Archive for the ‘History’ Category

What can Muslim countries be proud of?

Tuesday, December 31st, 2019
Security forces carrying out a military operation to search for Islamic State militants in Anbar province, Iraq, on Sunday. Internal strife is common in many Muslim countries. REUTERS PIC

I’M writing about the world’s affairs in the past 100 years.
European countries had engaged in bloody civil wars prior to the first and the second world wars.

Most practised a liberal-capitalist economic system and freedom for humanity.

After World War 2, these European countries consolidated their positions and eventually formed the foundations of today’s European Union (EU).

The very aim of the EU was to assist in redeveloping weak European countries by establishing and advocating “shared prosperity”.

Eventually, through sheer determination, the European countries became economically and socially successful. Major powers like the United Kingdom (UK), Germany and France played the biggest roles.

The EU, centred in Brussels, managed to spread its influence by becoming the economic backbone of the continent, and broadening its role in political and economic systems in other parts of the world

The EU, alongside the United States of America, became a major power globally

The influence of the EU and US is widespread, and their military capabilities are exceptional, especially with the formation of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation.

Military treaties between the US and European countries, including Turkey, have turned the EU into a powerful bloc

On the other side of the world, there is another group of countries that adopt the socialist or communist ideology.

We cannot accept their ideology and belief system. But it is clear that these countries have historically dominated their people through the “doctrine” of their struggles.

It was the main reason why Russia was able to influence the Soviet Union and managed to dominate a large number of countries befo

The dissolution of the Soviet Union gave birth to eight independent countries, but Russia remained very strong by dominating the people’s way of thinking.

It was also militarily and economically strong

Then there is China. It was at one time in chaos, mainly due to the wars between warlords. The turmoil enabled the Japanese to control a large part of the country.

Prior to that, the British also managed to gain control in China. We can still see the British legacy in Shanghai today.

However, Mao Zedong, who led the ‘Long March’, succeeded in uniting China.

Adopting a strong communist ideology, Mao and his associates managed to unite the Chinese people under one republic, with the exception of Taiwan.

Chiang Kai-shek escaped communism in China and founded the more liberal and democratic Taiwan

Both nations competed with each other for power and progress and finally, as we are witnessing in this century, China has emerged as an economic and military superpower.

Mao managed to unite the Chinese despite the use of brute force.

Post-Mao, Deng Xiaoping launched economic reforms

Under the leadership of the Communist Party, China modernised into an economic and military superpower and is now the strongest rival to the US.

Taiwan, on the other hand, continues to develop under western influences and has made tremendous progress.

China’s progress and power have led other countries like Japan and South Korea to approach it despite warnings by the US.

Japan and South Korea are slowly changing their direction by building a close relationship with China while remaining allies with the US and European countries.

The same can be said about North Korea. Japan and South Korea are now approaching the country through dialogues.


The question is, where is Islam and the Muslims now, after
the British, Dutch, Portuguese, French, Italian and other European colonialists left Asia and Africa?

The Islamic countries gained independence after the colonialists were forced to leave.

Lately, we have witnessed how the Islamic countries became birthplaces of rich leaders.

The purchase of luxury items, such as paintings worth millions of dollars by these leaders, were revealed by the media.

They are also proud owners of luxury yachts, hotels and apartments in Switzerland, London and Paris, among many other places. They are also well known for visiting casinos.

Islamic leaders, be they presidents or kings, are known for their wealth and luxurious life.

To keep their country secure and to protect themselves from being overthrown by their own people, they would sometimes seek help from the major powers like the US, Britain or France

The fact is, Muslim-led countries are still the proxies of superpowers.

Not being fully independent, especially in the way of thinking, has made Muslims weak.

Internal strife is common. We can see how Muslim wealth and lives are so cheaply ‘lost’ in the Islamic world.

Look at what has happened in Iraq, Syria, Libya, Yemen, Somalia, Sudan, and many others. In Afghanistan, the war has been raging for more than 40 years and is sadly being fought between Muslims

While the socialist-communist countries — China and Russia — can be proud of their strength, and so, too, the liberal-capitalist countries such as the US, France, Germany and the UK, what about Muslims

We Muslims always claim that we are the best, that Islam is superior to the others. This is continuously said in Islamic lectures and sermons. But Muslims are still at the bottom in terms of the economy, social justice and military capabilities

The fights continue and Muslims will always be chasing the pack.


Along came one man, the prime minister of Malaysia, Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad.

He has seen the ‘epidemic’, especially in the Islamic world, from post-World War I to World War 2, and up till now.

He often raises the matter of Muslims’ weaknesses in both open and closed-door meetings.

Muslims need to unite because they used to lead the world economically and militarily, as well as in education.

As the most senior leader in the Islamic world, Dr Mahathir is the most qualified person to talk about the unity of the ummah.

