Tanda Putera director lashes out at critics
Shuhaimi Baba speaks to FMT in a brief e-mail interview about her upcoming controversial film that will depict the May 13 bloody race riots.
PETALING JAYA: Filmmaker Shuhaimi Baba has declared that she is open to a debate to discuss her latest controversial movie “Tanda Putera”, provided that such talks be held after the movie is screened.
The award-winning director, whose movie retells the story of Malaysia’s second prime minister, the late Tun Abdul Razak Hussein, and deputy prime minister, the late Tun Dr Ismail Abdul Rahman, amid the bloody May 13, 1969 race riots, said in an e-mail to FMT that she would not mind sharing views as long as it was done in a “mature” manner.
The director, who has received open scorn from critics lately, has also called on all Malaysians to just “cool it”, stressing that she and her crew have put in a lot of love into their work and are not about “peddling hatred and propaganda”.
Even before it has hit the silver screen, Shuhaimi’s movie, which is now re-scheduled to be screened on Nov 15, has been criticised for allegedly providing only a one-sided view of history.
Shuhaimi had denied accusations that the movie promoted a pro-Malay agenda. She also had to douse accusations that it featured a character based on DAP leader Lim Kit Siang in a negative light.
Another controversial aspect of the movie was that the RM4.8 million cost was fully funded by the National Film Development Corporation (Finas) and the Multimedia Development Corporation (Mdec), with questions raised over whether a movie that did not gel with the “official version” would receive such support.
The film, according to critics, demonises early leftist movements, with its trailer allegedly showing scenes of Chinese groups marching through the streets of Kuala Lumpur city after the success of the opposition parties in municipal elections carrying the Labour Party flag and other banners bearing anti-Malay slogans.
However, despite all the “unexpected and upsetting” response she has received, Shuhaimi maintained that she has done her legwork.
“I looked as far back as confrontation to understand the deep psychological resentments at that time until May13. But the catalysts were – the ‘hooliganism’ – the choice of words and insults thrown at the Malays, the over-the-top celebration by the opposition parties.
“The movie is not about judging and blaming any side in particular. Touchy as it may be, we needed to drive home the point of the trauma of May 13 (that we should not let it happen again) and how Tun Razak and Tun Ismail succeeded in making the country overcome the trauma and forget May 13. The movie sets out to do that as we share the journey taken by the two heroes,” she said.
Tanda Putera – rated PG13 – stars Rusdi Ramli (Tun Abdul Razak), Faezah Elai (Toh Puan Rahah), Zizan Nin (Tun Dr Ismail) and Linda Hashim (Toh Puan Norashikin). The film, a joint production by Pesona Pictures together with Finas and Mdec, tells the story about the friendship of the two national leaders and their struggles in healing the nation after the riots.
Below are excerpts from the e-mail communiqué:
FMT: Firstly, the meaning behind the title “Tanda Putera”, if you could elaborate more on the choice of words?
Shuhaimi: Tanda Putera means “Mark of a Leader”. This is the closest my team of writers and I could draw from our original title “Incurable Hero”. It was written for a documentary drama in English. However, after several friends read the documentary script , they convinced us to do justice by writing it as a screenplay and a feature-length movie. The thought was scary at first, the amount of research, detailing and design work and most of all the budget needed gave me sleepless nights. But then after going through several material, I thought: ‘Yes, why not? The two heroes deserve this tribute’.
Could you share with us your feelings so far, are you perturbed by the controversy the movie had courted?
Controversy, well, I think it comes with the territory. You know, it’s only the movies after all! Expect anything in film-making – there are always issues to deal with. There was my first horror film ‘Pontianak Harum Sundal Malam’ – after 30 years of horror films being banned. But I went ahead and it opened doors for the industry. There’s also the first feature-length movie on local folk lore ‘waris jari hantu’, the tigerman and the boy-girl character (hermaphrodite). They were contentious and controversial – only because the ideas were fresh and unexplored . But the ‘restless’ and ‘opinionated’ [ones] settled down anyway and cinema goers accepted the film.
So yes, I didn’t expect the May13 scenes to go through without the usual noise. But I didn’t expect the attention from people who don’t watch local movies. They have no idea what movie-going culture is about and rant over the movie trailer! Aiyooo… what to say. Attention from politicians are much worse, I can say that much. Their reasoning is simply: ‘See it my way or no way’.
I have a team of young people managing the Facebook for the movie and it turned into a ‘battleground’! I had to keep reminding the admin team to keep their cool and it was tough for them to manage the racial slurs and hate-mongers. But you know, like other times, I told them these are people who need to get things off their chest and they will tire. I briefed them on the background of the country’s history especially from Konfrontasi onwards so that they are confident and they know what they are up against.
Other than the threats, obscene language, racial slurs and hatred – I think although it was very unexpected and upsetting – we managed to calm everyone down reminding them this is nothing, we must deal with it as cool as possible.
Why was this movie being done? What prompted you to take up the challenge of such a touchy topic?
