Mob Mentality And Discrimination: Low Yat Plaza Riot

July 23, 2015

Words By: Hew & Tan Jia Yue from MY Psychology of HELP University | Edited By: Anna Agoncillo
Image Credits: Katie Lips via Flickr with Creative Commons License

For Americans, what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas. Unfortunately for Malaysians, they have no Las Vegas; instead, they have a jungle of a city where a small provocation spreads like a plague from edge to edge. And, where political issues are almost always took to the streets. 

Recently, several Malaysian men trashed a mobile phone shop at Low Yat Plaza, Malaysia, which cost over S$25,000 (US$18,000). The Chinese owner of the shop was in awe as it exploded into a riot. This incidence is perplexing, simply because of its definite cause. Now that accurate reports have been slowly shown to light, is a mundane incident of theft. 

How can such a fiddling criminal incident, escalate to a full scale riot where people ran in streets and store alleys, where they beat up others, and smashed some cars? All these happened while the police force stood there bewildering at the magnitude of the event, stunned into silence and inaction. People argue that this maybe due to a tension between Chinese and Malays.

But all of these would not have been blown out of proportion if not for the combination socio-economic, religious, environmental, and psychological factors. 


The riot itself often has nothing to do with the criminal incident as once a mob gets going, it gets a spirit of its own, and it is that spirit that drives the group to cause significant damage.

Take the Jewish Holocaust as an example. The question most people will ask in conjunction with the WWII catastrophe is: "Do the Germans really despise the Jews?" Of course one should not rule out that possibility, but then again another question arises: "Where did all that hatred came from?" 

Most will consider the Versailles treatises, yet the issue is deeper than that.

As Erich Fromm analyzed this deeply in his book called Escape from Freedom, you may come to the realization that the social character of the post-WWI German was truly one of resignation, tiredness, and emptiness due to economic depressions, the failure of the pre-existing monarchy, the resentment of the lower and middle class towards their creditors, and so much more. 

And so, when confronted with such a powerful ideology such as Nazism or fascism, the powerless and insecure mass that had lost all hope will eventually cling to it!

They were, in Fromm’s words: “ready to submit to new authorities which offer them security and relief from doubt”. Through conformism and obedience, they freed themselves from the responsibility. 

That strong sense of belonging came from being united under one race fighting against what is perceived as injustice. In the Jewish Holocaust or Low Yat Plaza Riot, people may feel justified over whatever they are doing because they are functioning as a crowd wherein they lose their sense of individuality or personal responsibility and feel comfortable with how everyone around is acting the same way. There is a huge domain under Social Psychology dedicated to addressing our behavior in crowds, known as Mass or Crowd Psychology. 

In the Low Yat Plaza Riot, one must be really careful before making suppositions, because there is a fine line to the thread. As the occurred riots have demonstrated, people are already under the impression that this is a discrimination issue where one’s individuality dispersed under the anonymity of the crowd.

A Malay said in a video, immediately uploaded after the entire uproar: “This is not a racial issue, it is, in my opinion, a criminal issue”.  And it is not, but I fear that it will be, or it already has been.
Image Credits: Robert Couse-Baker via Flickr with Creative Commons License

About Hew and JY:
Hew is a Psychology student, studying in the prestigious, luxurious, and absolutely comfortable university that is HELP University.

Tan Jia Yue ( considers himself as a well-rounded person with a wide range of interests, Psychology being one of them. I am studying Psychology at HELP University. I am particularly passionate about scientific literacy and secularism, perhaps to a fault.  

Sources: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, & 8

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