May 13: A ghost resurrected?

Regina Lee (Malaysiakini)

Forty-one years have passed since the bloodshed on May 13, 1969. Is the issue really buried, or is it still a ghost, looming around, haunting Malaysian minds?

For the population at large, the incident would have largely gone unnoticed, like the May 13 of the past years.

But the mammoth rally organised by Gerakan Kebangkitan Rakyat (Gertak), which was to be held this morning until it was “postponed indefinitely” at the eleventh hour, following “advise” by another co-organiser, had drawn public ire accusing them of “resurrecting ghosts of the past”.

Many may argue that the younger generation, with only stories from their elders and questionable official accounts, are largely unaffected by the events of the past.

But some are already worried that the young, without the knowledge of the nation’s darkest hour, are bound to repeat it, egged on by politicians who keep playing up the issue and providing inaccurate stories.

NONEBut not independent lawmaker and Perkasa president Ibrahim Ali (left).

“May 13, to me, is history. To bring it up now means nothing to me,” he said.

When contacted by Malaysiakini, Ibrahim, widely known for his pro-Malay stance, had some choice words on the issue.

“People do make noise, but they are responsible. And I don’t think that another May 13 incident will happen because Malaysian society is more matured now,” he said, adding that “nothing happened during (former prime minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s) time”.

Maybe he forgot about the four-day long Kampung Medan clashes in 2001, which left six dead.

“I still think that we can mention May 13, there is nothing wrong. We don’t mean to stir anything up. We just want to study May 13, and the cause of it so that we can learn and avoid it,” said Ibrahim, when asked specifically about the Gertak rally.

But is the rally just to “study” the incident, which many will agree is a black spot in the annals of the country’s history?

Gertak May 13 rally

Organisers have previously stressed that a rally of that nature, coupled with the timing of the anniversary, where at least – according to official records – 196 people had been killed, and thousands more made homeless, is completely harmless.

Using the excuse of merely “educating”, “raising the awareness” and “motivating” the Malays to do whatever they can to make sure that another May 13 of our generation never happens again, Gertak has said that the rally is not meant to provoke or insult any other races.

NONEBut PKR’s Zaid Ibrahim (right) is not convinced.

“We all know what they’re talking about, and who they’re talking about when they say ‘Malay challenges’,” he said.

Zaid, who is also the Pakatan Rakyat secretariat coordinator warned that it is premature to say that May 13, in a liberal sense of the word, is over and that it is just a bogeyman.

“May 13 is many things to many people. You can’t simplify the episode and dismiss it without thinking what other people feel about that,” he said.

However, he said that the topic of May 13 can still be brought, but it has to be in the right context.

“You have to look at it as a nation together, but it is a traumatic event in our country’s history. If want you want to remember (the incident), we must remember the positive side of things,” he said.

NONEBut there seems to be a resurgence in the popular usage of the May 13 topic, especially by politicians to “scare” the public into voting for them, lest another bloody racial riot were to break out.

Most recently, Penang opposition leader Azhar Ibrahim thumped tables in the state assembly, warning of another “May 13” when “all the other races are unhappy”.

“The May 13 fears, are perpetrated and kept alive by this group of politicians with nothing better to do. It is not a popular movement,” said Zaid.

And Zaid reckons that “this group of politicians” are Umno leaders.

“Every time Umno loses in the polls to the non-Malays, they use this topic – ‘support us or May 13 will happen again’. Yes, it was a brutal time, but this is unnecessary,” he said.

‘May 13 an Umno tool’

One of the founding members of Suaram and educationist Kua Kia Soong also agreed and did not mince his words when he said that the topic of May 13 has become an “Umno tool”.

“Since the rout by Malaysian progressive forces in the March 8, 2008 elections, Umno has been floundering in a dilemma of playing the only game it knows – racism or try to win the Chinese, Indian and disaffected Malay votes.

NONE”Umno leaders have been using May 13 as a threat to Malaysians who would contemplate an end to BN rule and an end to blatant racism and racial discrimination,” said Kua, who had previously penned a book ‘May 13: Declassified Documents on the Malaysian Riots of 1969’.

The book had described the incident as a coup by second prime minister Abdul Razak Hussein (right) against his Regina

But whether the discussion of the issue is simply a “reaction to other racist demands by Chinese groups” as argued by Ibrahim, or a political tool as said by Kua, one thing is for certain – the threat of violence is still real, but only because various parties have no qualms about stoking the embers of racial intolerance.

As long as the topic is brought up without much afterthought, May 13 will only be an annoyance to Malaysians who have worked so hard in forging strong inter-ethnic ties.

But it is now up to the young generation, to exorcise the ghost once and for all, or let itcontinue haunting the fabric of Malaysian society.


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