Alongside leaders from Turkey, Iran and Qatar, he initiated discussions on the unification of Muslims with the intention of liberating them.

At the very least, with ideas that focus on the future, the strengths of the Islamic world could be improved and mobilised, earning respect from others

This very idea was translated into the Kuala Lumpur Summit (KL Summit).

The success of the KL Summit is probably not immediately evident, but the idea of unification of the ummah must be continuously pursued so that Muslims can freely discuss ideas, without the restrictions of sect, race and tribe that have often shackled the Islamic world.

The KL Summit was a platform to seriously discuss how the strengths of the Islamic world should be portrayed, and how wealth should be shared among Muslims, as what was done by the superpowers in the Eastern and Western blocs.

In the teachings of Islam, helping each other is a must, but this has never been done by Muslims.

Ironically, it is being practised by others, who interpret the teachings of the Quran themselves.

Dr Mahathir has started something new to bring Islam and the Islamic civilisation back to the world on loan by Allah S.W.T. so that we are able to return to Allah S.W.T. by fulfilling the teachings of Islam.

In the Islamic world today, there are at least two countries that have great military capacity, namely Turkey and Iran.

We are expecting the two countries, together with Indonesia, Pakistan, Malaysia and Qatar, to unite the ummah and bring about the enlightenment of the ummah of today and the future.

By Mohamad Sabu.

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2020: Don’t let Trump — or China — make all the running

Tuesday, December 31st, 2019
United States President Donald Trump answering questions from reporters at the Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida recently. During the course of 2020, there are dangers of Trumpian grandstanding, especially in foreign affairs. AFP PIC

ALAS, there is going to be a lot of Trump next year. He has been impeached by the House of Representatives, only the third US president to suffer the ignominy.

But the Senate is not likely to convict President Trump and evict him from office, given his Republican Party majority in that chamber.

From the time the Senate trial starts in January or whenever, long or short, right through to
the US presidential election in November it will be one long narrative of an alleged witch-hunt by the Democrats against Trump since his triumph over Hillary Clinton in 2016.

On being impeached, his six-page letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was vitriolic and expansive on his achievements as president.

The vitriol and the proclaimed glory he has brought to America will be a long thread to the US presidential election on Nov 3, 2020.

If he is re-elected, we might see Trump in Malaysia for the Apec summit soon after. In that week, whether in Kuala Lumpur or Washington, we will get President Trump 2.0, which would make 1.0 look like a picnic. So beware.

It is going to be an extremely bitter presidential campaign. Support for Trump has remained steady but there are signs of its cracking up following the impeachment. One ominous sign for him is Christianity Today, an influential magazine founded by the late Reverend Billy Graham, coming out against the president for “profoundly immoral” conduct in offic

But Trump is likely to pull out all the stops to get his supporters into an unthinking frenzy. Whoever the Democrats might put up against him, one is reminded of the rueful comment by 1950s presidential candidate Adlai Stevenson on being told he had the support of every thinking American: “Yes, but I need a majority.”

There is every likelihood of the Democrats putting up someone who appeals to the thinking American. So we shall see where America is at on Nov 3, 2020.

Whatever, win or lose, during the course of 2020, there are dangers of Trumpian grandstanding, especially in foreign affairs.

In June this year Trump had ordered airstrikes on Iranian radar and missile sites following Iran’s downing of a US drone, but reversed his decision just 10 minutes before the strikes, with American planes already up in the air.

During the 2017 missile crisis with North Korea he had ordered that Seoul be evacuated, a move that would have been read in Pyongyang as preparation for an attack on the north. Luckily, James Mattis, the then secretary of defence, quietly ignored the order. There are hardly any such characters now in the US administration.

With Trump back to calling Kim Jong-Un “Rocket Man” and Kim calling Trump a dotard, any replay of tensions in Northeast Asia during the US presidential campaign would not be funny.

There is now a ceasefire in the US-China trade war, to be signed in the new year. The first-phase agreement will halve the tariffs imposed on US$120 billion of imports from China from 15 to 7.5 per cent, with no more new US tariffs to be imposed, in return for an increase in a variety of American imports into China, mainly agricultural products, by US$200 billion over two years. There are also some promises by China on intellectual property protection.

Any number of things can still go wrong. The US Trade Representative is the arbiter of the agreement. Disputes can arise. US-China relations have been seriously damaged. Third countries, such as Australia, Brazil and Canada may object to violation in the agreement of WTO non-discrimination provisions particularly in agriculture.

Even if the ceasefire holds, will Trump next train his protectionist guns on the EU, while lapping it up with Britain after Brexit? The US has a US$180 billion deficit with the EU. The American president has been straining at the leash to escalate trade confrontation with the Europeans.