Difficult question. But I will try to answer. Malaysia was the only country in a unique dangerous situation – where the prime minister and deputy PM were facing critical illness at the same time – in a critical fragile situation. Their brave sacrifices needed to be told. It captured my imagination – I believe it would ‘capture’ others too. It’s only touchy if you don’t respect someone else’s views and creative expression.
When I first read Dr Kua (Kia Soong’s) book, I thought what came out first and shining through was his prejudices against Malays and his resentment against the office of the prime minister then. His accusations – alluding to who was responsible for May 13- that is, Tun Razak, was not only atrocious but irresponsible. But then he knows that, I am sure, since he’s more intelligent than most men, and he does it for effect and propaganda and to rile up Chinese sentiments. It was too easy for him. As a writer, he preferred to be biased and did not shed any light on the riots but even considered the communists had nothing to do with it.
His obvious biasness – not questioning why in Tunku’s own book, and later in an authorised biography of Tunku as late as 1990 – Tunku did not cast aspersions on Tun Razak.There were reports and books written by people who were not present during May 13. Some were based on third party reports. Yet in one publication, no mention was made that the writer was not in the country, the author did not point out he was not present but his comments and observations on May 13 were like a first-person report. Complete with prejudices against the Malays and the Malaysian government. How is it that this author can be quoted as a reliable source? He had deliberately too omitted details of what were the insulting behaviours towards the Malays before May 13.
I find the NOC (National Operations Council) report on May 13, 1969, may not be as complete, but it was more useful and reliable because they were verified with statistics and signed support reports and documents. The NOC report was also verified by a committee appointed by Tun Ismail. The head of the committee was a person of high integrity. So that’s where I am coming from when I say I looked at all angles.
I looked at some background of newspapers of big powers like Great Britain – example Times of London. They were already known then as instruments of British Intelligence. There was no love lost between them and Tun Razak. and the Malaysian government. As early as 1967 they were already hostile with their reporting on Razak and the Malaysian government. Malaysia wanted full British military withdrawal from Malaysia by 1967. Razak’s and the Malaysian government’s foreign policies under Tunku, were not ‘welcomed’ by the big powers. Malaysia chose to be close to the third world powers and non-aligned nations as well to counter balance the influence of super powers. The super powers and Singapore criticised Malaysia for being the only country that forged relationship with China, a communist country. Razak’s foresight was a blow to the communist radicals in Malaysia.
So that being the background, it’s no surprise that foreign media like the Times of London, Time Magazine, and New York Post were typically anti-Malaysian government because it’s also a faceless voice of foreign government. The game of superpowers using the media in their country as part of their intelligence was new to Malaysia at that time. So I took all that into consideration.
You must also be able to imagine that at the time, Malays were mostly in the fringes. It’s natural that foreign correspondents fraternise more with the city communities of mostly Chinese and Indians. So as friends naturally you empathise with friends – that’s how I look at the obvious anti-Malay stance of the foreign press at that time, where cities and towns were populated by non-Malays.
It’s like this British painter. He didn’t know the Malays when he came to this country. So he painted a picture of a Malay kampung house that resembled a cow shed. But as he stayed longer and made friends with the Malays, the house he captured later were more attractive and artistic. I may be going off tangent but these were maladies we need to understand then.
In fact, in Tun Ismaiil’s interview with a Singapore newspaper then, he too said to the effect that this talk of ‘coup de tat’ is nonsense. And there was no such move to oust the Tunku. Why would he be believable in other aspects, but not this? Of course knowing the situation between Singapore and Malaysia then, Singapore was quick to say that Malaysia will become a country under dictatorship during the May 13 turbulence.
It’s quite sad when a Malaysian cannot differentiate between hatred and prejudices and respect for the office that everyone is fighting for – office of the prime minister. How is it that young Malaysians can deny Tun Razak and Tun Ismail as prime minister and deputy prime minister of this country just because they are Malays or from a different party? How did they come to this stage of complete disrespect? I did comment to a hate-monger in that aspect – that he’s probably in the wrong country. It’s like we can’t deny that Anwar Ibrahim was deputy prime minister of this country once, for better or for worse. Even though his daughter would not pay a single sen to see my movie, her father would still be acknowledged as being a former deputy PM .
When writing on hindsight and after the fact – it’s easy to be judgmental. So if I, as a Malaysian, accepted Kua’s book and I didn’t ask for it to be banned or burned, I therefore expect the same for my interpretation of May 13, 1969. It would be dishonest to say that communist infiltration had nothing to do with May 13. That’s nuts .
Are there are any lessons to be learned from the controversy: What are they?
I think Malaysians should cool it – those who attacked the film – and should increase support for the local film industry. Watch local movies and understand the sentiments. The typical movie-goer has no problem with the film. It’s the ones who don’t watch local movies who are barking- mostly faceless – but barking in Facebook. We are not revisionists nor are we hate-mongers. We put a lot of love in our work – so it doesn’t sync, doesn’t make sense that we want to peddle propaganda and hatred.
Do you think that criticisms so far have been unfair, seeing as to how none of those who are attacking the film have actually watched it?
