Hornbill Unleashed

December 7, 2013

Combatting untruths in Malaysian history

Filed under: Human rights,Politics — Hornbill Unleashed @ 12:00 AM
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Kua Kia Soong

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 fiction.

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.”

Gsc at sunway carnival tanda putera 300813

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?

Recently, 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 pork soup).

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.

NONEMore 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.

The 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 out.

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?

NONEEven 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.

But 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

In 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”.

Thus, 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 society.

Role of the media and opinion makers

In 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 prejudices.

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 the profession.

Our role as writers, journalists and intellectuals is to help society overcome issues related to all forms of discrimination.

The 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:

“Among 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

“Kua 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

“As 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


  1. ” Bak Kut Teh ” is actually herbal meat bones soup. There is nothing mentioned about ‘Pork ‘ in this word ” Bak Kut Teh “.

    Comment by gagojackman — December 7, 2013 @ 12:36 PM | Reply

  2. A spade is a spade, so is a racist is a racist. Prejudice and discrimination seem to be the ways of life nowadays. The majority bully the minority despite of the latter’s tremendous contributions. What system is this?

    Comment by owl — December 7, 2013 @ 8:07 AM | Reply

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