On the Beat | By Wong Chun Wai

Overplay of a haunting tune

Instilling love for country: Pupils reciting the Rukun Negara (constitution) during the school’s National Day celebration. - filepic

Instilling love for country: Pupils reciting the Rukun Negara (constitution) during the school’s National Day celebration. – filepic

In Malaysia, the ghost of May 13 remains unburied. It is used as a threat even by some recent groups whose handful of members, if there are any, were not even born then. 

I AM now 53 years old and although I feel I am still in my early 40s, that does not stop younger people from addressing me as Uncle.

The other reality I have to accept is that I can now be officially admitted as a member in many senior citizens clubs as 50 is usually the entry point.

Biologically, it would not be wrong to say that my body is already half buried, if you understand what I am trying to say.

Here’s the point – when the May 13 riots took place in 1969, I was only eight years old, or more precisely I was only in Standard Two.

At that tender age, I could remember, based on what my parents told me, that people of different races were killing one another. As a curfew was in force, even a young, restless person like me had to be told what was going on.

I lived in a predominantly Malay area in Penang but the Federal Reserve Unit officers were mostly Chinese. We never felt threatened and I kept peeping through the windows during the curfew. To put it simply, I knew nothing and remember almost nothing.

It would take me decades – when I was old enough to read the more detailed history books both local and foreign – to get a better understanding of the riots. Since history is not exactly a precise science, it was necessary for me to understand the issue from a wider perspective to be able to pick up the inherent biases of the various writers.

We have to understand that just because they call themselves historians, it does not mean they are always objective.

According to some accounts, for example, the late Selangor Mentri Besar Datuk Harun Idris and his followers figured prominently in triggering off the riots.

The Chinese and Indian supporters of the opposition parties that had done well in the general election also went on a post-election victory parade, displaying their arrogance and chanting and displaying racist slogans.

The communists have been fingered too.

It would not be wrong to say that most of the people directly or indirectly involved are dead now. Those in their early adult life then, having experienced that horrible blot in our nation’s history, would be in their 60s and 70s by now.

Yes, most have gone on with their lives. But in Malaysia, the ghost of May 13 remains unburied. It is used as a threat even by some recent groups whose handful of members, if there are any, were not even born then.

Some of the politicians who lived through that era, unfortunately, also fall for the bait and would jump on the bandwagon each time the ghost of May 13 is brought to life.

It doesn’t help when a politician, wanting to show his bravado and his manhood, challenges his opponents to bring May 13 on. Seriously, what is on his mind?

Yes, Malaysians must never forget the incident but we all should move on – and this should have happened long ago.

In South Africa, the end of apartheid has been declared as the Day of Reconciliation, and annually on Dec 16, fostering reconciliation, healing and national unity is the order of the day.

Despite the bitterness of apartheid, where human dignity and justice were trampled upon, no one in South Africa is warning of a return to apartheid.

It is a day where people of all races celebrate the joy of taking the country forward and forgetting and forgiving the mistakes of the past.

Similarly, we should treat May 13 as a day of unity because, despite that tragedy, Malaysia has survived as a nation. We have moved on much more than some politicians like to think.

Older Malaysians may think May 13 is still being discussed in hushed tones and fear. But this is not the case. Most of us can talk about May 13 the same way we discuss many other issues. Out of the 30 million people in the country, those above 65 years now only make up about 5%.

Here’s the rest of the age breakdown: 0 -14 years (29.1%); 15 – 24 years (17%); 25 – 54 years old (41%), and 55 – 64 years (7.4%), according to the Malaysia Demographic Profiles 2013.

The point is this – three quarters of Malaysians were not even born in 1969, so what makes our politicians think that we spend our time warning each other of another racial incident? Yes, race relations have taken a dip but don’t blame the ordinary Malaysians.

The blame goes to bankrupt politicians and mindless netizens who post racist and seditious remarks on news portals and other social media like Facebook.

But the rest of us Malaysians, regardless of our race, religion and culture, share the same Malaysian problem – we talk about Malaysians getting killed daily by mosquitoes. Yes, mosquitoes, and yes, they don’t pick which race to bite.

And while we are having a blood transfusion on the hospital bed, we don’t ask for the race of the donors or the ethnic background of the nurses and doctors because we only want the most competent healthcare.

We also talk a lot about crime where no one is spared, not even top policemen and politicians. They scare us more than the May 13 reminders.

All of us have to cope with the increasing cost of living, loan repayment for the car, tuition fees for the school children and all the bills. It’s the same problem that cuts across all races. Let no politicians tell us differently.

If you live in Selangor, you don’t even know when the next water supply cut will happen. That’s a common headache for all of us. You think we have time to talk about May 13 when we do not even know if there will be water when we want to have a bath?

The majority of Malaysians are moderates and we have all been brought up to be peacemakers.

The moderates may have chosen to remain silent, some out of fear and others because they cannot take the pressure from the more extreme members of their own community. But it is safe to say that Malaysians want to keep this country peaceful.

Malaysians can proudly say that we achieved independence without any real fighting but through negotiations. That’s how we work and that’s how we will keep it.