Already punitive tariffs have been imposed on US$7.5 billion of EU goods since last October. The perennial conflict over subsidies between Boeing and Airbus may worsen, especially as Boeing is in turmoil following the 737 MAX debacle and the recent sacking of its CEO.

Trump is also going after imports of Italian cheese, French wines and, before Boris Johnson’s election triumph earlier this month, British whisky. He seems set on imposing levies on countries that were promising digital sales taxes on American companies, starting with France.

Just recently, Indonesia also announced the introduction of such sales taxes. Malaysia also has such intention.

Vietnam is being watched for its sharply rising trade surplus with the US. Indeed this month, perhaps as a foretaste, US duties of up to 456 per cent were imposed on imports from Vietnam of corrosion resistance steel (CORE) — although in this instance there were valid grounds based on US anti-dumping and anti-subsidy duties.

Nevertheless, the clear signals are, in an American presidential election year, with Trump under the cosh, we can expect in 2020 an international security situation fraught with risk, and no world economic peace.

All other states should STAND UP and SPEAK OUT for a rules-based international order. That, however, would not be enough. They should WORK AT and ACT to form associations and relationships which affirm the rules-based order they proclaim.

I our region, Vietnam takes over the chair in 2020, and has chosen “Cohesive and Responsive” Asean as the theme. As usual with Asean, these are mere words. What about being also ACTION-ORIENTED?

Beyond the theme, Asean should roll out its 2020 priorities to be adopted by the first leaders summit in April-May.

First, work out a common stand to be taken at the G-20 summit on Nov 21-22 in Riyadh; also, support for shared prosperity at the Apec summit in Kuala Lumpur earlier that month.

External trade and geopolitical pressures are a great risk to Asean’s future progress and growth, with trade accounting for 90 per cent of its GDP. Trade is Asean’s lifeblood. Protect it.

Engage considerable economies such as the EU, Japan, Korea, Canada, Australia and India. Indeed third-country substantial presence in Asean would be strategic diversification.

Second, get the RCEP signed which, if done early in the year, could come into effect on Jan 1, 2021. Even without India the 15-state RCEP would be the largest trading bloc in the world, and India’s absence would only minimally affect the growth rates of each member state, with the prospect of intra-member state trade now accounting for 32 per cent of the total being enhanced.

Thid, and most importantly because of its developed integration plans, MAKE IT HAPPEN: the Asean single market and production base, with seamless connectivity of people, capital and services. The US$3 trillion fifth largest economy in the world is an aggregate. Just imagine if it was truly ONE economy. The present average growth rate of 5.2 per cent could at least be realistically sustained. What more with new technologies which should not be hindered from bringing the benefits they offer.

Alas, intra-Asean trade has stagnated at about a quarter of its total trade, 77 per cent of its merchandise trade being with extra-regional markets. Intra-Asean FDI has also stagnated, for the last eight years, at 15-20 per cent of total flows. Now more than ever — the world in 2020 likely to be unruly — Asean has to stop mouthing platitudes and work to realise its full potential.

Fourth, Asean should strengthen its relationship with China by earning Beijing’s real as opposed to feigned respect. Fear to antagonise China or China-can-do-no-wrong is a sure way to realise the replaced domination of one great power by another.

China benefited from the rules-based world trade order since it joined the WTO in 2001, but “rules-based” also encompasses standards other than just in trade.

Thus unfair practices such as in particular project and financing arrangements under the BRI (Belt and Road Initiative, for example Malaysia’s East Coast Rail Link) are something Asean should look out for — as indeed it should work out more generically the synergy envisaged with the regional grouping’s MPAC (Master Plan on Asean Connectivity) 2025.

The objective for sustainable infrastructure development, for instance, was identified in the Asean-China Strategic Partnership Vision 2030 signed in Singapore in 2018.

Asean must protect its environment and not allow, for instance, the kind of transformation over the last 40 years of the Mekong to cause it future grief. With the Mekong, dams built in China and now in Laos, have posed a danger to fish stocks and limited the flow of vital sediment. Climate change is a growing threat to the river, particularly to cities and settlements in the Mekong delta.

Massive damage awaits. Irresponsible infrastructure development such as this cannot continue.

In respect of the South China Sea, Asean cannot concede that just because China makes an extensive claim of sovereignty other countries have no right to make theirs.

Just recently, on Dec 12, Malaysia filed a submission with the UN to establish the limits of its continental shelf in the South China Sea. Beijing responded by claiming Malaysia’s action “infringes on China’s sovereignty, sovereign rights and jurisdiction, and also violates basic principles of international law” — this after an international tribunal had found in 2016 that China’s nine-dash line claiming almost all of the South China Sea has no basis in international law.

Indeed, as against China’s contention of its ancient rights, eminent historian Wang Gungwu has written that the first maps to claim the South China Sea were Japanese and were inherited by Nationalist China.

