Malaysia is in the grip of fear. Fear emanates not from external bodies, not from invasions, not from economic constraints, not from internal troubles, but from petty thieves. It sounds ridiculous and silly, but it is very much the case.
Burglary has become a part of Malaysian life. Newspapers report episodes of daylight robbery and incidents of housebreaking as headlines.
These miscreants indulge in snatching chains, rings, pocketing money, stealing credit cards and mobile phones. If anyone resists, the thieves turn violent. They slit open the throat or cut the fingers with sharp penknives and bolt away.
They decamp with cash and jewels from townhouses and private residences. As most Malaysian buildings have tiled roofs, the thieves easily remove the tiles and get into the main living area. They warn the inmates of dire consequences they will have to face if they report the robbery to the police.
Temples also get looted by these burglars, who enrich themselves by grabbing expensive ornaments made of gold and studded with valuable diamonds. On their way out they lift the lockers filled with devotees' contributions.
There is still another way of stealing: small-timers rummage through plantations and harvest fresh fruit and bunches of oil palm and sell it for immediate cash.
The police patrol the vulnerable areas on motorcycles and in cars, flashing a bright light and honking frequently. They do only that much. It is a stylish way of going about the town with authority and power, but it does not catch criminals or mete out any punishment.
This otherwise beautiful country with tropical rain forests and a long coastal belt, with a stable government, with a sound economy, with three races living in harmony, would compete for the safest place to live in if not for this glaring discrepancy.