Criticisms are actually ridiculous, based on movie trailers – it’s never happened before. But we don’t want to have to defend the movie when people have not watched it. We are looking at it with an open mind. Many have asked for a discussion and what my views are on what happened before May 13 onwards. Yes I am open to a debate or discussion provided we treat it as mature as possible, once the movie has been screened.
Tanda Putera: Deconstructing prejudice
The writer rebuts the criticism levelled at him by Tanda Putera director Shuhaimi Baba.
I am in full agreement with the director of the forthcoming film “Tanda Putera”, Shuhaimi Baba, that we should withhold any critique of the film until we have seen it. I have so far merely warned Malaysians about the record of the Barisan National in resurrecting the spectre of “May 13” at every general election since 1969.
Others have protested against some of the images posted on the Facebook for the film. But judging from Shuhaimi’s interview in an online media (FMT, Sept 6), I am not too sanguine about her impartiality and capacity to discern fact from prejudice in a mature manner. She said:
“When I first read Dr Kua (Kia Soong’s) book, I thought what came out first and shining through was his prejudices against Malays and his resentment against the office of the prime minister then. His accusations – alluding to who was responsible for May 13 – that is, Tun Razak, were not only atrocious but irresponsible. But then he knows that, I am sure, since he’s more intelligent than most men, and he does it for effect and propaganda and to rile up Chinese sentiments. It was too easy for him. As a writer, he preferred to be biased and did not shed any light on the riots but even considered the communists had nothing to do with it.
“His obvious biasness – not questioning why in Tunku’s own book, and later in an authorised biography of Tunku as late as 1990 – Tunku did not cast aspersions on Tun Razak. There were reports and books written by people who were not present during May 13. Some were based on third party reports. Yet in one publication, no mention was made that the writer was not in the country, the author did not point out he was not present but his comments and observations on May 13 were like a first-person report. Complete with prejudices against the Malays and the Malaysian government. How is it that this author can be quoted as a reliable source? He had deliberately too omitted details of what were the insulting behaviours towards the Malays before May 13.
“I find the NOC (National Operations Council) report on May 13, 1969, may not be as complete, but it was more useful and reliable because they were verified with statistics and signed support reports and documents. The NOC report was also verified by a committee appointed by Tun Ismail. The head of the committee was a person of high integrity. So that’s where I am coming from when I say I looked at all angles…”
Prejudices against Malays?
First, I would like to thank her for reading my book although I am very disappointed that she has drawn very odd conclusions from it. I have read such accusations of my supposed “prejudices against Malays” among the mindless blogheads in cyberspace but I would expect better of an artist who seeks a reputation for integrity.
For a start, she fails to provide any evidence for my supposed “prejudices against the Malays and (my) resentment against the office of the prime minister”. Many respected Malay intellectuals have critiqued my book and made no mention of it being “prejudiced against Malays”. I may be guilty of using class analysis in my writings but you will not find a more committed anti-racist crusader than me in this country…
The late Rustam Sani (bless his soul!) wrote in his blog on May 13, 2007 after attending the launch of my book:
“May 13: A Sunday morning well-spent at the book launch. There was absolutely no doubt in my mind that Dr Kua had penned a very important book – indeed, to my mind, he has made ‘publishing history’ of sorts. I came out of the book launch feeling only half-satisfied with the discussion that took place and half-pessimistic about the future. It did not, however, diminish my appreciation of Dr Kua’s book as an important contribution to my understanding of Malaysia’s contemporary history, and for such interesting and thoughtful presentations by the guest speakers.”
Among the guest speakers was highly respected Malay intellectual, Professor Syed Husin Ali, who disputed my “coup d’etat” thesis but he did not think that my book displayed “prejudices against the Malays”.
Azmi Sharom, writing in The Star on May 31, 2007, had this to say about the book:
“As with Kua’s earlier works, it is written in a passionate style that drives the narrative forward with a sense of urgency, so much so that reading it was a pleasure. I think that this is an important book. It raises issues and questions that challenge the official story of the riots and it adds new information that is vital if we as a nation are ever to truly understand that horrible period of our history.”
Again, he did not get the impression that I was “prejudiced against the Malays”. Likewise, my socialist comrade Dr Mohd Nasir Hashim has not mentioned to me that he finds my account “prejudiced against Malays” because he also subscribes to class analysis of society and history.
I am therefore dubious about the amount and the quality of research done by Shuhaimi on May 13 and whether she seriously read my book. She says that “no mention was made that the writer was not in the country, the author did not point out he was not present but his comments and observations on May 13 were like a first-person report.”
The full story of May 13 is yet untold
First, my book uses declassified documents which I researched first-hand in London and made available in The British Public Records Office, Kew Gardens. That’s a lot of valuable legwork that is potentially helpful research for Shuhaimi’s film. The suggestion that I was trying to portray this as a first-hand account is puzzling, as the title itself clearly states the fact that such first-hand accounts are extracts from the declassified documents themselves. Shuhaimi is certainly the first person to make such an observation.