The point is, if China begins to act as if what it says is law, then Asean and the region would be in a worse position than it was under American domination. This is something China too might want to think about.

Asean should remind China of its often expressed policy respecting the sovereign rights of other countries and the rules-based international order. Here we have China challenging the rules-based order in areas it views as impinging upon its national sovereignty — as determined in extenso by Beijing alone.

Asean should in 2020 take the reasonable stand by calling for respect for the sovereignty, equally, of each of its member states.

Give them a free rein, Trump’s America or Rising China, will put other countries between a rock and a hard place.

The writer, a former NST group editor, returns to write on local and international political affairs. He is also a member of the Economic Action Council chaired by the prime minister

By Munir Majid.

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In a historic first, ex-PM Najib takes stand to answers charges

Tuesday, December 3rd, 2019

KUALA LUMPUR: Today (Tuesday) is the day for Malaysians to see, for the first in the country’s history, a former prime minister takes the stand to answer charges against him in a court of law.

Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak, 66, will testify from the witness box as the first defence witness to rebut his seven charges of misappropriating RM42 million in SRC International Sdn Bhd funds before High Court Judge Mohd Nazlan Mohd Ghazali.

According to his co-counsel Harvinderjit Singh, Najib would be called as the first witness and the defence had readied one witness on the first day of the defence proceedings.

Today, Najib will be first questioned by his defence during examination-in-chief and later he will be cross-examined by the prosecution.

On Nov 11, Justice Mohd Nazlan ordered Najib to enter his defence on three counts of criminal breach of trust (CBT), three charges of money laundering and one count of abuse of position in relation to the SRC funds after finding that the prosecution had established a prima facie case against the accused.

The accused has three options which he must choose from – to give a sworn evidence in the witness box where he will be subjected to cross-examination; to give an unsworn statement from the dock where he cannot be cross-examined; or to remain silent, in which case the court must proceed to convict him.

The Pekan MP chose the first option – to give evidence under oath from the witness stand where he will be cross-examined by the prosecution.

In his judgment, Justice Mohd Nazlan among others ruled that Najib had used his office or position for gratification and had utilised RM42 million of SRC’s funds, in which he had an interest, for his personal interest and own advantage.

The judge also held that the accused had enormous influence and wielded an overarching position of power in SRC and the prosecution has succeeded in establishing there was a CBT by Najib over funds of the company.

In relation to the three money-laundering charges, Justice Mohd Nazlan held that the RM42 million proceeds in Najib’s accounts were originated from unlawful activity, as established in the CBT charges.

“A prima facie case has therefore been made out against the accused in respect of each of the single charge of use of position for gratification, the three CBT charges and three money laundering charges. As such, I now call upon the accused to enter his defence in respect of all the seven charges,” the judge said.

Najib, who served as the sixth prime minister from 2009 to 2018, is the first head of government of Malaysia to find himself in the dock of a court.

He is accused of committing the offences between Aug 17, 2011 and March 2, 2015. The court fixed Dec 3 and 4, Dec 9 until 12, and Dec 16 to 19 for Najib to enter his defence.

The prosecution team is led by Attorney-General Tan Sri Tommy Thomas. The team also comprises ad-hoc Deputy Public Prosecutor Datuk V.Sithambaram while Tan Sri Muhammad Shafee Abdullah leads a group of defence counsel.

On Oct 22 and 23, the court heard lengthy submissions from the prosecution and defence teams. The prosecution had on Aug 27, closed its case after 58 days of trial with 57 witnesses called to testify.

During the trial, the prosecution tendered more than 750 exhibits, including bank documents relating to Najib’s bank accounts, cash transactions, minutes of meetings and Blackberry Messenger chats over Najib’s transactions.

Najib was first brought to the Sessions Court here on July 4, 2018 where he was charged with three counts of CBT and one count of abuse of position.

On Aug 8, 2018, he was brought to the Sessions Court again and charged with three counts of money laundering, involving the same money. The cases were later transferred to the High Court with the charges consolidated in one trial.

With regard to the CBT charges, Najib, as a public servant and agent, namely Prime Minister and Finance Minister of Malaysia, and Advisor Emeritus of SRC International Sdn Bhd (SRC), allegedly misappropriated RM27 million and RM5 million respectively of RM4 billion belonging to SRC.

He was charged with committing the two offences at AmIslamic Bank Berhad, Ambank Group Building, No 55, Jalan Raja Chulan here, between Dec 24, 2014, and Dec 29, 2014.

On the third count, Najib allegedly misappropriated RM10 million of RM4 billion belonging to SRC at the same place between Feb 10, 2015, and March 2, 2015.

The three charges are framed under Section 409 of the Penal Code which provides an imprisonment for up to 20 years, with whipping and liable to fine upon conviction.

