at the end of August to see the management and preparation for the state election and that he had instructed his deputies to visit Sabah to learn of issues being faced.

In retrospect, Tiong has livened up not only the proceedings in the Dewan Rakyat with his “DG takut mati” statement but also the headlines in newspapers and social media. Newspapers love good news and bad news.