The reason my book created such a sensation was because many Malaysians do not find the official versions credible. Contrary to what Shuhaimi says, the official statistics on the casualties during May 13 are the least credible of all. I may not have been there but my brother-in-law was a professor at the University Hospital at the time and my brother was a medical student at University Malaya too. They saw the number of bodies that were tarred to conceal their ethnicity and they certainly exceeded the official figures. The documents in my book testify as much to this fact.
I provided a class analysis based on the available evidence provided by the records at the time. A fuller story will only emerge with a Truth and Reconciliation Commission when families of the victims, the police, the army, hospital doctors and staff come forward to tell us their stories. A serious artist should welcome as many stories from the people as possible and not be beholden to the official version.
The Tunku’s Views on Tun Razak
Shuhaimi accuses me of bias and claims that the Tunku didn’t cast aspersions on Tun Razak. Again, this reflects on the quality of her research and her capacity to weigh historical documents. Obviously, Shuhaimi does not consider the documents produced in my book to be worth consideration or to be objective. She falls back on the Tunku’s early writings and apparently, “the Tunku’s authorised biography”.
For the information of Shuhaimi, K Das was the Tunku’s official biographer and they had carried out a series of interviews which can be read in my 2002 title: “K. Das & the Tunku Tapes”. Yes, a copy of the tapes was given to me by Das’ family. Can any records beat these audio recordings done in the twilight of the Tunku’s life when he could finally speak his mind? Will Shuhaimi challenge me to produce the Tunku tapes to verify if the Tunku actually said these words to Das?
“You know Harun was one of those – Harun, Mahathir, Ghazali Shafie – who were all working with Razak to oust me, to take over my place…” (Kua Kia Soong, 2002: 112)
For the further information of Shuhaimi, I am not the first person to see May 13 as a coup de’tat against the Tunku. A Malay (yes, Malay!) intellectual, Subky Latiff, had already put forward this thesis in an academic journal, “Southeast Asian Affairs, Singapore”in 1977. Although I was not at the seminar when Subky presented his paper, I am sure there were no gasps of “how atrocious and irresponsible!” among the academics gathered there.
Why the deference to Authority?
We can understand deference to authority in a feudal society. But why do we need to be deferential to the people we elect? Shuhaimi refers to the prime ministers as if they are deities to worship. In fact, whenever a general election approaches, that is the time when the politicians including prime ministers eat humble pie and plead for our support. What are prime ministers but the leaders of the respective parties who happen to win a majority in the general election?
If we take the trouble to research into Malayan/Malaysian history, we will invariably find that the leaders of political parties often use foul underhand means to maintain their political positions. This goes not only for the incumbent but also for the opposition parties.
My recent “Patriots & Pretenders” gives an account of the way the British colonial power connived to ensure the victory of the Alliance in the pre-Independence manoeuvres. Take Umno as an example. If political chicanery had not come into play, Onn Jaafar leading the Independence of Malaya Party could have become prime minister at Independence.
If the British colonial power had not backed the Alliance, the PMCJA-Putera coalition could have given the Alliance a good run for their money and we could have had a socialist prime minister who would not want such feudal deference from the people! The proclamation of The Emergency in 1948 through to 1960 was to ensure the British colonial power passed political power onto their local custodians at Independence and not to the PMCJA-Putera coalition.
Then again, if it had not been for Mahathir Mohamad’s “tengkolok trick” in 1990, Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah might have become Malaysia’s prime minister. Likewise, the arrest of Anwar Ibrahim in 1998 altered the history of Umno and assured Mahathir’s hold on power into the 21st century.
Yes, like any democrat I have a healthy disrespect for authority in an oppressive regime and I would have imagined an artist with ideals and integrity would share such aspirations for truth, justice, freedom, democracy and human rights.
Were the Communists responsible for May 13?
I really doubt the capacity of Shuhaimi to “look at all angles” if after looking at the records produced in my book she still insists that the communists were responsible for May 13. In my book I have shown that in the Tunku’s broadcast on May 17, 1969, he had qualified his earlier assertion that the disturbances were caused by communists, putting the blame instead on assorted “bad elements”.
Is this Shuhaimi’s own prejudices or does she have stronger evidence to show that the communists were indeed responsible for May 13? The regime used the communist bogey at the time because it was necessary for it to justify imposing a state of emergency and to carry out the agenda of the new Umnoputras.
To conclude, I fervently hope that Shuhaimi will seriously study my views like any honest artist and ponder the deconstruction of prejudice. Perhaps, this is an opportunity for Shuhaimi as an artist to be more circumspect – be more of a calligrapher with a deft brush rather than follow the mindless mob that tars and feathers any detractors…
Kua Kia Soong is Suaram adviser
Hello, hello Dr Kua
Director Shuhaimi Baba takes on her most vocal critic of her latest production, Tanda Putera.
As a filmmaker, I celebrate all kinds of interpretation and stories, because we respect the creative licence attached to it. Those who have seen political films from Latin America, will remember how extreme and radical they are. They bare their thoughts without pretension. They do not have to pretend to be democrats with a healthy respect for authority.