On the charge of abusing his position, Najib as Prime Minister and Minister of Finance of Malaysia, allegedly used his position to commit bribery involving RM42 million through his participation or involvement in the decision to provide government guarantees for loans from the Retirement Fund Incorporated to SRC International amounting to RM4 billion.

He was charged with committing the offence at the Prime Minister’s Office, Precinct 1, Putrajaya, Federal Territory of Putrajaya, between Aug 17, 2011 and Feb 8, 2012.

The charge, under Section 23 of the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission Act 2009 and punishable under Section 24 of the same Act, provides an imprisonment for up to 20 years and a fine of not less than five times the amount or value of the bribe or RM10,000, whichever is higher, upon conviction.

On the three money-laundering charges, Najib is alleged to have received RM27 million, RM5 million and RM10 million, respectively, of proceeds from unlawful activities, via Real-Time Electronic Transfer of Funds and Securities (Rentas) into his two AmIslamic Bank Berhad accounts, bearing the numbers 2112022011880 and 2112022011906.

The offences were allegedly committed at AmIslamic Bank Berhad, AmBank Group Building, No. 55, Jalan Raja Chulan here, between Dec 26, 2014, and Feb 10, 2015,.

The charges were framed under Section 4(1)(b) of the Anti-Money Laundering, Anti-Terrorism Financing and Proceeds of Unlawful Activities Act (AMLATFPUAA) 2001.

If convicted, the ex-premier faces up to 15 years imprisonment and a fine of up to five times the sum or value of the illicit proceeds or RM5 million, whichever is higher, on each count.


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Another look at S’pore’s separation

Sunday, November 24th, 2019
By Patrick Keith (2005, Media Masters Pte. Ltd. 197 pages)
Ousted! so the blurb on the back cover claims, ‘is the first book entirely dedicated to the climactic story of Singapore’s expulsion from Malaysia’. As such it should be required reading for all students of Malaysian history, indeed for all Malaysians who have ever wondered what caused the expulsion and how different their lives would be if that had not happened. However, having been published by a small private company in Singapore, the book has gone under the radar of most scholars (there is a mention of the book, among mostly studies and monographs, in the footnotes to Kevin Y L Tan’s ‘Federating for Survival’ on page 131 of ‘50 Years of Malaysia: Federalism Revisited’ Edited by Andrew J. Harding and James Chin, Marshall Cavendish, 2014.) and has also been largely overlooked by the reading public up to now, although it is easily available at only RM45.00. Published in 2005, it tells of events that happened in 1965, forty years after the fact, so to speak.

Patrick Keith, who was at one time a Deputy Director of External Information in Malaysia, was close to the centre of the action, so to speak. He explains in the Foreword why it has taken four decades for the book to be available to the general public. ‘The answer is deceptively simple; its subject matter…. [the author is] encumbered by two correlated factors – the need for self censorship and the risk of courting the wrath of key political camps involved during this turbulent period.’ The blurb on the back makes it clear: ‘This book deals, evenhandedly, with the realities of racial politics – a subject that has all these years been considered “too delicate, too sensitive or, too controversial….there have, of course, been few studies by academics whose carefully-drawn sentiments are comfortably retained within the halls of higher learning.”.

Thus it was felt in 2005 that the events leading to the separation of Singapore from Malaysia could finally be revealed to the general public. However, judging by the present political climate, even today, half a century or so later, some of the matters revealed by the author here may still be considered ‘sensitive’ to some people who might even invoke our Constitution or the law on sedition to prevent public discourse on this subject. Elsewhere in the book, Keith puts the reason succinctly, “These extremists preferred to stick to their version of history which was a book of painful memories.” Apparently this historical narrative of ‘painful memories’ has evolved into the claim of lordship over the ‘immigrant’ races by virtue of a ‘social contract’, the origin of which is just as ephemeral as Rousseau’s.

Only 197 pages long in large print, the book is by no means a simple and straightforward historical account of the separation between Malaysia and Singapore. It is, on the contrary, a tale of ordinary flesh and blood characters with their hopes, fears and prejudices placed at the crossroads of history and forced to make choices then and there, with the full knowledge that they would be judged by the future generations at some point in time. It is also a story of a birth of a nation whose birthright was hijacked immediately after delivery, when the back of its midwife is turned. It is suggested that it is time that we face up with the truth of what happened all those years ago, with courage and compassion, and a willingness to call a spade a spade, leave it at that, and be brave enough to fight for our common heritage.

“Am I politic, am I subtle, am I a Machiavel?” asks Mine Host of the Garter, in Shakespeare’s ‘The Merry Wives of Windsor’. The same question may be asked as we read of the main characters in this book, which like a play is divided into three acts or sections, each consisting of sub-topics graphically titled thus:

“Section One: The Prince and the Ghostly Snake; The Envelope Affair; Alliance for Independence; Red Ribbons on a Silver Platter; To Hell with Sukarno; Riots from Indonesia; Stab in the Back and A New Storm.

