Afraid of May 13?


May 21, 2017

Afraid of May 13?

by S. Thayaparan@www.malaysiakini.com

“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

Image result for May 13, 1969

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.

Image result for May 13, 1969

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.”

Official narratives

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.”

Image result for Malaysia's Voices of Moderation

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.


9 thoughts on “Afraid of May 13?

  1. An officer with a conscience. Welayu cannot handle the truth. One beneficiary from May 13 is Tun M, and the Razak family. Pray that Tun M would have the courage to do a fitting thing so that this curse of May 13 could be lifted off from the backs of a people whom Allah loves. I pray that a few of the others like myself could find the courage to forgive and continue to love a people called the Melayu. Welayu, for better or worst, May 13 is a reason why we layu.

  2. The problems of the Malay is not Chinese or “liberal” Muslim or Christianisation, their problem is epitomised no less than UMNO Youth wanting another 35 years to get rid of corruption – and that the best retort to it is people cannot wait.

    Every corrupt politicians get caught promises to get rid of corruption “in the future”. They never do. Whatever action taken, the corruption on get more sophisticated and always temporary. It never goes away. In fact, even in supposedly corrupt-free Singapore, it dare rear its ugly head once in a while like in 1MDB.

    The problem is TN50 – whatever it is will ALWAYS BE A DISSAPOINTMENT to the Malays. Their real plan ultimately, to get somewhere and then shout “bersyukurlah” be grateful for the mediocrity.. UMNO Youth asking for another 35 years to fight corruption IS MEDIOCRITY and the Malay problem.

    The Malays do not lack political power as Hadi’s PAS young ambitious political-ulamas screams. What race can have their top leader steals BILLIONS and stay in power in a multi-racial country? What race can have their state leaders fail to develop and govern 3 states and one states for a few decades AND still have fantasy ambitions to rule the country? Fact of the mater is, government, while at the core is values, morality, most of the work is technocratic – secular and meritocratic. The Malays problem in economics, social and technology CANNOT be solved by politics alone and certaintly failed Iran prove the ethnic-religo way does not work not even in ridding of corruption and abuse of power

  3. I was a young man then. Although my parents had been trying to persuade me to return to the United States for college education, but I did not want to leave my girlfriend and lingered around in Malaysia. And I witnessed May 13 riots with my own eyes. At the time, I got the first job in my life and rented a small room with a couple of friends in Kuala Lumpur.

    Of course I do not know what exactly caused the riots. But these are what I saw and what I know: On May 13 late afternoon, large group of young Malay hoodlums from all over the place (heard mostly came from Ampang-Morib area) gathered at then Mentri Besar Harun Idris home. Two lorries belonged to Chinese were burnt. By about 7:00 pm, I saw the Malay mobs swarming like bees at the junction of Jalan Raja Muda and Batu Road. Vehicles were smashed and Chinese shop-houses set on fire. The Chinese and Indian shopkeepers formed themselves into a defense force armed with whatever they could find – parangs, poles, iron bars and bottles…. When the Malay invading force withdrew as quickly as it had arrived, the residents took their revenge. Shop-fronts and cars suspected of being Malay-owned were smashed or burnt…. The police arrived at about 9:00 pm (what took them so long, I do not know) but did not remain in the area. Later, truck-loads of Federal Reserve Units (riot squads) and the Royal Malay Regiment drove past….

    The riots went on for days… like watching Hong Kong martial movies. The law enforcement was a freaking joke, absolutely biased. They were not there to maintain law and order. I saw bands of Malay youths armed with parangs and sharpened bamboo spears assembled and roamed freely in full view of troops posted at road junctions, and the Royal Malay Regiment soldiers fraternizing with them. Meanwhile, I saw members of the Royal Malay Regiment firing into Chinese shop-houses for no apparent reason…. Rumors were everywhere that the riots were planned and organized by Tun Razak and other high ranking UMNOs to force Tunku Abdul Rahman out of office…. Less than a week after the riots, the reins of power had effectively passed to Tun Razak, indicating that there had been a plot to bring about the coup d’etat….

    Two of my best friends were killed in the riots. From foreign journalists, mostly my father’s friends, I learned the casualties were as high as two thousand, at a ratio something like 85 Chinese to 15 Malays. Great majority of the Chinese died with bullet holes in their bodies. I said goodbye to my girlfriend, flew to Hong Kong to borrow some money from my uncle and came back to the United States. She is doing well in Australia now.

  4. That “May 13” was a spontaneous uprising by economically downtrodden Malays against the rich capitalist Chinese exploiters was of course a lie which got its catalytic political dimension of associating the DAP as a communist or at least a clever chauvinistic communal party in disguise.

    Nothing has changed really. The lie, like repackaged comfort food, still works.

    Even as recent as 2014, the former DPM, Tan Sri Muhyiddin, when he was in government, “reminded” people of a May 13 repetition.

    Now that he is an opposition leader, (and aspiring to be in government again), perhaps he should now “remind” UMNO / BN about his “reminder”?

  5. It’s a shameful history of the country made worst by the present leaders not wanting to face the truth and accept total responsibility so the people could move forward…….may be the future generation will be made to face the truth and great shame.

    However, many Malays are told a different story, including their politicians who regularly used this shameful day, with no respect for the many innocent victims murdered, to intimidate and silence other races.

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