In “Tanda Putera”, we don’t pretend it’s history. We say it’s a movie. But Dr Kua Kia Soong tries too hard to pretend that he’s a “left-leaning democrat”.
If only people like Kua truly have a healthy respect for authority and uphold the values of freedom and trust they profess to fight for, instead of just paying lip service, they would have no problem in respecting the freedom the creative licence allows in filmmaking
I have friends who are socialists who respect true bravehearts like Tun Razak and Tun Ismail, towering leaders whom Kua tries very hard to paint as having “conspired a coup d’état against Tunku”.
Kua labelled Tun Razak as an “ambitious Malay capitalist”. Is it because of the colour of his skin or because he’s not a socialist prime minister that Kua preferred? And he calls me prejudiced.
What about the view that May 13 was a push for the Chinese radicals and DAP at that time to get rid of the Malays and take over power in Selangor because only one seat stood in the way? Was that a failed “coup de tat”? Gerakan held on to that seat in favour of the Alliance.
Being a politican, left leaning and all, Kua is adapt at playing victim. We see it everywhere. The pretenders who champion justice and truth, so cunning in engineering impressions to bring the country’s government of the day to its knees, even if it means serving foreign interest. Kua is more intelligent than most men.
In the book “Kenangan Tunku” he wanted readers to believe there was no interference from him as a publisher. But didn’t he sneak in his point of view in the notes (K Das interview) in the leading page to the segment on “After Mei 13”? It is obvious from the choice of words and expression, Kua prefers “selective interpretations and exposé”.
Before I go further, let me clarify the previous FreeMalaysiaToday article. I did not refer to Kua when I pointed out that a writer published his work on May 13, 1969 but did not qualify he was not even in Malaysia during the incident. The credibility of that source is questionable.
I don’t wish to go into a “he said, she said” episode with Kua. But if Kua quoted his family members’ observations, then he should be able to accept observations from others through their uncles and aunties as well and whose family members are still alive today to recall certain things vividly.
Some of us have uncles who were in the police force and cousins serving in the army. They, too, have their own stories to tell with friends and family members still alive. Or maybe they don’t count and their stories are not tragic enough because they are Malays?
Being a professed leftwing, of course, one would have to expect Kua to look at the government of the day as oppressive regime. Any government of the day in any state – I’m sure he will see them as oppressive regimes.
Kua is dismissive of the Emergency as a British weapon and discredited the British colonial powers for not giving independence and power to a socialist prime minister and a leftwing government of Malaya. Such selective use of history and facts.
You can discredit the British, but what standard of human rights are you using that we should accept communists act of violence and thousands were killed? By what standards of human rights do you think we should accept the thousands of unarmed Malays who were massacred when the Chinese MPAJA (Malayan Peoples’ Anti-Japanese Army) were in power for two weeks after the Japanese surrendered?
Until the British military returned, the Malays were blamed for the Japanese persecution of the Chinese. Why the need to refer to Tunku’s broadcast on May 17, 1969 where he qualified his earlier assertion that the May 13 disturbances were also caused by bad elements, as in gangsters?
Why is it so convenient for Kua to conclude that the communists were responsible for May 13? Just because the British powers didn’t think so? Or journalists didn’t think so? The Tunku never dismissed the fact that the communists were responsible for the lead-up to May 13.
The majority-Chinese protest rally of May 9, a day before elections, openly sang songs attributed to Mao Tse Tung, with placards and pictures of Mao and communist thoughts.The provocation “Malays go die” by the crowd was repeated during the election victory celebration of May 11-12, 1969. Was that a coincidence or had the communists and radicals infiltrated political parties?
Where was the coup d’état?
“Tanda Putera” showed this and I believe no one expected that blood would spill no matter how angry people were. Kua “accused” Tun Razak and friends of a coup d’état, without backing it with evidence but to simply refer to K Das’ taped interview with Tunku. So what? So you want to shamelessly use Tunku because you don’t have anything else to show after conjuring the image of Tun Razak as the “ambitious Malay capitalist”?
Tun Razak wanted poverty-stricken Malays who had worked the wild forest land to own a piece of land. He was invited and asked to lead Umno as president, and he was in the right position to accept it as the then deputy president. Tun Razak would have been Malaysia’s first prime minister.
But Kua’s “ambitious Malay capitalist” was a humble man. He talked to the leaders at that time including Tunku to accept Tunku to lead them. Tun Razak could have remained in power for as long as he wanted to in the aftermath of May 13 emergency, when he was in charge of the National Operations Council (NOC).
Even Lee Kuan Yew couldn’t resist jealousy when he opined that Tun Razak will bring Malaysia into a dictatorial rule. But he was disappointed when Tun Razak led the country back to democracy and Parliament. Where was the “coup d’état”?
Any leader worth his salt will know the writing is on the wall, if you suffer heavy defeat in an election; it was a matter of time before it’s time to go. Tunku knew that too. It’s the way of politics. “Tanda Putera” depicted the scenario.