Section Two: The Trapped Lion; The PAP Trounced; Blood must Flow; The Unspoken Word; The ‘Ultras’; and The Unbending Backbone.

Section Three: The Man from Malacca; Confronting Lee Kuan Yew; Dealing with Wreckers; The Fight Goes On; From A to Z and Z to A; The Josey Affair; Destination Disaster and The Final Act.”

The ‘Prince’ in Section One is, of course, Tunku Abdul Rahman, our first Prime Minister, and the ‘Ghostly Snake’ is a case of shingles from which the Prince is recovering in a London clinic. Surrounded by flowers from well wishers, the Prince reads of the events back home and is ruminating on the course he has to take. He is also disappointed with what he has read in the British papers, and reflects on the slights and abuses he has suffered from the colonials. Back to the problems that are plaguing the country at home, he contemplates the reports he has received from his Deputy. We are told that he is, however, not one to rush to take action; a cool head, to him, is a man’s best friend. As Keith puts it: “He was also a virtuoso at turning negative experiences to his eventual advantage. He chose what to feel and when.” His patience however, is soon to be tested to the limits.

The ‘Envelope Affair’ was to the Prince a revelation of the true nature of the person that he has been dealing with:

“It was difficult to dispel the feeling that behind a number of attacks on him in foreign newspapers lurked a non-British figure – the figure of Lee Kuan Yew, leader of Singapore’s ruling People’s Action Party (PAP).”

The Prince knew that Singapore was wealthy, with over 400 million Straits Dollars in reserve. Mindful of the backward conditions in the Borneo States he had asked Lee to make a grant of 50 million. After ‘a lot of unpleasant haggling,’ Lee offered a loan on special terms. As for Singapore’s contribution to the Federal coffer, he had asked for 55% of the revenue to be collected from the island. Lee bargained, the Prince agreed to 40%, Lee knocked down another 1%, and, to the shock and horror of the Prince, insisted on that to be put down in writing at that instant, on the back of a ‘grubby’ envelope at the Ritz Hotel. The Prince felt demeaned by such ungentlemanly behavior on the part of his political ally, and it was to affect the decision he has now to make.

The other incident which caused the Prince further embarrassment was the ‘Red Ribbons’ affair. On the 31st day of August, 1963, Lee had on the steps of City Hall in the island state proclaimed its independence from the British to the consternation of Kuala Lumpur, whose declaration of the formation of Malaysia had to wait for confirmation from the United Nations. Adding salt to the wound, Lee said, not without some disdain, “One of the sad things of Malaysia is the naïve approach of some people to whom power was handed over on a silver platter with red ribbons by British royalty in uniform.”

By a strange twist of fate, September 16, 1965, the date for the eventual inauguration of Malaysia was also the fortieth birthday of Lee. Keith says, ‘whether the Tunku was aware of the coincidence or not has never been documented.’ He was shocked, however by the abrupt calling for election in Singapore by Lee on September 3 with polling day fixed for September 21. The Alliance party which put up 42 candidates in the ensuing election failed to win even one single seat, and this only five days after Malaysia was inaugurated, much to the chagrin of the Tunku. It still rankles in his mind.

In the Second section, Keith presents us with the view of the matter from across the Causeway. We are told that during the financial negotiations before the merger Lee had to face a new challenge in the form of the Malayan Finance Minister, Tan Siew Sin. Says Keith:

“To him, the Chinese in Singapore, like all entrepreneurial Chinese anywhere, were practical and pragmatic. Tan decided he must show them that as a minister in the central government he could control their fortunes…..[they] would see where their best interest lay and would support him personally as well as his MCA. Tan decided he would play this card when the terms for Singapore’s entry into Malaysia came up for further discussion.”

Lee’s reaction was sharp and down to earth: “Tan opened our cupboards and found we had money, so he wants 50 million. But this is hard – earned cash, not money from heaven. We are too poor to play Santa Claus. Tan Siew Sin wants the money given to him so he can give it out. He doesn’t want it given direct to Sabah and Sarawak because that might make them independent….”

There was more acrimony between the two after the final negotiations on the proposed merger in London. Lee had counter-proposed an interest free loan of 150 million in lieu of the grant. Tan on his return gleefully disclosed that in London Lee had tried to be ‘too clever’ and had made a fool of himself to the tune of 5 million as he had given away much more in interest on his loan. Lee could only reply, “Utter rot.”

Malaysia had brought prosperity to Singapore. Business boomed, land prices rose and the stock exchange was bullish, but it also brought sorrow to the island. Within months race riots erupted on the island. Keith gave a matter of fact account of the events leading up to and after the unrest. The first feeling of euphoria gave way to a realization that the main ethnic groups did not see eye to eye on their individual status within the federation, differences were exploited by politicians for their own ends, and, fanned by inflammatory speeches by extremist groups hostile sentiments flared into civil disturbance and riots in some parts of the island. The toll: 23 dead; 465 injured, hence the subtitle, ‘Blood must flow’.

