A Star poll six years ago asked readers if they supported a proposal to close certain Kuala Lumpur roads at night to allow Mat Rempit (loosely, “motorcycle gangs”) to race,
92 per cent of readers said no.
The result should surprise no one. But the idea had been proposed by a former minister in a previous administration that had been led by a leader now on trial for alleged corruption. So, of course, the idea had been taken seriously enough for the said newspaper to run said survey.
I suppose it’s true. We had been living in an age where, to paraphrase columnist George Will, it was difficult enough to find common sense “without a search warrant”.
At the time, the said minister had explained his idea away as something that the gangs might do to blow off steam as they had “no other means of entertainment.” And he was sensitive to their feelings, tactfully referring to the Rempit as “Mat Moto”.
With masterly understatement, the English press translated his tactful phraseology as “motorcycle enthusiasts”.
At their worst, the wannabe Easy Riders were enthusiastically criminal. And even at their collective best, the Rempit were enthusiastic nuisances like non-stop firecrackers, political speeches or aggressively annoying neighbours.
The Rempit are Malaysia’s low-cost version of the Hell’s Angels in the U.S but with a difference: they did rove around in packs but on itsy-bitsy bikes and in the wee hours of the night. That was bad enough, but they weren’t averse to the occasional intimidation, assault and robbery of victims from Rawang to Rompin if it so presented itself.
They did it without fear or favour and it was nothing personal unless you were the victim. The received wisdom was that the police were loath to crack down on them as many were “students.”
Actually, most had never seen the back of a classroom in years. Why waste time learning, they asked themselves earnestly, when ignorance was instantaneous? It was a good question and most aspired to be despatch riders, the better to dispatch their victims with efficiency.
Some were even, well, religious: they had prayed for bigger bikes without success, so they stole them instead and then asked for forgiveness. “Let us prey,” they said and, verily, it was done.
In truth, you couldn’t blame the police as they had tried curbing them. As far back as 15 years ago the police in Selangor had decided to get tough with the Rempit by confiscating their motorcycles.
But some newspapers objected, pointing out that the act could harm their livelihoods. The police replied that it was precisely what they were trying to do.
But no, the newspapers refused to budge, and the police backed off ensuring that both the livelihoods and the hoods remained lively.
Academic studies have revealed that the Rempit did what they did because they were bored and depressed. In short, it was a perfect cycle that, starting at 17, took years to perfect. They did what they did because they were bored and depressed and were bored and depressed because they did what they did.
The authorities may be getting less amused. Six months ago, repeated complaints from Penang residents led to a massive late-night ambush by police that nabbed over 350 offenders who not only had to push their bikes 7 kilometres to the nearest station but were also charged for various other offences.
The Rempit grumbled that it wasn’t cricket. And they were right, it wasn’t.
It was the law.