In a feature film, it’s no longer a documentary, where you can demand that I line up my facts and documents. History and fiction are weaved together to move the dramatic elements. We interpret and we capture that in “Tanda Putera”. We are only able to base our story on true events in history. By capturing and interpreting, it becomes a work of fiction, a movie. So yes creative licence is our tool. But we have used it with responsibility. It’s our business to read and interprete.
It will shock many if we show the level of hatred and resentment that came with abusive words and vulgarities that were hurled at the Malays on May 11 and 12, 1969. How many foreign journalists and writers avoided writing the details, Kua included? But we chose to tone down the scenes in “Tanda Putera”. If we want to overcome the ghosts of May 13, we must deal with the truth. And it showed clearly how a highly charged crowd could so easily be provoked to spiral out of control.
Kua, sometimes it’s not what you write but your choice of words that gives you away and reveals your anti-Malay sentiments. Tunku praised Razak in the same interview that Kua said “nothing beats Tunku’s audio recording done in the twilight of his years”. Everybody should focus on the word “twilight” (not of the romantic vampire type).
Yes Kua, please produce the Tunku tapes for all of us to listen. No point going behind names like Subky and your “Malay colleagues”. They don’t bring validation. The K Das interview was done in 1988. In 1990, another authorised biography of Tunku was also published by Ranjit Singh. No mention of the “Tun Razak coup d’état”.
Razak and Ismail no pushovers
You blame the British for the things that didn’t go your way, like this country not being a socialist country. But you stand by their records and declassified reports. I’m no stanger to the British public records library and I can say that British intelligence reports were known to also make mistakes. They are human. But some mistakes were not corrected and only done on hindsight.
It’s understandable that you prefer to believe the British correspondents or officers’ reports that there were 2,000 dead. But prove it, don’t just depend on hearsay. I’m not biased and I would like the truth too. But for now, for a major report of this nature, I will rely on a report that’s substantiated.
Why would the NOC report be unworthy and false when it could substantiate its reports and the journalists could not? A European public relations consultant wanted the Malaysian government to change its figures according to the ones published by foreign newspapers, to avoid controversy. Thank God, leaders like Tun Razak and Tun Ismail were no pushovers and stood by the statistics provided by NOC.
The NOC report was also verifed by a team led by Khaw Khai Boh, appointed by Tun Ismail. The no-nonsense Khaw was former head of CID Singapore (or was it the Special Branch?). So we know why he was appointed.
Personally, I wouldn’t keep referring to newspaper articles as declassified documents, because what’s there to declassify? But even then, a Far Eastern Economic Report (FEER) correspondent commented in his report that foreign journalists reporting on the May 13 riots were like “vultures” criticsing the many unsubstantiated third party reporting. Malaysia certainly was not about the MyLai massacre of the Vietnam war.
As a Malaysian, I accept anyone who becomes prime minister, elected by the majority. It is about respect for the office of the prime minister, the highest office in the country. Not just anyone can become prime minister. Many of us will never agree to power grabbing, sneaky or otherwise. No revolution has a right to usurp the voice of the majority.
We in the film industry are no racists because if you want to see perfect example of harmony of all races working together all these years, go behind the scenes of filmmaking. We don’t take kindly to politicians bullying us. We don’t look at leaders and prime ministers as deities.
Kua, why do you practise double standard and fault leaders who appeal to the people to vote for them? Isn’t that what politics and campaignings are all about? So what if politicians and prime ministers appeal to people to support them during political campaigns? Is that not what people do when they campaign? Didn’t you do that when you were campaigning? Even President Barack Obama had to eat humble pie during his campaign. Why is it all right for him but not our prime minister?
I have to thank the good Kua that he would wait to see my film before commenting and I think he should continue to do just. “Tanda Putera” is a movie . Right now, I’m still digging into my colleagues’ work on the Chinese Xenophobic Syndrome (no they are not Malay colleagues) and I find the background to the psychological resentment syndrome intriguing.
Many of us in the film industry are quite open to the various types of films and interpretations. We accept anything and devour films whether we like them or not. So Kua’s May 13 book and his version of May 13, for better or for worse, have been accepted. There’s no issue. So I don’t buy the “fear factor” raised against my film just because May 13 is used as background.
I borrow this from my colleague: “One thing for sure – what the spilling of blood of May13 did was bring people to their senses and decide whether you want to be in this country or you don’t. Make up your mind. And let’s work at living together.”
Shuhaimi Baba is the director of Tanda Putera, slated for release in November.
Tanda Putera: Potrait of an apologist
Suaram adviser Kua Kia Soong rebuts criticisms levelled against him by Tanda Putera director Shuhaimi Baba.
By Kua Kia Soong
At the outset, let me clarify that I am certainly not the director of Tanda Putera’s (TP) “most vocal critic”. Until this controversy started, I had never heard of this maker of Pontianak movies.
On the other hand, I am an ardent admirer of the late Yasmin Ahmad’s classic Malaysian films through which Yasmin’s truly multi-ethnic and prejudice-shattering humanity shines through.
