On the Beat | By Wong Chun Wai

Minority dictating the rules

THE Da Vinci Code has, thankfully, been passed for screening in Malaysia despite the uproar by Christians worldwide who regard the movie as blasphemous.

Some churches in Malaysia have found Dan Brown's book offensive and instructed their members to stay away from the movie but that has not stopped The Da Vinci Code from being shown here.

The Home Affairs Ministry has done the right thing because we should adopt a culture of opening up hearts and minds.

But in the case of Lelaki Komunis Terakhir (The Last Communist), the authorities have adopted a different position.

The film, directed by independent filmmaker Amir Muhammad, is said to chronicle the life of Communist Party of Malaya (CPM) leader Chin Peng, now living in exile in Thailand.

Although it was approved by the Censorship Board without a single cut, it was banned by the ministry after an editor of a Bahasa Malaysia newspaper voiced his unhappiness – never mind that he hasn't even viewed the film.

The crux of the stinging reports was that Amir allegedly highlighted the exploits of the communists in the 90-minute film, which featured interviews with ageing CPM members.

Those who have reservations over the film included Home Minister Datuk Seri Radzi Sheikh Ahmad and Information Minister Datuk Zainuddin Maidin – both of whom have presumably also not seen the film – as they felt that many Malaysians have not forgiven the CPM for the many atrocities they committed.

It is this knee-jerk reaction from the authorities, which have succumbed to the demands of some individuals and groups, that has led many Malaysians to question the Government's rationale.

Several Members of Parliament have been invited by Culture, Arts and Heritage Minister Datuk Seri Dr Rais Yatim to a special screening of the film tomorrow.

Credit must go to Dr Rais, who agreed with Opposition Leader Lim Kit Siang that a special screening should be conducted for the elected representatives to draw their own conclusions.

Malaysians have no reason to question the sincerity of Radzi and Zam, who are both in their 60s and have experienced the upheaval caused by the CPM.

They certainly saw and shared the grief of those who sacrificed their lives for the country fighting the communists.

Their fear is that the film would promote Chin Peng, who is regarded as the man behind the destruction of property and the loss of many innocent lives.

But more than 50 years have passed.

The Cold War with the United States has ended and the Americans and Russians are now friends. Germany has unified as a nation while Communist China has embraced capitalism, with the Red label used by its leaders to hold on to power. Cuba and Vietnam have opened up their markets and taken advantage of the tourism dollars.

The odd one remaining is North Korea but you can be assured that no sane Malaysian youth would seek asylum there.

Today, the former CPM members at the Friendship Villages in Thailand have long traded their guns for handphones.

They have become businessmen, cashing in on curious visitors who crave for bits of history by visiting their old hideout tunnels.

Talk to them privately and they would tell you about their lost years because of their idealism. But for old time's sake and foolish pride, they would tell reporters and movie-makers like Amir that they had no regrets.

These are people of another era, who fought the Japanese, the British and later, the Malaysian armed forces. They thought Chin Peng and Chairman Mao were their greatest heroes in their proletariat struggles.

But in today's age of the Internet, iPod, MTV and Mawi, the young, who make up more than 60% of our population, do not even know who Chin Peng is.

It's the same as the Mat motor who wears a Che Guevara T-shirt and mistakes the celebrated Cuban revolutionary for Bob Marley the legendary reggae singer.

Hello, this is 2006. Chin Peng may still be the bogeyman to the older generation who cannot discard the ghost of the past but Amir, who is known for making arty films, doesn't stand a chance against The Da Vinci Code and Mission Impossible 3 in mainstream cinema.

Chin Peng against Tom Cruise and Tom Hanks, you must be joking.

Chin Peng is not news any more. His views have been recorded in My Side of History, a book compiled from interviews by Ian Ward and Norma Miraflor in 2003. Again, to the Government's credit, the book was not banned.

Since then, our universities have published books on former Malay leftists and CPM leaders, many in their 80s and 90s, so that their side of the story could be recorded before they pass away.

I cannot fathom how a movie on Chin Peng can be a semi-musical. From a journalistic point of view, Amir has failed because, how can a movie about Chin Peng be made without an interview with the main character?

After all, the rest of the CPM veterans are merely secondary sources – foot soldiers used as pawns by Chin Peng who was safe hiding in Beijing.

The human rights activists would cry that banning the film is an infringement of human rights, the arts groups have said it is mindless censorship against artistic expression. But the fact is, the majority of Malaysians do not really care. The authorities have, unwittingly, made a big fuss over a film which would likely be a flop.

But the sad reality that emerged from this storm in a teacup is that once again a small group that lacks a good grasp of the issue has been able to dictate what we can see, hear and even think – all because not many of us are vocal enough to stand up against the tyrannical few.