Racial Riot May 13 – Say what Mr Editor?

October 25, 2008 at 1:52 pm 1 comment

Racial Riot May 13
Say what Mr Editor?

By Christhoper K. Knight

Dear Political Editor Zainon Ahmad,

Malaysia National Day or better known as Merdeka is around the corner, August 31st 2007 to be exact. Little doubt this meaningful occasion will be celebrated with much joy and excitement.

Preparing the mood for the important day is tabloid theSun. Everyday now, they publish historical accounts leading to the formation of independence nation Malaysia (Persekutuan Tanah Melayu or Malaya in 1957; Malaysia in 1963) and document several noteworthy events after the Merdeka. When theSun revisited May 13, 1969, I panicked. I searched for the name of the writer. I found you.

Mr Ahmad, do you know what you’re doing?

My letter will deal in these areas:

  1. The quotes
  2. Your motives
  3. Unfinished business
  4. Settling the issue
  5. Picking a side
  6. Ahmad vs Knight (5 rounds)

The quotes
theSun. Thursday July 26, 2007. The tragedy of May 13. The racial clash, concentrated in Kuala Lumpur, was between the Malays and the minority Chinese during which widespread violence the Indians were said to have backed the latter. It was a bloody day of arsons, violence, lawlessness, and wanton killing that bore the signature of a genocide if they had had their way.

May 13 is regret, an ugly scar, something we hope time can forget. But someone has replenished the ill feeling otherwise lost for good. Mr Ahmad, I’m talking about you.

“The tragedy of May 13, 1969”, read the headline. You started: “When in 1968 the Alliance began preparations for a renewal of its mandate which was due to end in 1969, little did it suspect that the results would unlock”.

Somewhere down that long article, you wrote: “They, too, taunted the Malays with insults, using similar words that had been hurled by the previous day’s demonstrators, such as: “Melayu balik kampung, kita sudah berkuasa sekarang” and “Hey Sakai bolih balik ke hutan.”

Translated literally in English, “Malays return to villages, we are now in power” and “Hey Sakai can return to the jungle.”

Mr Ahmad, do you know what you’re doing?

Are the quotes necessary? Don’t we already know where to stop when describing bad news to others? Maybe we should not describe in precise detail. Maybe we should only summarize, generalise, or simplify or whatever it is so long it does not sound as bad as it is already. Agree?

Even in sex education, for instance, I’m sure a mother would not stray into many details when educating her young one. I suppose she would withhold some information privy to married couple so as to spare the young girl’s innocence. Forget the moaning, the howling, and the squeaking bed, just tell the necessary. Even if the husband, angry for some reason during the lovemaking, had probably told the wife to go “balik ke hutan” their daughter will not hear it regardless.

But you, Mr Ahmad, bitched about it to your children (the readers) and tell them to go “balik ke hutan”.

Your motive?
I have you know I have no racial leaning in the issue of May 13. Being a Sarawak native who is neither Malay nor Chinese or Indian I have a strong alibi. Sitting on the fence, observing the trouble you are organising in the middle I suspect a mischief on your part. I smell rats.

Mr Ahmad, do you know what you’re doing?

“Melayu balik kampung, kita sudah berkuasa sekarang. Hey Sakai bolih balik ke hutan.”

Is the quote necessary, Mr Ahmad? The non-English lettering stood out in your long article. I can’t remember for certain but were they not printed in italic?

Mr Ahmad, I can only suspect I know what you’re doing. Are you trying to instigate hurt feeling among the Malays in the 21st Century by printing insults aimed at them 38 years ago? You want to stimulate the killer in the Malays, don’t you? No? So why stereotyped the Malays as Sakai? What hurtful then can still be hurtful today, did you not want to suspect that? Black Americans today can feel offended when called Niger or Negro because that can remind them of their slave origin – I’m sure you know that already. Do you know what is Sakai?

“Melayu balik kampung, kita sudah berkuasa sekarang. Hey Sakai bolih balik ke hutan.”

What is Sakai anyway? I don’t know. My guess is it has something to do with the hutan. The context of the sentence implies another race has reigned in power the Malays can flee elsewhere. I suppose Sakai means loser. With the hutan stands in the background, maybe Sakai is another name for monkey. Mr Ahmad knows which is which.

I must ask these questions: Are you reproducing those quotes as an attempt to justify the Malays’ violent uprising against the Chinese in 1969? Are you suggesting the Chinese were butchered because of some Sakai things they said to the Malays? Are you trying to draw a balance for this goddamn trouble? And now you’re happy with your work because both sides can agree they were mutually at fault?

