by Hafiz Noor Shams. First published in The Malay Mail Online 21 May 2015

I had a short consulting stint once long ago with a small firm. A lot of consultants like sexy terms but the one phrase that comes to my mind today is “analysis paralysis”: the analysis goes on and on in an infinite loop, leaving no space for action at all.

Analysis paralysis is becoming an excuse to do nothing as we face a refugee crisis in the Andaman Sea. Since the crisis is a complex issue, there are so many questions begging an answer.

Should we let them in? Where would we house them in Malaysia if we do? How long should they stay? Should Malaysia bear the cost alone? Should they be allowed to work in Malaysia? Should someone else take them later?

Should we not put pressure on Myanmar to stop persecuting the Rohingyas, accept them as equal and thus address the issue at its root cause? Would more come if we let the refugees reach our northern shores? Are they legitimate refugees? How do we get to the smugglers? How do we prevent this from snowballing?

Not all of the questions can be answered immediately and satisfactorily. As a layperson, I definitely do not have the answers. Even those in power struggle to provide any.

In the absence of a clear answer, shamefully the default action is doing nothing except for turning the boats back to the open sea. Casually reading the news, we know that there are deaths as governments stand still with doors shut. They have nowhere to go as their food and water supply dwindle.

Our own government is under pressure to open up but sadly they can take heart from some members of public – be they columnists, letter writers, activists or just a voice on the internet – suffering from analysis paralysis.

They want all the questions to be answered first before we do anything beyond turning the boats away, leaving the weak and the oppressed to the sharks.

How long it will take to answer the questions, nobody knows. These Malaysians, paralyzed by questions, are so afraid of making mistakes that they must have their certainties. Do not be emotional, they would say. “Think, think!” shout the Vulcan-wannabes, effectively telling the government to stay on course.

The truth is that there will be nothing to think about when all the refugees die. Solutions that come too late are no solution at all. So I charge these Malaysians as lacking urgency.

They are those in the exam halls wanting all the time in the world to complete their papers. Think however much you want. Take your time. But when the time is up and the sheet is empty, you will get an F.

We are a relatively rich country, even as the corrupt powers that be brew their financial scandals in Kuala Lumpur and Putrajaya, even as we have poor of our own. And we are perpetually in need of workers. Our country is young and we need all the manpower to build our infrastructure. We can afford to have the refugees in while we find a solution to the mess.

But I feel the issue is never about money. Instead, we are short on humanity.

All of that analysis paralysis is just a way to hide our heartlessness.

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Hafiz Noor Shams is a founding Associate of IDEAS

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