“When our government is spoken of as some menacing, threatening foreign entity, it ignores the fact that, in our democracy, government is us.”
- Barack Obama
They say we are afraid of what we do not understand and if this is true, we should be afraid of May 13 because we do not really understand what happened that day. Each side has a narrative, the official narrative and narratives such as author Kua Kia Soong’s which I happen to subscribe to.
They also say that ignorance breeds fear, which again points to why we should be afraid of May 13 because many people are ignorant of what happened on that day and are fed a steady diet of fearing the other, of losing power but most importantly, of their religion in danger of becoming irrelevant.
I have often referenced May 13 not because I wanted to be provocative but because especially in the alternative media, the issue of May 13 is not provocative enough. In ‘Ghost of elections past’, I wrote - “So the reality is that all these ‘ghost’ from our past don’t really scare us any more, not because we have not learnt from them but because there are more than enough monsters in our present to give us pause.
“If we discount the bravado of those who would make light of these threats of violence and those who would propagate such threats, what we are left with is the certainty that the only option we have is to vote with our conscience and let the chips fall where they may.”
However, because threats of racial violence have been normalised in this country, because people in power have Janus-faced agendas towards Malaysians of different ethnic origins, what we have become is numb to threats of racial violence. We are also cavalier to the very real threats of Islamic violence that lurk around the corner, hatched in the hearts of zealots raised on a diet of religious and racial supremacy and stamped with the imprimatur of foreign devils.
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.
A really interesting complex example of this can be found in Lim Kit Siang’s blog post - “Ex-top cop Yuen Yuet Leng confirmed that the May 13, 1969 ‘urination’ incident at the Selangor MB’s residence was totally fictional as he never heard of it although he was based in KL during the riots.”
Readers are encouraged to read it because Lim references an email by former top cop, the late Yuen Yuet Leng (to The Sun daily) in a discussion about a very specific lie against the DAP leader. I’ll quote the opening because I think it summarises what most people forget about that day -
“While I appreciate your article in general summarised well what I wanted to be known to the nation on what were greater truths, I have to make clarifications. Information I imparted are in deliberate interest of objective nation and so that nation gets the right tutoring message and feel strongly why May 13 incidents should not ever be allowed to happen again either because of too much insensitivities or too much sensitivities on any side.
“The major redeeming factor in 1969 was the courage of non-racial Malaysians who were still there to put to shame the worse of their respective communities who rampaged, hurt or killed. This best of Malaysians dared to risk their lives in saving or sheltering fellow Malaysians of another ethnic community.”
Readers may not really be interested but one of the reasons I began writing about the state of our nation was because of a public disagreement I had with Yuen about the Bersih 2 rally. In a response to his piece, I wrote by first establishing my credentials - “… having worked with his predecessor, the late Tan Sri ‘Jimmy’ Khoo Chong Kong, who was assassinated by communists in Ipoh. I worked with Khoo in Kuching where I was the resident naval officer and a member of the State Executive Security Committee.”
Readers interested in such subjects should track down my piece, ‘Abandon immature rhetoric of our past’. Here is the ending which I think sums up the piece - “Lastly, I end with this rather telling quote from Tan Sri. ‘The timing is such that there appears to be a united front against the government, and this frightens them.’
“Firstly, there seems to be a united front against the Barisan Nasional. I think this difference is very important. For far too long, this refrain of being ‘anti-government’ has been labelled against the ‘opposition’. The opposition is not anti-government. It may be anti-BN, but this is par for the course in any mature democracy, and I think we are indeed a maturing democracy and that we should abandon the immature rhetoric of our past.”
The consequences of May 13 have had far reaching implications. I have argued that it heralded the birth of the Malay middle class and the social engineering that came after it changed the racial landscape of this country.
It also meant that the opposition had to fight all its political battles with one hand (sometimes even two) tied behind its back. Actually, if you have seen the brilliant David Mamet film ‘Redbelt’, the idea of fighting with one hand tied behind your back has deeper intellectual and moral implications but again I digress.
The only reason why there has been a slow change in this lopsided way of fighting is because the hegemon is failing, mired in infighting and stumbling because of the corrosive effects of unchecked corruption. The alternative media and the anonymity of the internet mean that the market place of ideas has destabilised the official narratives of the state.
I think most young people today are not, and should not, be afraid of May 13. What they should be concerned about is the threat of religious extremism that is invading our public and private spaces. Combatting this is difficult because race and religion are not mutually exclusive in this country.
I would argue that the official narratives of the state about May 13 is the earliest example of “fake news” but no matter, apparently we are living in a “post-truth” world and ultimately people will be afraid of what they do not understand or because of their ignorance.
S THAYAPARAN is Commander (Rtd) of the Royal Malaysian Navy.- Mkini