That probably the same reason why moviemaker Peter Jackson spends millions of dollars to portray the brutal nature of the ogres so explicitly that when the army of Aragon and Gandalf attacked their holdings we have not a pity for the monster race. Mr Ahmad, was that the reason for your quotes? So we can have the impression the Chinese, Indians are monsters, and that it is okay to kill monsters?

Unfinished business
Let me try to go with your logic, Mr Ahmad. May 13 is over. Fair enough, the warring tribes were equally at fault. Malay Aragon or Chinese ogres, both sides were punished. End of story. I can agree with that. I’m sure all peace-loving Malaysians can agree with that. Bury the hatchet. What was said in 1969 must stay in 1969.

“Melayu balik kampung, kita sudah berkuasa sekarang. Hey Sakai bolih balik ke hutan.”

I hope you know what you’re doing when your 2007 article breathes life into the ghost of 1969. You dragged the skeletons from the last millennium and made them to speak in the 21st Century. Now these ghosts stare at your face. What you gonna do, Mr Ahmad?

May 13, or any racial trouble in any society across the world for that matter, can be seen and felt, to some extent, as one hell of unfinished business. Trained historians are selective with facts or they moderate their speech when speaking to the public. They can tell you what the Japanese did in Nanking in 1937. When the Japanese soldiers took turn to rape a 10-year old Chinese girl, the historians describe it only as sexual violence. No need to describe everything. People can get hurt, and along can come rage and desire for revenge.

Another example, the tradition of headhunting in Sarawak in the 19th century nearly saw no end to it. Politics and custom intertwined, a village could only renounce a mourning period after all their dead were avenged. They attacked a rival village and made off with a number of severed heads of their enemies. Now the other village had a score to settle with the first village… until then, they’re in mourning. Had Rajah James Brooke not outlawed in total the headhunting tradition across his kingdom in 1850, the unfinished business could never finish.

“Iban balik kampung, Kayan sudah potong banyak kepala Iban. Hey Ulun bolih balik ke Gua Niah.” If I display that taunt on a newspaper page today I doubt the Ibans can sit quietly in their longhouse. The headhunting business can continue.

The issue of Malays versus the Chinese in your case also can continue. You better be careful with your quotes. In case you didn’t know, it was alleged a political manoeuvre was behind the May 13 calamity being extensive. For security reason, the results of the general election was postponed. What happened when the results reopened after 1969 did not go in favour of the Chinese, correct? Well, that’s one hell of unfinished business for the Chinese, correct?

I don’t know about you, Mr Ahmad, but in my silly imagination sometime I see multi-racial multi-confused Malaysia is like a hand grenade waiting to explode. May 13 could be one of the triggering pins. Pull that pin and we all can go to hell.

Settling the issue
Now you’re toying with the triggering pin you had better not blowing yourself up. Or you want someone else to pull that pin? Was that the reason for the quotes, Mr Ahmad? You want the Malays to pull the pin, right? You want the Malays to start the trouble, right?

You cannot say you’re trying to mediate misunderstanding between two races, Mr Ahmad. I suspect you’re trying to exaggerate the old pain, cutting on the old wound instead.

Try this conversation since you love quotes.

WIFE: Sorry lah, dear hubby, about last week. Your mother scolded my mother, so I have to defend her lah.

HUSBAND: Of course my mother was angry. Your mother called her bitch last year.

WIFE: Oh, and what about your father’s calling my father a bastard ten years ago?

Now Mr Ahmad, do you think the husband and wife can ever bury the hatchet? Quoting the past would only aggravate their situation, don’t you agree? So you agree with me finally. Thank you.

If I’m not mistaken they locked up documents and other accounts related with May 13, 1969 for several decades in England until released to public only in recent years. The locking up of information could have been premeditated so as to allow absent-mindedness taking place among the Malaysians.

You seized upon that information as quickly as it was made accessible this year and splash the acidic memory over newspaper spreadsheet for your readers to digest. I’m not sure I know if you have played down some sensitive information but a taunt is a taunt is hurtful any which way you want to hear it. 1969 or 2007, what can hurt then can still hurt now. Did you not suspect that?

Come to think of all these, including this open letter I am writing, wouldn’t it be nice for you if you had not included those quotes in your article?

Picking a side?
The Chinese said something to the Malays. The Malays must have said something back. But why didn’t you minute that down as well, Mr Ahmad? Are you picking a side here? You cannot say you’re sitting on the fence here with me when your name can identify you with one of them. You maybe a neutral but some people just hate to look over their shoulder whole day. Therefore, off the fence you go.

