You either die a hero or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain” - Harvey Dent (The Dark Knight)

COMMENT The death of Chin Peng marks the end of the era whose ghosts has been used to haunt us for decades. The decrepit visage of the aged former communist guerrilla, who waged a war against various powers both colonial and legitimate, will soon fade away but for the occasional need for some to pick at old scars to facilitate new wounds.

For some Chin Peng’s (he will always be Chin Peng to me) death on Malaysia Day is some sort of “gift” for the citizens of Malaysia, blood and patriotism of the zealous kind always go hand in hand but I see it as a reminder of our distorted history that unfortunately will remain so.

As long as the system willfully encourages national delusions in the hopes that people would be cowed into remaining silent, lest they are painted as traitors or “pendatangs” intent on usurping racial sovereignty, our future will be a toxic swamp of racial distrust.

‘Tanda Putera’ is just the most recent example of distorting history attempting to portray race riots as a plot by communist insurgents working through Chinese proxies.

It would be interesting to see if, a willing director backed by the apparatus and lucre of the Umno state would concoct a fable that further demonises this Malaysian who died in exile in Thailand.

Of course, the right wing nationalists are abuzz with the very idea that Chin Peng would be buried in Malaysia or at the very least, his ashes scattered on our beloved pure soil. Ibrahim Ali, the Perkasa potentate, echoed the sentiment of many extreme right wing Malays when “he said an individual like the communist leader should be erased from the annals of the country’s history, away from the eyes of the younger generation.

“(The communist insurgency is) a dark moment in the country’s history which should serve as a lesson but not the history of a terrorist or criminal who destroy a country.”

However, Perkasa cares not for those Malaysians who would destroy another country and their place in the eyes of the younger generation. For instance, the remains of mass murderer Noordin Mohammad Top, was brought back to this country, even though the people of his own village objected to his return.

Indeed, we should consider the words of former home minister Hishammuddin Hussein, who was not only saddened of the death of Noordin but who also said, “What he did was wrong. We don’t condone what he did. I am sad that we did not get to rehabilitate him, like we have done with many others, including Jemaah Islamiah militants. I am sad because a life is a life.”

Therefore, while the Malaysian government helped Noordin’s family to bring back the body of a wanted terrorist who had butchered countless people of different nationalities, “a life is a life” sentiment does not apply to someone like Chin Peng. Why? It is because he is Chinese. A communist? Alternatively, maybe Islamic terrorism is more acceptable than communist (Chinese) terrorism.

For sure other “Malay” communist have been and will be redacted from our national State approved narratives but the Chin Peng personality has been and always will be used to demonized a specific community.

Already a narrative is forming of those “political parties” and “NGOs” being warned that that the Chin Peng issue is one of patriotism - the use of the families who suffered under the Communist insurgency and the deaths of security personnel as a propaganda tool.

Inspector-general of police Khalid Abu Bakar reminds us that Chin Peng was “technically” not a citizen. As usual when it comes to questions like these, I much prefer to rely on the reasoning of people who display a sense of rationality not to mention, personal experience with the issues in question.

Consider the words of Said Zahari

For this the words of Said Zahari the former editor of Utusan Melayu , who was interviewed by  MerdekaReview, in 2009 should be considered by right-thinking Malaysians. On the question of citizenship, here is what Said declares, “Chin Peng lahir di bumi Malaya. Dia lahir di satu tempat, namanya Sitiawan. Sitiawan ini adalah sebahagian daripada bumi Malaya.  Kalau dia lahir di bumi Malaya, maka dia adalah bumiputera Malaya...”

The incredulous reporter then queried the “bumiputra” claim, to which the indefatigable Said replied “Ya! Undang-undang dunia mana sekali pun, di mana awak lahir, di situlah tanahair”.

[Said Zahari mengibaratkan bahawa seandainya diri beliau dilahirkan di Kuala Lumpur misalnya, dan Chin Peng pula dilahirkan di Sitiawan,] “...kedua-duanya di tanah Malaya. Saya bumiputera tanah bumi ini. Mengapa mahu buat Chin Peng bukan bumiputera? Kalau datuknya bukan bumiputera saya setuju... tapi... (tidak bersetuju dalam kes Chin Peng.”

said zahariSaid Zahari (right), who was there during the negotiations, does not have much patience for the allegations that Chin Peng was not a citizen of Malaysia.

He provides context to right thinking Malaysians who may not remember a time when journalist were more than just mouthpieces to the regime, when he says “Apa lagi yang kamu (mereka yang menentang kepulangan Chin Peng) mahu?

Kalau kamu sudah boleh terima Chin Peng punya signature (tandatangan) sebagai satu perjanjian yang membawa kepada pendamaian antara rakyat di Malaya, apa bukti yang you mahu? Apakah you masih insist dia bukan rakyat jelata?  Kita sudah zalim...”

The debate of the various roles Chin Peng played as a Malaysian is crucial for what we get from it are diverse narratives where people of various ethnicities competed under various ideological banners for a chance to shape the destiny of this country.

It reminds of us of a time where ideology, not race, was a rallying cry for disparate voices attempting to come together during the post-colonial history of Malaysia. In other words, it reminds us that things were not always, what we hear and see from the state-controlled media and discourse.

There is much to vilify of Chin Peng as there is much to admire of him. These men of a different era literally spilled blood in fighting against forces that would have enslaved us. The fact that he turned his guns on his fellow Malaysians should never be forgotten.

However what is worse is that by denying him his citizenship we are in fact denying our history. By denying our history, we delude ourselves into thinking that Malaysia’s history was a safe narrative filled with heroes and villains, which neatly fit with the stereotypes of race as sanctioned by the Umno state. What could be more damaging than this?

S THAYAPARAN is Commander (rtd) of the Royal Malaysian Navy.