Vanquished have story to tell, too


  • Letters
  • Sunday, 16 Jan 2005

By JOCELINE TAN

A DEBATE has been simmering in the Malay daily Utusan Malaysia, sparked off by a somewhat innocuous review of a book on the ageing former communist Ibrahim Chik. 

The 220-page publication titled Memoir Ibrahim Chik is a recollection of his years in the Malay regiment of the Communist Party of Malaya (CPM). 

Ibrahim was a star in his communist heydays and his zeal and oratory talent eventually saw him put in charge of the party’s psychological warfare and propaganda arm. 

The review drew a surprisingly strong series of response in the paper’s forum page. 

The book’s publisher, Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM), bore the brunt of the critique. 

UKM was, among other things, accused of lending credibility to the communist struggle and of projecting the communists as warriors and even heroes in the country’s independence movement. 

Underlying these accusations was that the university was party to the possibility of a revival in leftist sentiments among the undergraduate community. 

“Those who have gone against His Majesty and the government were terrorists and traitors to the race although they have been pardoned,” remarks one letter that bore the pseudonym of Putera Umno UKM. 

“Their memoirs and biographies are not fit to be published and distributed by UKM or other institutions of higher education which were built by the sweat and struggle of Umno and the Malays, many of whom sacrificed their lives against the communist terrorists.” 

UKM is not taking it lightly and has set up a high-powered committee to look into the matter. The team will investigate whether there is an agenda behind the publication or whether it was just for reference purposes. 

Many who followed the issue were astonished by the heightened tone of the arguments and particularly the name-calling and personal remarks directed at UKM’s head of publications Hashrom Haron. 

Besides, as some of the UKM staff pointed out, this is not the first research work by or about a Marxist-associated personality. 

The university had provided funding for the former leftist journalist Said Zahari to pen his memoirs. Said, now in his 70s, was detained without trial for many years by the Singapore government. 

The book Dark Clouds at Dawn was eventually published by Utusan Malaysia and launched by none other than Deputy Information Minister Datuk Zainuddin Maidin. 

Another left-associated figure, Tan Sri A. Samad Ismail, also wrote his memoirs under the university’s Memoir Series. 

But the point is that UKM’s scholarship interests have ranged from the ultra-right wing (such as Tan Sri Ghazali Shafie’s tome on the formation of Malaysia) to centre and left of centre issues and personalities. 

So, is the current controversy a storm in a teacup or is it linked to some genuine concern and grievances about interpreting the Emergency years? 

“Glorifying a personality is one thing but portraying the army as the enemy and the communists as friend of the people, that is very insensitive to the thousands of Malay servicemen who died defending our king and country,” said Zainuddin. 

Zainuddin’s emotional baggage about those violent years stems from his own life experiences in the 1950s. 

It is a very passionate subject for him as evident from his most recent book Unsung Heroes, a sort of tribute to the security personnel who risked life and limb during the Emergency. 

But one might ask, why the hysteria when the Cold War has long ended, dismantled bits of the Berlin Wall are being sold as tourist curios and China does not care whether the cat is black or white as long as it catches mice? 

Moreover, the People’s Daily, the Chinese Communist Party’s flagship paper, will soon be printed and sold here, its target audience being Malaysian businessmen, Chinese students and tourists. 

A point to remember is that many Malays associate communism with a godless society. 

Islam, as historian Prof Datuk Khoo Kay Khim pointed out, has always been the bulwark against socialism. 

As such, sensitivities among segments of Malays about the socialist ideology and the Emergency era cannot be underestimated. 

For instance, Kelantan Mentri Besar Datuk Nik Abdul Aziz Nik Mat was dead against Parti Keadilan Rakyat’s (PKR) Dr Syed Husin Ali contesting a seat in Kelantan because of the latter’s socialist past. 

Likewise, Abim or the Muslim Youth League parted ways with PKR after the latter merged with Parti Rakyat Malaysia, which Abim viewed as a party with socialist roots. 

History, as they say, tends to belong to the victors and, for a great number of years, accounts of those tumultuous Emergency years have been told by those who won the ideological war. 

Like it or not, those who lost also have a story to tell. 

“To understand any group, you need more studies. Communism is no longer a threat, that’s why many of those on the left are coming out with their accounts of those years,” said Khoo. 

No one side has the complete truth but put together all these stories lead us nearer to the eventual truth. 

And even if one cannot stomach this sort of history, it is what scholarship is about.  

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