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History classes taught students about historical bias. But to know that such misdeeds have been done to hide the bloodiest day in our history? Unthinkable!

When I was a student in secondary school, I always wondered about the May 13 riots that happened nearly 40 years ago in Malaysia. My history textbook barely devoted even a paragraph to this issue.

Among other things, it only states that:

  1. the violence was triggered by the Chinese-dominated opposition supporters’ provocation in celebrating their electoral victory which saw the ruling Alliance Party suffer a major setback;

  2. racial tensions that arose due to economic disparity between the major races also contributed to the riots;

  3. the riots were the basis for the formation of the National Operations Council (which most Malaysian students would know - if they remember at all - as MAGERAN, or Majlis Gerakan Negara) under Tun Abdul Razak, and;

  4. this led to the formulation of the New Economic Policy, which aimed to uplift the economic standards of the Malays (and is still in place today).

But now I know better.

Not-so-recently, Dr Kua Kia Soong released a book unveiling the truth behind the infamous May 13th riots. His book, May 13: Declassified Documents on the Malaysian Riots of 1969, is the result of three months of research at the Public Records Office in London to study records and declassified documents on the riots.

The book also debunks some of the myths behind the darkest period in our country's history and paints a different, shocking picture into the reasons behind its occurrence.
[...] the May 13 incident was a coup d’etat against the Tunku [the Prime Minister at the time] by the then emergent Malay state capitalists - backed by the police and army - to seize control of the reign of power from the old aristocrats to implement the new Malay agenda. [...]

[...] A secret document from the British cabinet office featured in the book showed that barely a week after the riots broke out, the Central Intelligence Agency had figured out what Tun Razak was planning - “to formalise Malay dominance, sideline the Chinese and shelve the Tunku”. [...]

[...] The role of the security forces in the May 13 bloodshed was also questioned in Kua’s findings. “Even at that time, people in the diplomatic core (were wondering) how come the day the riot broke out, Razak met with the chiefs of the police and army but they did not do anything,” he said. [...] “They are one of the most effective in putting down the communist insurrection [which was] a far, far more difficult operation than putting down riot, but they could not put down (such riot [sic]) in 1969 for days, for weeks," [...]

[ note: Susan Loone has made available a comprehensive summary about the riots from Dr Kua's book ]

History classes taught students about historical bias. The tales of old would be told by those with power and wealth, rewritten as they saw fit. Even King Xerxes alluded to this in the movie '300':
There will be no glory in your sacrifice. I will erase even the memory of Sparta from the histories. Every piece of Greek parchment shall be burned. Every Greek historian and every scribe shall have their eyes put out and their tongues cut from their mouths while uttering the very name of Sparta or Leonidas will be punishable by death. The world will never know you existed at all!

But to know that such misdeeds have been done to hide the bloodiest day in our history? Unthinkable! At the worst it would have only remained a conspiracy theory, a rumour, nothing more. Now the evidence shows otherwise.

Now the government has moved into 'damage control' mode, unwittingly providing the book with free publicity:
Ministry seizes controversial May 13 book
May 15, 07 8:56pm

The Internal Security Ministry confiscated 10 copies a controversial book with new claims on the May 13 racial riots from a major bookstore in the Midvalley shopping centre today. According to the publishers of ‘May 13: Declassified Documents on the Malaysian Riots of 1969′, a team of ministry officers visited the MPH bookstore this afternoon. The officers advised the popular bookstore not to sell the book as it may be banned.

According to a letter issued by the ministry officers to the bookstore, the books were confiscated from the shelves for suspicion of being an “undesirable publication” based on Section 7 of the Printing Press and Publications Act 1984.

The act empowers the minister to ban any publication which is “prejudicial to or likely to be prejudicial to public order, morality, security, the relationship with any foreign country or government, or which is likely to alarm public opinion”.

[ courtesy of MalaysiaKini ]

But a press statement by SUARAM indicates the government might not have been officially involved at all:
We have been informed by our distributor that ten (10) copies of SUARAM’s latest publication titled, “May 13: Declassified Documents on the Malaysian Riot of 1969″ by Dr. Kua Kia Soong, were taken from MPH Midvalley yesterday afternoon by officers from the Ministry of Internal Security.

The reason given by these officers led by Ahmad Faisal Arshad was that the book had contravened the Printing Presses and Publications Act 1984. We were further informed that these officers had advised the bookshop not to sell or display the book.

It must stressed that there are no orders coming from the Ministry of Internal Security pertaining to this book. Further, the book contravenes no part of the said Act. We consider the actions of Ahmad Faisal Arshad and his team to be arbitrary and illegal.

SUARAM views the seizure of those ten (10) books as illegal, and demands that KDN pays for the ten books or return these books to the bookshop within 7 days; failing which, we will instruct our legal counsels to take action.