Still, I was ready to give this director of TP the benefit of the doubt by appealing to any fibre of intellectual honesty in her body when I wrote my reply (Tanda Putera: Deconstructing Prejudice) to her unwarranted attacks on my credibility in her interview with FMT.
It appears my efforts have all been water off a duck’s back.
Hapless victim with a blame frame
This controversy started I believe, when Lim Kit Siang rightly protested against images posted on TP’s website and the outrageous allegations by some bloghead that the DAP leader had urinated against a flagpole at the time of the May 13 incident.
Such a blatant untruth and serious warping of history was explained away without heartfelt apologies by the TP director and I believe the loathsome images and comments were only taken down four weeks later after Kit Siang had made a strong protest.
We witness the same attempt by the TP director to blame others by claiming that “I did not refer to Kua when I pointed out that a writer published his work on May 13, 1969 but did not qualify he was not even in Malaysia during the incident. The credibility of that source is questionable.”
Did the director of TP feel that there had been grievous harm done to the reputation of both Kit Siang and myself when these supposed “errors” were discovered? Did she demand that FMT make a correction and would she have bothered to make a correction if I had not protested against her scurrilous attacks on me? Or are we considered mere collateral damage in her mission to beatify the Umno leaders?
Who were the “hidden hands” behind May 13?
The director of TP has clearly fallen in with the “official” version that the May 13 Incident was a “spontaneous outbreak” of violence between “the Malays” and “the Chinese” after “the Malays” were provoked by “the Chinese”.
In this official rendition, the victory parade by the opposition parties in 1969 is often compounded with an earlier demonstration by the Labour Party which had actually boycotted the 1969 general election because practically all their leaders had been incarcerated under the ISA.
Were these parades so provocative that they were the trigger for the pogrom? From the declassified documents at the British Archives, they were not. The British were more likely to be pro-Alliance rather than pro-Opposition since after all, the Alliance leaders were the local custodians of British interests in the Independence manoeuvres. But if the director of TP has credible local documents to the contrary, pray, produce them.
Malaysians in recent years are only too well aware of the manner in which the far-right fascists have been quick to stage violent actions against such civil society initiatives as Suqiu in 2000, the racial violence at Kampung Medan in 2001, the Article 11 Coalition in 2006, the even more recent cow head protest and the other recent fascist actions against the Penang state government.
Would the director of TP likewise conclude that these recent incidents by “the Malays” were similarly “justified” because they were provoked?
The well-known poet and writer, Said Zahari wrote his poem “Hidden Hands” when May 13 broke out and he was under ISA detention in Singapore. He wasn’t even in the country! Still, he knew enough of the class nature of the ruling coalition to write this poem that is now the “soundtrack” of May 13.
To the evidence I produced of credible Malay intellectuals who did not find my book on May 13 “prejudiced against the Malays” as alleged in her interview with FMT, she says:
“No point going behind names like Subky and your ‘Malay colleagues’. They don’t bring validation. “
In fact, I only needed to point to one Malay intellectual to expose her own prejudices but I produced the highly respected (the late) Rustam Sani, Dr Syed Husin Ali, Dr Mohd Nasir Hashim, Dr Azmi Sharom and now, Said Zahari.
By the way, the PAS leader, Subky Latiff is also a renowned Malay journalist and an academic whose work I cited from “Southeast Asian Affairs”, a respectable academic journal of the Institute of Southeast Asian Affairs, Singapore.
All of these citations she dismisses as “my Malay colleagues” who “don’t bring validation”. Apart from echoing the old trite official version of May 13 that has no credibility, she does not cite a single intellectual of note to back her official version.
But apparently, the director of TP has another theory, namely,
“What about the view that May 13 was a push for the Chinese radicals at that time to get rid of the Malays and take over power in Selangor because only one seat stood in the way? Was that a failed “coup detat”? Gerakan held on to that seat in favour of the Alliance.”
Is the director of TP serious in posing that it was “the Chinese radicals” who had started the violence and that they were ready to take on Umno and the police and the army to achieve their objectives? So where is the evidence to back up this theory?
Declassify the Special Branch files on May 13
The only evidence we have is the fact that the violence started at the menteri besar’s house. I based that on the declassified documents from the British Archives which happen to be the ONLY declassified documents available to researchers.
The director of TP betrays her ignorance of public records when she says:
“You blame the British for the things that didn’t go your way, like this country not being a socialist country. But you stand by their records and declassified reports. I’m no stranger to the British public records library and I can say that British intelligence reports were known to also make mistakes. They are human. But some mistakes were not corrected and only done on hindsight.”
Bob Dylan has a line that says: “If you don’t underestimate me, I won’t underestimate you…” A credible social scientist knows how to sieve information from public records regardless of whether they are Malaysian, British or American.
I too read the rags of the ruling coalition but that does not mean than I am incapable of sieving the information I want. I would be only too happy to join the director of TP in calling for the immediate declassifying of the documents on May 13, especially the Malaysian Special Branch reports.