As a counterpoint, in this section, it is a pleasure to read Keith’s account of Tan Siew Sin giving the Budget speech on November 25, 1964:

“Budget day was supposed to have been Tan’s moment of glory. For weeks prior to his Budget address, he had kept both sides of the Causeway guessing. He enjoyed their mixed curiosity and anxiety….At half- past – two in the afternoon of November 25, Tan strode into the crowded session of parliament and sensed the sudden surge of excitement. He looked pleased with himself….The Minister of Finance began slowly and deliberately….Tan paused for a sip of water and surveyed his audience…His eyes darted to the clock and he saw it was time to unzip his bag of secrets.”

The Budget Speech also brought forth heated exchanges from both sides of the House. Regrettably parliamentary sessions as they are now are no better, if not actually worse, than they were half a century ago, for then there still was a some sense of decorum, apparently rubbed off from the British. Keith regaled us with a verbatim account of the exchange between D.R. Seenivasagam of the PAP and an alliance back-bencher, Tahir bin Abdul Majid:

Tahir: “Sit down.”

Seenivasagam: “You sit down.”

Tahir: “Shut up.”

Seenivasagam: “You shut up.”

Later, in response to the Minister of Transport’s allegation of Seenivasagam’s unparliamentary remark about the PM:

Seenivasagam: “Clean your ears.”

Sardon: “I have cleaned my ears.”

Seenivasagam: “Clean them harder then.”

From the government back-benches came a loud chorus of voices and then a sharp exchange of abuse: “Stupid ass,” “Bastard,” “Son of a Bitch” and “Pariah.

Keith seems to be channeling Lee when he writes of Lee observing the parliamentary proceedings, ‘Lee had noticed a strange air of unreality about Parliament. It was like watching men chasing after shadows and battling with illusions. They would often pick a trivial subject and debate it as though it were essential. All the while one truly important reality of the Malaysian situation was being avoided in parliament like a plague.’

The subject which was avoided ‘like a plague’ is the racial problem. Not one to avoid a problem, Lee had taken the bull by the horns in his address in parliament:

“They (the Malay Extremists) have triggered off something basic and fundamental. Malaysia – to whom does it belong? To Malaysians. But who are Malaysians? I hope I am, Mr Speaker Sir. But sometimes sitting in this chamber, I doubt whether I am allowed to be Malaysian. This is the doubt that hangs over many minds, and in the next contest, if this goes on it will be on very different lines.”

The simple idea of a Malaysia for Malaysians sought to make ethnic origins irrelevant, it was however to cause a split between the people of the nation into two groups, Malays on the one side, and non-Malays on the other. The call for a ‘Malaysian Malaysia’ was anathema to the extremists on the mainland to whom Malaya was theirs by the mere dint of their names and religion. Yet to all the other ethnic groups in the federation, it was a rallying call for equal treatment and opportunity. In this section Keith gives us the picture from both sides of the divide.

In his tour of Australia and New Zealand in March 1965, Lee made an impassioned plea for assistance to make Malaysia an equal and open society. He said he was not opposed to the special privileges of the Malays as was alleged by his opponents, but that there was a better way to solve the problem of poverty. His solution was education, an educated man would be in a better position to achieve his aspirations. The speeches he made went down well overseas, especially among Malaysian students, so much so that Radio and TV Malaysia was instructed to give only minimal coverage to Lee.

On the other hand, the thunder from the other side of the Causeway was loud and unrelenting. Keith quotes Jaafar Alba, a recent immigrant from Indonesia after World War II, “To say that the Malays are in the same category as the other races is an insult to the Malays.” Syed Nasir bin Ismail, another Ultra, ‘solemnly pronounced’: “This is an unprecendented insult to the Malays who first came to Malaya about 3,000 years before Christ.” As the clouds gathered, the Tunku, then in Tokyo, was like a man at the end of his tether. He addressed the Ultras in conciliatory tones and called for unity.

In May 1965, in the face of the gathering storm, the Malaysian Solidarity Convention (MSC) was formed by the then six opposition parties, the United Democratic Party, the People’s Progressive Party, the PAP, uPKO, Machinda and Supp with the aim of achieving a Malaysian Malaysia through peaceful and constitutional means. According to Keith, Lee was the ‘prime mover’ behind its formation, giving the rationale behind the formation in the following terms: “We want to established not a new government, but the acceptance of the fundamental principle written in the Constitution that we are all Malaysians regardless of race, creed or colour.”