Now three senators from the Dewan Negara are calling for this book to be banned, while Deputy Internal Security Minister Fu Ah Kiow states that the ministry will look into the book's contents and take action soon.

But Dr Kua has this to say about the possibility of his book being banned:
“In the age of the Internet, what does banning a book mean? We can put it on the Web, you can’t do anything.”

Bravo, Dr Kua! :)

It now remains to be seen how this new controversy will develop. The question is, about the youth who were never there during the bloodshed and violence, will they even bother to know about this?

~verus rara avis~

5 mad rant(s):

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  1. Comrade said...

    "It is not worthwhile to try to keep history from repeating itself, for man's character will always make the preventing of the repetitions impossible." - Mark Twain

    "History is written by the victors." - Winston Churchill

    Studying History in order not to repeat the mistakes of the past is a fool's errand. Read it for the sake of interest. The 13th May Incident is just the past. Distorting facts is one of the hobbies of politicians, so the revisionist view on the incident being censored comes as no surprise.

    Nothing much will change but we can just hope that a new underclass will not take up violence due to undue influence from a monster or charismatic leader. My believe is judgment will come for all those evil men of the incident will be punished by God. Woe to everyone who covers up the truth to justify a tainted agenda.

    ~multum in parvo~  

  2. Anonymous said...

    The incident happened 38 years ago, and those born that year are in their prime now. Official documents of democratic countries get declassified after 30 years, and the people would know the facts and form their opinions. The only diifference in this case perhaps is that the government which used that incidents to divide the electorates to stay in power has succeeded. So, the government wants its interpretation of the events to be the 'fact'

    According to the official version, the Malays were victimised, by the father of independence, Tunku,
    until May 13 saved them. The riots were caused by the hatred between Malays and the other communities. Overtime, it was even rationalised that Malays were the prince of the soil, and they were more asli than Orang Asli that affirmatiove actions became a privilege. UMNO youth leaders told their followers that they do not have to be apologetic for receiving special assistance at the expense of others. The argument was based on the perverted thinking that they have more rights than others, and that they should take advantage of other communities.

    The pride of a nation rests on the quality of its people. As a human being, the sense of justice, righteousness, and compassion are the minimun good behaviour one should possess. That is especially so for god fearing religious persons.

    A handful of persons who tried to retain or gain power at that time caused the serious riots to occur. It was plain for everybody to discern the game plan of the politicians then. It is senseless to protect the reputation of a few, now dead, to deny the public the facts of history.

    To have political parties organised on racial line for half a century is far too long. Until a beginning is made, another 50 years may yet be too early. The grandson of Dato Onn Jaafar said that his grandfather's call for UMNO to be open to all races more than 50 years ago was not timely. Three generations later is that call yet untimely, or purely absurd? Until race-based political parties are abolished, all race related issues are too sensitive to be discussed. Until and unless UMNO is willing to drop May 13 as a pretext for NEP, the book will be banned  

  3. kirara1987 said...

    There is no right or wrong in history, just judgement...

    I was going through the article for the past fifteen minutes and i have some things to comment on.

    Firstly, I think there were flaws on bothe the goverment and the author itself. What you have put on the your blog is perfectly alright as it was your opinion on the issue. However, you need to consider of other factors into account before you take your stand.

    In my opinion, I think what the goverment did was right. Sensitive stuff like racial issue is best being avoided to be the topic of public discussion. (You must think I'm siding the govermentnow.)How corrupted the truth was, we have to face it to mantain the stability of the nation in the long run. The reason why our text books did not put the details was to avoid misunderstanding as people of this age do not really understand how complex politics were. On the other hand, if the truth is to be revealed, the citizens won't take the issue itself from face values. People will take sides and start critizing each other. At the end, everything will be a repeatation of 13 MAY again...

    However, the author himself is at fault. His actions were against the law and he could be sued for distrubing peace. He should know better that Malaysian people's mentality is still not "mature" to accept the truth as public. Anyway, with most the documents stored secretly by the goverment, his reliablity of his sources can be questioned without doubt. He could be seen as another person who just wanna mess up peoples' life..

    In conclusion, I think that we shouldn't judge the matter based on face value as it will disrupt the truth behind it.  

  4. Arbitary Juggernaut said...

    Whoa! O.o"

    Thats some old skeletons in our cabinet...

    (pardon the pun... Cabinet-Closet)


  5. johnleemk said...

    Can anyone explain to me how the hell the government has fixed the basic root causes of Malay discontent or racial discord? All it's done since May 13 is make things worse, not better. Covering up the truth can only work for so long.

    Also, kirara, have you even read the book? I don't agree with everything Kua has to say, but to paint him as trying to "disturb the peace" without having even read more than summaries of his book is literally judging a book by its cover. The content is hardly inflammatory.  


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