Maybe you want to swear you’re a professional Malaysian and that you don’t take side in the May 13 warfare. Are you sure? Okay lah, I believe you. Then show fairness and stop quoting from only one party. If your professionalism obligated you to write quotes, start quoting everything from everyone on that fateful day 13th May 1969. That would be fair to everyone, wouldn’t it? So you agree with me finally. Thank you.

Better still, no quote from anyone.

Why the quotes in your article in the first place anyway? I think I know why. You wanted to make your May 13 story so lively that your readers can almost feel the hate, right? Good job. I give that to you. Better still, let’s make a movie about May 13, throw in all quotes and careless whispers we can find from 38 years ago; I direct the film and you write the script.

Mr Ahmad, do we know what we are talking here?

Zainon Ahmad vs Christhoper K. Knight
May 13. Everyone is entitled to his own opinion. Everyone in this country is a racist one way or another. I can be more of a racist than you can, Mr Ahmad. Fret not we are skilled at dodging blames given our experience in journalism. You being my senior in this field I will be disappointed if you cannot do better at it. I am no saint, I can pick a side, you know. What about you? When I don’t like someone or a group or a race I tend to see only the negatives about them. What about you? Sometime I can relate to a group so well my writing won’t ever hurt them. What about you?

Maybe I’ve been working in a different battlefield or growing up in a different planet. But as far as journalism is concerned the philosophy is identical everywhere, in that we are trained and cultured in the fencing court where the pen is mightier than the sword.

So pick up your pen and sword, Mr Ahmad, and meet me in the middle of the court. I do not wish to continue pursuing your Malaysian conscience. I challenge you journalist to journalist. See who can write May 13 better. Observe the blue highlight where a hit is made. Shall we?

Round 1
Maybe you want to ask how would I write the story if I were you. I don’t mean to take your job, sir, but if it was me writing that article I would write it exactly like how you have written it – minus the quotes, of course.

Other than that, your writing is excellent.

I won. Score line 0 – 1

Round 2
Break my primary argument: Is the quote necessary?

Unless you’re writing for Crime Desk or Court News I’m sure the May 13 story is still complete without the quote. But let us see to reasons for the quotes being there. It’s because Malaysia Day will fall on August 31, 2007. Your article can contribute to a Malaysian euphoria towards the National Day. But I thought you were drumming up support of some kind. Your drumbeat is calling for war. No? Let’s hear it again.

“Melayu balik kampung, kita sudah berkuasa sekarang. Hey Sakai bolih balik ke hutan.”

I venture to say the quotes are necessary, depending very much on the angle of story. My angle is “The Revival of May 13” or “A Score To Settle” or “Let’s start May 13 Again”. The quotes would fit very nicely in any of my story angle. Is that your story angle, too?

I won again. Scoreline 0 – 2

Round 3
You must have other reasons to believe why the quote has to be there. My eight years experience in this field is probably not enough to make me see things the way you see it. I must have overlooked news value in that quote. Let’s hear it again in case that can make me a better reporter.

“Melayu balik kampung, kita sudah berkuasa sekarang. Hey Sakai bolih balik ke hutan.”

You won. Scoreline 1 – 2

Round 4
But then again there’s no straightforward right or wrong in May 13. Forgive me for saying May 13 is very subjective, depending in principal on which side we sympathize. Dealing with a situation like this, we can sometime muddy the past with the present. I hope that’s not the case with you, Mr Ahmad. As political editor in your standing, you have a lot of convincing to do before your readers can believe a Malay political editor is impartial to anyone. My stance is a clear-cut – I’m sitting on the fence. Come to think of it, the story of May 13 should be written by a fence sitter from Sabah or Sarawak, you know, as to give peace of mind to the readers, for the sake of fairness, for feeling of impartiality.

I won. Scoreline 1 – 3

Final round
If I go on talking like that, Mr Ahmad, you can lose your job.

One for the road let us hear your quote again. This time you imagine I am saying that to you. This time ask yourself if you can remain indifferent towards this taunt. Ask yourself how neutral you can be. Ask yourself if this insult mean nothing to you: “Ahmad balik kampung, Knight sudah berkuasa sekarang. Hey Sakai bolih balik ke hutan.”

See my point now?

So, Mr Ahmad, do you know what you’re doing?

Final score: 1 – 4



Entry filed under: Comment.

A Most Irresponsible Cerpen By Chamil Wariya in Mingguan Malaysia Pakatan wary of 1969, says MB

1 Comment Add your own

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