A history of a Malaysian ship of fools
-S.Thayaparan, September 9, 2012.
“History – an account mostly false, of events unimportant, which are brought about by rulers mostly knaves, and soldiers mostly fools.” – Ambrose Bierce
COMMENT The problem with Umno is that they have never been interested in the history of a people, but rather the history for a people. Those ‘people’ of course being Umno.
I have no idea what kind of history Pakatan Rakyat has in store for us but it would be a nice change of reactionary right-wing fantasies masquerading as ‘history’ for students to be indoctrinated with left-wing delusions, seeing how Opposition Leader Anwar Ibrahim has an affinity when it is politically expedient to remind everyone (like he did in his defence of the Sang Saka duo) of the lefty nature of the Malay polity.
Of course, the rather uncomfortable reality of the sometimes total rejection of Islam by said elements would make it difficult for him or anyone else to make their case to the widest possible audience. History is funny and unpalatable that way. Who knows what kind of history a tenuous alliance of conflicting ideologies and hidden racialists can come up with? I admit it would be interesting to find out.
Deputy Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin’s statement that “The current history curriculum for schools will be revamped and reworked in order to create highly-patriotic citizens”, is laughable for too many reasons too list out here.
Apparently this rethink came about after the outcry sparked off by the research done by Dr Ranjit Singh Malhi which highlighted the ‘lopsided’ historical content in school textbooks which favoured the Umno narrative over historical ‘accuracy’ and Islam over everything else.
Umno, not satisfied with your ordinary “patriotic” citizens but instead going for the gold with “highly-patriotic” citizens, has formed a committee which would make recommendations for a new history syllabus and no doubt the said committee would also give pointers in creating highly-patriotic citizens through the wonders of book learning or should that be book memorisation?
A funny fact. Co-chairing this committee is Ramlah Adam of University Teknologi Mara and Perkasa groupie, but who is also a participant in a very public spat with Ranjit which you can read about at the Centre for Policy Initiatives (CPI) site under the title ‘Response by Dr Ranjit Singh Malhi to ‘Non-Malays don’t understand Malaysia’s history’.
By now anyone with a functioning moral compass should understand that to Umno, “patriotism” is solely relegated to the non-Malays understanding the Umno history of Malaysia. Anyone questioning this history is deemed unpatriotic and subversive.
Confusion over Malay origins
Normally around this section of the article, writers give a long list of the contributions of the non-Malays to this great land of ours, but what would be the point?
This was never about the subaltern histories that Umno has blacked out under the various incarnations of 1Malaysia but rather about the continuing subjugation of citizens for the sole purpose of maintaining Umno hegemony.
We are a nation of people who are either ignorant of our history or deluded about it. This is why we get ‘open letters’ to various communities as if we were always estranged. When you continue to think of Malaysia as an ‘idea’, you ignore all the messy reality that predated it. And this ‘idea’ is most certainly the consequence of the quest for empire.
My Indonesian comrades always tell me that the Malays don’t understand where they came from. And I agree.
I see all these customs and rituals that were practised when I was in my seafaring stage of my career, blotted out by the dictates of Islam and conformity to an ever changing ‘Malay’ ideal. Malaysian history is Malay history and Malay history does not involve (or concern) anyone else. That’s the party line.
I am convinced – and I am not alone – that the reasons why the ‘nons’ are more successful (sic) despite the institutionalised discrimination is that they have never forgotten or were allowed to forget who they are and not obsess about where they came from. Of course, one may argue that this ‘success’ is not without its racism of its own but that is a subject for another piece.
Whenever former prime minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad moans of the “reality” that the Chinese and Indians have countries to “go back to” but the Malays don’t, everyone with a basic knowledge of history and geography probably go – you sure about that? The poor Orang Asli are always forgotten in the rush for the realisation of the Malaysian idea.
My non-Indian friends always ask me whenever the results of these surveys are published about self-identification, why Indians always think of themselves as Malaysians first when the reality is that they aren’t treated that way. My answer. Hey, we have been here for a long time and caused much mischief. That is the punchline by the way.
It’s not that the young people take independence for granted, it is that Umno has been given a free ride since independence. If you know your history this would be self-evident.
The Umno myth of “fighting for independence”, when the only real fighting was done by groups of various ideologies first against the British, then the Japanese and then the British again, is slowly being dispelled by a generation able to freely access information unhindered by the Umno state.
Umno’s enemy No 1
Understand now that I’m not implying that there is a full-scale mental revolution where young people are rediscovering en masse their secret history but rather pockets of young people interested in something more than just what is shoved down their throats in our school factories that passes as education.
And as usual this terrifies Umno. This is why someone like Ramlah is on the committee. The virulent strain of racism propagated by the likes of Perkasa is the foundation of this new phase of nation building.
While Perkasa and its ilk go on a rampage against any they see as a threat against Malay/Umno ‘ketuanan’, without fear of Umno state sanction, a young Chinese girl whose immature political expression against an inanimate object is handcuffed and treated like Umno enemy number one.
This is the history that is being created. So the Umno historical narrative continues. The Malays are always at the mercy of the ‘pendatangs’. Most pro-BN Malays never question why under the long watch of Umno, they are still unable to compete with the non-Malays or rather the Chinese. Their ‘history’ teaches them that they gave so much, but received less in return.
Their ‘history’ never teaches them to question the feudalistic nature of their politics which continues unabated till this day. They never understand the history of Islam and how other religions predate the arrival of Islam in this country, which is why there are frantic attempts to expel all forms of ‘pendatang’ influences from the Malay cultural landscape.
So what we are left with are charlatans and scoundrels cooking up historical narratives to compensate for incompetent leadership and decades long political malfeasances which Malaysians tolerated for their own selfish reasons. A history which would no doubt lead to more open letters between communities attempting to build bridges, ignorant of the fact that bridges have already been built and what we need to do now is cross them and not look back.
One of my all-time favourite quotes comes from Polly Toynbee, “bogus history fuels present-day national delusion”, and nowhere is this more applicable than in Malaysia.
S THAYAPARAN is Commander (rtd) of the Royal Malaysian Navy.
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