May 13: Hidden hands still at work — Dr Kua Kia Soong
MAY 13 – When the May 13 Incident broke out in 1969, Said Zahari wrote these lines while under ISA detention in Singapore:
History repeats itself
By savage deeds
In a civilized age
Hidden hands appear
Seeking the blood
Of the poor and the wretched
Colour, race, religion and language
Become sharp blades
To use in the carnage
It has happened
In every corner of the earth
Where the few eat bread
And the rest sand
It has happened
Where the few clothed in velvet
Sleep in palaces
The rest go naked, squeezed into shacks
It has happened –
Then hidden hands reappear
Spilling the blood of the poor
To cling on to power…”
Said Zahari certainly did not buy the official line that the riots had broken out spontaneously. The thesis of my 2007 title May 13: Declassified Documents on the Malaysian Riots of 1969 was that the pogrom was orchestrated by these hidden hands to facilitate the rise of the Malay state capitalist class in Umno and to topple the aristocratic class headed by the Tunku. This opportunity presented itself after the devastating results for the ruling coalition in the 1969 general elections.
It was not until July 1969 – a lapse of two full months — that the security forces played their expected role of restoring order. It was not as if the Malaysian security forces were inexperienced in the role of maintaining order. They had successfully contained the armed insurgency during the Emergency from 1948 to 1960 under more difficult circumstances. Allowing the riots to continue for so many weeks provided an excuse for the new Umno ruling class to make use of the state of emergency to implement their agenda for political and economic dominance through the New Economic Policy. In this plan, they received the full backing and connivance of the police and military.
Before the publication of my book, Umno had all along been using “May 13” as a spectre to frighten voters of another pogrom whenever a strong political opposition had arisen to challenge the ruling coalition. This was seen in various general elections such as the one in 1990 when the public broadcasting media RTM was used to purvey scenes of carnage to remind voters of the consequences.
Even the Tunku could see through the ploy. In 1988, he gave short shrift to the Government’s White Paper on Operation Lalang:
“For the Prime Minister (Dr Mahathir) to repeat (the story of) the violence of the May 13 Affair as a warning of what would have happened if the Government had not taken appropriate action immediately is like telling ghost stories to our children to prevent them from being naughty. This is not a childish matter but a matter of national importance. The tale should not be repeated because it shows us to be politically immature.” (SUARAM, “The White Paper on the October Affair and the Why? Papers”, 1989: 5)
The prelude to Operation Lalang saw the Umno leaders orchestrating racial tension over the transfer of non-qualified administrators to Chinese primary schools. They held a rally in Kampong Baru at which then Umno Youth Chief and present prime minister was one of the chest thumpers on stage while banners called for “Chinese blood” and “May 13”.
Since then, Umno has unleashed its Youth group to harass any groups which question Umno policies such as the mob assault on the East Timor Conference in 1996; the demonstration against the Chinese associations’ Suqiu appeals and threat to burn down the Selangor Chinese Assembly Hall in 2000, among others.
Orchestration of the Umno — Controlled Media
The Umno-owned and controlled press, especially Utusan Malaysia and Berita Harian have been indispensable accessories in the orchestration of communalism and racial tension to justify authoritarian measures such as was seen in Operation Lalang, 1987 and to frighten the voters into supporting the status quo.
I have monitored the way “The UMNO Media Communalises” in Media Watch: The Use and Abuse of the Malaysian Press, 1990, in order to show you how the trick is done . For example, when the Government was being criticised for the BMF scandal in the eighties, Berita Harian (19.9.86) featured the UMNO president, Dr Mahathir’s veiled threat at the UMNO general assembly: KESABARAN MELAYU ADA HADNYA (“There is a limit to the patience of the Malays”). Utusan Malaysia (19.9.86) would not be outdone: JANGAN AMBIL MUDAH ORANG MELAYU (“Don’t take Malays for granted”)
When there was widespread opposition to the Official Secrets Act Amendment Bill in 1986 by all ethnic groups, Utusan Malaysia (6.12.86) chose to feature this headline quoting the UMNO Youth Chief Datuk Seri Mohd Najib: NAJIB INGATKAN ANGGOTA-ANGGOTA UMNO KEPIMPINAN MELAYU SEDANG DICABAR (“Najib alerts UMNO members Malay leadership being challenged”)
During the orchestrated “crisis” over the posting of unqualified administrators to the Chinese primary schools, the banner headline in Berita Harian (19.10.87) read: KEKAL KETUANAN MELAYU – PEMUDA (“Defend Malay dominance – UMNO Youth”)
Then when Tengku Razaleigh was leading the Opposition Front in the 1990 general elections, the editorial headline of Berita Harian (20.4.90) read: POLITIK TENGKU RAZALEIGH MERUGIKAN MELAYU (“Tengku Razaleigh’s politics – Malays lose out”)
One really needs to go further back to the Sixties to monitor how the UMNO media has deliberately communalized issues. It all gets rather tedious to even the most weathered media watcher because they carry on ad nauseum to serve the Umno agenda for political and economic domination by playing on Malay chauvinism.
As the young generation can see with their own eyes today, the UMNO media have not stopped. The latest caper by Utusan Malaysia alleging a plot to make Christianity an official religion is probably one of the crudest yet in its arsenal of orchestrated untruths.
Yet, has any Utusan Malaysia editor been sacked by their political masters for all these deliberate attempts at stoking racial tensions? So much for Najib’s “1Malaysia” caper! And they wonder why Malaysian professionals are leaving the country…
Demands for the 13th General Elections
Calling upon Umno and the Umno-owned and controlled media to be more responsible is like asking a leopard to change its spots. Bumiputraism has been part and parcel of Umno’s ideology and method for maintaining political and economic power. Demands for social responsibility and ethical standards in the media will not be heeded unless these are enshrined in new democratic institutions.
Therefore, as we mark this 42nd anniversary of May 13, we reiterate the call for:
— A Truth & Reconciliation Commission to honour those who lost their lives in 1969 and to learn the lessons of that dark episode of Malaysian history by pointing the way forward toward national reconciliation;
— An independent Press Council and Broadcasting Authority, whose members and Chair are seen to be truly independent, acceptable and respected by civil society;
— A Race Relations Act to outlaw racism, racial discrimination, hate crimes and other related intolerances and an Equal Opportunities Commission;
— Ratification of the International Convention on the Eradication of Racism, Racial Discrimination and all forms of Intolerance.
*Dr Kua Kia Soong is the Director of Suaram, a human rights group.
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