If they show that the violence did not start at the menteri besar’s residence but by “assorted bad elements” and “communists”, I will be the first to retract my theory in the book.
Ultimately, if we really want to create a society “at peace with itself”, we need to set up a Truth & Reconciliation Commission entrusted to encourage all witnesses including the police, army, hospital and Red Cross staff and families of victims to come forward to tell their story.
I made this abundantly clear in my article on “Deconstructing Prejudice”. I do not see why a witness statement by my brother in law who was a professor at the university Hospital where some of the bodies were brought to should not be credible.
Everyone who witnessed the violence and deaths during May 13 should be welcome to give us their narratives at a Truth & Reconciliation Commission hearing.
It’s class, stupid!
The director of TP fails to see that my thesis in “May 13: Declassified Documents…” was essentially that the actions of the emergent Malay state capitalist class against the Malay aristocratic class at the time amounted to a coup detat.
The historical personalities were significant in this analysis because of the class role they played. It is clear the director of TP is unfamiliar with social scientific usage when she asks: “Kua labelled Tun Razak as an ‘ambitious Malay capitalist’. Is it because of the colour of his skin…!”
That label is her own coinage. My thesis in the book was that Tun Razak led the emergent Malay state capitalist class to power. They subsequently came to an accommodation with the local Chinese and Indian capitalists and they lived happily ever after with the formation of the Barisan Nasional.
Unfortunately, this cosy story came to a sobering end in the general election of 2008 when the rakyat finally got wise to the “bumiputeraist” fairy tale as being the ideology spun by the Umnoputras after May 13.
The director of TP may not know that class analysis in the academic corridors of our local universities uses similar designations. Social scientists are interested in ethnicity, not race which is Umno’s strategy to divide Malaysians into “bumiputera” and “non-bumiputera”. We can’t really blame her since, as Roger Ebert, the film critic observes:
“Class is often invisible in the movies, and usually not the subject of films.”
Respecting Prime Ministers? Learn from Dr M!
Quite bizarre for an artist, the director of TP repeats her deference to authority:
“As a Malaysian, I accept anyone who is elected by the power of the majority as Prime Minister. It is about respect for the office of the prime minister, the highest office in the country. Not just anyone can become prime minister…”
I have already said my piece on a healthy disrespect for authority, including prime ministers in my previous article. I would think that the best reference and model for this is our former prime minister, the indefatigable Dr Mahathir Mohamad.
Now, if the director of TP has read the surat layang that he wrote against the Tunku during the May 13 crisis, she will probably think that it was not “sopan santun” and unbecoming of someone to slam the “Father of Independence” in that way.
And if the office of prime minister has to be so respected, why did Mahathir proceed to humiliate and denigrate Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi after he had ascended the post?
Prime Minister Najib Razak now has to tread carefully to not fall on the wrong side of our prickly former prime minister.
Let’s not forget that Mahathir does not respect prime ministers and presidents in other countries either – he has branded Prime Minister Tony Blair and President George Bush as war criminals for their culpability in the Iraq war at a Peoples’ Tribunal in Malaysia.
On this issue of the Iraq war, I agree with the tenacious Tun! So where is his “respect for the office of the prime minister, the highest office in the country…”? The director of TP should perhaps re-examine her values which are archaic compared to those of modern film makers and socially critical artists.
The emperor’s apologist
There is a Chinese phrase to describe artists or intellectuals who apologise for the ruling elite: “yuyong wenren”, which can be translated as “the emperor’s apologists”.
The director of TP does not merely parrot the “official” version of May 13, she even echoes the current attempt by the regime to demonise the organisation I belong to, viz. Suaram:
“Being a politician, left leaning and all, Kua is adept at playing victim. We see it everywhere. The pretenders who champion justice and truth, so cunning in engineering impressions to bring the country’s government of the day to its knees, even if it means serving foreign interest…”
It would be asking too much to gauge the director of TP’s opinion about the Scorpene scandal and her views on the murder trial of Altantuya although there is a movie there waiting to be made!
I have written quite a few articles to debunk such defamatory statements. She can google if she is interested in finding out the truth about the real foreign lackeys in this country and who has been profiting from arms procurements with foreign countries.
Doubtless, when Suaram sues for defamation, it will be against the administration headed by the Prime Minister the director of TP respects so much – fortunately for her, we will not bother to sue the lesser “emperor’s apologists”…
The director of TP should stop pretending to be progressive when she echoes the same cry by the far-right ethno-centrists that we have heard since colonial days:
“One thing for sure – what the spilling of blood of May13 did was bring people to their senses and decide whether you want to be in this country or you don’t. Make up your mind. And let’s work at living together.”
Typical of the far right racists, she does not appreciate that all citizens are entitled to the same justice, equality, democracy and human rights. Does she not know that many Malayans were banished to China and India during the Emergency against their will even though they had decided that they wanted to be in this country?
Unfortunately Ms Director of TP, any spilling of blood, i.e. those responsible for mass killings – whether at Batang Kali in 1948 or Kuala Lumpur in 1969 – must be brought to account.
The writer is Suaram adviser
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