A new Malaysia was created on May 13 - Commander S THAYAPARAN (Retired) Royal Malaysian Navy
Wednesday, May 15, 2019
Malaysiakini : “Because of that, there exist all kinds of assumptions when ethnic
ties become strained and unhealthy. This can cause that event and I do
not want to mention the particular date.” - Then deputy prime minister, Muyhiddin Yassin, 2014
(Muhyiddin did not mention the date specifically, but Utusan Malaysia inserted May 13, 1969, to his quote in parentheses.)
| The quote above by the current home minister and former deputy prime
minister Muyhiddin Yasin that opens this piece demonstrates that, for
Malay power brokers, the May 13 riots is just another tool in their
political arsenal, to be used when circumstances warrant.
A couple of years back, in discussing the use of May 13 as a political weapon,
I wrote: “What really is terrifying of May 13 is the way how the state
uses it to demonise Malaysians based on ethnicity. The people making the
threats, the aggressors become the victims and heroes of their own
narratives, and Malaysians who do not subscribe to orthodoxy become the
villains and scapegoats for all that the system has wrought.” The home minister
now says: "What is the point of raising these old stories? These should
serve as a lesson, and more importantly, the government should focus on
what we are doing now and in the future.
"As the new government,
Pakatan Harapan promises to be fair (to everybody). We don't want to see
our country in chaos because of racial and religious issues."
political establishment has always contextualised the May 13 riots as
the culmination of simmering racial tensions between the Chinese and
Malay communities. A logical, if unfortunate, consequence of class and
race fears, which ultimately ended in bloodshed. With this narrative in
mind, I do not think people realise how important it is to discover the
truth about May 13.
The two competing narratives of May 13 tell a
story of Malaysia which is important if we are truly to become a "New
Malaysia". The first narrative, that of simmering class tensions brought
about by careless political rhetoric, is plausible, especially when it
is used as "a lesson" for people to be mindful of their speech and place
in society. This lesson has been drummed into our heads as a reminder
that racial and religious rhetoric could be dangerous, but what it
really means is, "do not spook the Malays". The second narrative, as promulgated by academicians like Kua Kia Soong, is best summarised in his description of his must-read book: “The
main thesis of this book is that the orchestrated pogrom against the
Chinese in Kuala Lumpur in 1969 was an attempt by the emergent Malay
state capitalist class to create a situation to justify the coup d’etat
against Tunku Abdul Rahman in the state of emergency that followed.”
is it important for us to discover the truth? Should we not forget
about the past and merely pay homage to platitudes, like “never again”?
The only way for us to discover the truth about ourselves is to discover
the truth about May 13. There is a big difference between the two
narratives. If May 13 was brought about by simmering race tensions and
provocative rhetoric by politicians, this means there is something
fundamentally wrong with our society, which goes beyond policy and
something that we should always be mindful of. I do not believe that
this is the Malaysian story.
However, if May 13 was a coup d'état
against a sitting prime minister carried out by a cabal of traitors –
and this is what they were – then the implications are entirely
different. This would mean that even with all our problems, when it came
to race and religion, Malaysia was not fundamentally dysfunctional, not
to the extent of its citizens hacking each other to pieces, based on
supposed racial tensions.
This would lay the blame squarely on
certain segments of the Malay political class and not, as in in the
mainstream narrative of the event, an attempt to evenly spread the blame
on everyone, thereby creating a "teachable moment". The truth
would reveal if Malaysia was really the country where citizens would
hack each other to pieces because of racial tensions, or a country where
Malay politicians would engineer “controlled” racial riots for the
purposes of a coup d'état. The implications of the truth are profound,
which is probably why the establishment – Malay and non-Malay – would
rather think of the future.
would the implications be for the Malay/Muslim majority if they were to
discover that the May 13 riots were not some sort of spontaneous racial
riots, but rather a planned event for the sole purpose of bringing down
a democratically elected Malay leader? How would the truth of the
May 13 riots change the discourse when it comes to non-Malay
participation in the social, economic and political terrain of Malaysia?
Malay political structures have always used the May 13 riots as
justification for discriminatory policies, but how would this be viewed
when preferential policies were based on lies? Maybe it would not change
a thing. Maybe it would change everything.
What would it mean to
the political personalities and political parties, which had built their
reputation as the defenders of race and religion, to have to
acknowledge that they destroyed one of their own with the blood of
innocent people? These are important questions nobody wants to
answer. Malay and non-Malay politicians do not want to discover the
truth about May 13 because the implication of the truth is far more
damaging to the status quo than the myth of May 13.
think that May 13th could never happen again are mistaken. If May 13 was
really a coup d'état against a sitting Umno president, then the reality
is that it is very possible for a sitting Malay prime minster to be
removed using racial riots as an excuse. What is important is
that we discover, once and for all, if this is true, and not wallow in
nostalgia for a country that was or wish for a country that could be.