Combatting untruths in Malaysian history by Kua Kia Soong
Thursday, December 05, 2013
From Malaysiakini : COMMENT
The unprovoked attack and bewildering prejudice exhibited by the
director of the film ‘Tanda Putera' against my 2007 book, ‘May 13:
Declassified documents on the Malaysian riots of 1969', are symptomatic
of a deeper malaise evident among the Umno-nurtured propagandists in
Malaysia who appear diligently uninterested in distinguishing fact from
The refusal to allow even the ashes of the former
leader of the Communist Party of Malaya Chin Peng to return to his
homeland, basing this on the official version of the Emergency, likewise
point to a bizarre interpretation of history and its consequences for
Malaysian collective conscience.
Former American president
Abraham Lincoln once said: "I believe it is an established maxim in
morals that he/she who makes an assertion, without knowing whether it is
true or false, is guilty of falsehood; and the accidental truth of the
assertion does not justify or excuse him/her."
I consider it my
patriotic duty to combat untruths regarding Malaysian history, such as
the ‘May 13 incident', the Second World War and the Emergency. I have
been doing that ever since I went to university in the Seventies. These
articles have been written to debunk falsehood, myths and prejudice in
the Malaysian landscape.
A society at peace with itself?
we witnessed shocking cases of bigotry unbecoming of a society that is
attempting to be "at peace with itself" (a fashionable phrase espoused
in ‘Vision 2020'). There was the case of the attention starved sex
bloggers who were "tried by media" after they had posted an insensitive
Ramadan greeting on their Facebook of them eating ‘bak kut teh' (herbal
They were arrested and jailed, with no bail granted,
after the public outcry from the mainstream Malay language press. The
couple was charged under the Film Censorship Act 2002, 298A of the Penal
Code for promoting enmity between different groups of religion and
Section 4(1) (c) of the 1948 Sedition Act.
Then the police
arrested Maznah, also known as Chetz, under Section 298A of the Penal
Code as well as under the Sedition Act after a three-year-old video of
her bathing her dogs and wishing viewers Selamat Hari Raya resurfaced
online one day before Hari Raya Aidilfitri this year. Likewise, there
was a posse of religious zealots calling for punishment to be meted out
for the alleged affront to their religion.
recently, the owner of a resort in Kota Tinggi, who had allowed a group
of Buddhists to meditate in a surau there, was remanded for four days,
again after an outcry from the Malay vernacular press.
More alarmingly, the surau was subsequently demolished, on the grounds that it had been tainted through its use by Buddhists.
fallout from the 13th general election, when the BN lost the support of
the non-Malays, saw the government taking out its unhappiness against
the non-Malay electorate. "It's payback time!", as an observer pointed
Among the punitive post-GE13 actions was the withholding of
the permit for the film "New Village". I have pointed out that this
could not be a tit-for-tat action since ‘Tanda Putera' had not been
banned at any time - the ‘Tanda Putera' permit had been intentionally
withheld by the BN government until after the GE13 because it did not
want to upset the Chinese voters.
These examples illustrate the
impatience and influence of neo-fascist groups in Malaysia, noted for
their violence against the many peaceful efforts by Malaysian civil
society in recent years.
Such actions demonstrate to today's
youth the credibility of my thesis in ‘May 13', that the pogrom in 1969
was orchestrated by the emergent state capitalist elements within Umno
who were impatient with the Tunku's laissez faire policy. Notice how
little it takes for these neo-fascist groups to resort to violence?
Even more recently, Home Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi (right)
was caught on video spewing a racist tirade against Chinese and Indian
Malaysians while encouraging the banned Malay-based "Tiga Line" gang to
carry on with their work since they were tolerated by Umno.
in this survey of Malaysian prejudices, the Malaysian government's
refusal to allow Chin Peng's ashes to return to his homeland, despite
the 1989 Haadyai Agreement, takes the biscuit.
No pride in prejudice
Malaysian officialdom, prejudice tends to follow discrimination or
racism. Prejudice is defined by Collier's Dictionary as "an opinion or
judgment, usually a negative attitude, formed beforehand or without
sufficient knowledge or just grounds", while discrimination is defined
as "prejudice or partiality in attitudes or actions".
there is a circular relationship between prejudice and discrimination
and it would be futile to pretend that prejudice does not lead to nor
play a factor in discriminatory behaviour. To the prejudiced, the facts
of history seem to be far less important than the "right" beliefs that
people hold, and how, for example, their racial beliefs inform and
govern their perceptions and behaviour.
Through the years,
important issues in our society and history have often been swept under
the rug until occasionally a book like mine on ‘May 13' comes along to
challenge the official version of history.
Isn't it time that we
Malaysians, of all backgrounds, find a way to squarely face the facts
in our history and learn to communicate with one another without fear,
in a spirit of truth and reconciliation?
For that to happen, it
is vital that all communities adopt an open-minded attitude that values
objectivity in our multicultural society. Until we do that, these issues
under the rug will continue to fester and be a source of tension in our
Role of the media and opinion makers
Malaysia, the Umno-controlled press has been used by the ruling party
to entrench age-old prejudice and legitimise racial discrimination. As
professional journalists, intellectuals or artistes, we are obligated to
portray social reality without having pre-conceived perceptions and
We have the responsibility to provide accurate
information of historical, cultural and social contexts in society in
order not to promote stereotypes or hearsay. Responsibility is vital to
Our role as writers, journalists and intellectuals is to help society overcome issues related to all forms of discrimination.
irresponsible media has tended to exploit hate among people when we
would expect it to have a better understanding of information and
broader writing about a subject. As peace-loving Malaysians, we cannot
afford to neglect issues of prejudice, stereotypes and discrimination
because it's our responsibility to change these perceptions. Some comments on my latest book:
dissidents in the country, Kia Soong stands out for the longevity of
his record of social activism... But it is in his role as social critic
and intellectual dissident in debunking untruths and fighting falsehood
that the Malaysian public is most indebted to him." - Dr Lim Teck Ghee, director, Centre for Policy Initiatives
spares no one; the ruling party, the Opposition coalition,
opportunistic politicians... This book is a fascinating account of the
poor governance of a nation and the excesses its leaders perpetrate to
cling on to power. It doesn't just inform and educate; it serves as a
call for every Malaysian to specify the actions and policies needed to
govern the country effectively."
- Mariam Mokhtar, Malaysiakini columnist
always, this public intellectual and activist, freed from partisan
allegiances, doesn't shy away from public interest issues that others
wouldn't touch with a barge pole. In so doing, he sheds much needed
light on issues lurking in the shadows while puting forward valuable
alternative perspectives for a wider audience. Indeed, when Kua writes,
concerned Malaysians sit up and take notice."
- Anil Netto, Aliran
DR KUA KIA SOONG, a former MP, is adviser to human rights group Suaram.