The MSC was to be the vehicle for the ‘Malaysian Malaysia’ idea. It was clear from the outset that the Ultras saw it, in today’s parlance, as an ‘existential threat’ to themselves, and would never allow it to run its course. The message was delivered by a young Ultra speaking at the opening of the Parliament in May ‘65 after the King’s speech.

Keith describes what happened:

An up and coming Umno backbencher, Dr Mahathir Mohamad, was given the honour of proposing a motion of thanks to his Majesty. After a hurried Thank You to the king, the young doctor from Kedah swung into a bitter racial attack on Lee and his supporters. Mahathir said the Chinese in Singapore who supported Lee were selfish and arrogant, living in a purely Chinese environment where Malays could only exist as chauffeurs. The Chinese lived in palaces, went about in huge cars and had the best things in life, while the so-called privileged lived in huts. They have never known Malay rule and cannot bear the idea that the people they have so long kept under their heels should now be in the position to rule.

The speech was greeted with disbelief on the other side of the aisle. Seenivasagam called Mahathir “a chauvinist of the first grade.” The speech had insinuated that the PAP was ‘the enemy within’ determined to destroy Malaysia. From that time onwards it would seem that the die was cast for the separation, neither side could or would concede an inch from their assumed positions in the parliament. The exchange of barbs from both sides was unrestrained, and there were shouts of “traitor get out.” Keith continues:

“Lee went back to Singapore over the weekend and spoke at a small function. He referred to Mahathir’s speech in parliament and said Singapore had never agreed to Malay rule. It wanted Malaysian rule. If there were other people who were determined to have Malay rule, alternative arrangements would have to be made, and the sooner the better. Those states which wanted a Malaysian Malaysia could get together.”

Section Three: This section looks at the crisis from the point of view of Tan Siew Sin, the man from Malacca. It looks first at the achievements his father, Sir Tan Cheng Lock, whose views on racial comity were ideosyncratic, but somewhat advanced for his time. Keith quotes him on his sentiments for racial harmony among the races in Malaya:

“The combination of different races in one state is as necessary a condition of civilised life as the combination of men in society. Inferior races are raised by living in political union with races intellectually superior; exhausted and decaying races are revived by the contact of a younger vitality…..Practically every state in the modern world is multi-national.

Cultural diversity is as desirable as individual diversity. Variety is the indispensible condition of the advance of the human mind.”

It is no surprise that the Chinese in Malacca got on well with the British, and subsequently with the Malays. Tan Cheng lock subscribed fully to that philosophy, but his son found himself confronted with the loud socialistic lawyer from across the Causeway in a union he had hoped could work in the way that they had with the British with mutual respect and accomodation. Tan Siew Sin could see that there was no way the union could work with Lee, the left wing politician of the Fabian Society variety, in charge of Singapore. The mutual animosity reached its height after Tan’s budget speech. Says Keith:

“By June 1965, Tan Siew Sin was convinced he had been right about Lee all along. With the determination of a slighted aristocrat, he decided Malaysia must have no more of this pugnacious, pedantic politician. Lee Kuan Yew was better out of Malaysia. Cut him out.”

Like the Tunku, Tan was a politician of the old school. Differences over issues could be settled over some drinks, and things would be the same again. Tan was content to let the Malay leaders in the Alliance run the country if the Chinese were given citizenship in the federation.

The economy was booming, and the country was making great strides in improving the infrastructure. In short there was a place for everyone in the country. He was confident the Alliance-type of set-up was best for the country. He had tried to win the support of the Chinese businessmen in Singapore, to convince them that both countries can prosper together, but he had been rebuffed. Tan was to be disappointed on all fronts.

In Section Three, ‘The Final Act’, Keith has all the characters on the stage, so to speak. The Prince returns from London.

His Deputy who has kept him abreast of the matters at home, awaits his decision. Lee is cautiously optimistic that a ‘looser federation’ may satisfy the extremists, and might give the Prince some breathing space, he does not know that the Prince has made up his mind. The Ultras are baying for blood: “Lee Kuan Yew is destroying peace and harmony. Discuss nothing with the traitor. Lee Kuan Yew is a snake with two heads. Crush Lee Kuan Yew.” So screamed the placards carried by Umno supporters welcoming the returning Prime Minister. Holding his cards close to his chest the PM answers the reporters asking whether a settlement with Lee is possible; “If it is possible for a man to go to the moon, I don’t see why we cannot find ways to resolve our troubles.”

Keith himself comes on stage with an aside: “Yet the Tunku’s instinct was flashing a warning signal to him and he believed his instinct had never been wrong. As a betting man, he would rather put his money on his instinct…..His instinct was now warning him of imminent danger.”

On August 6, the Cabinet met. The next day the news was conveyed to Lee by the Tunku himself. August 8 was a Sunday, but it was a busy day for all, as the government got ready to present an important motion on the next day. The British High Commissioner was the last to be informed, and that only when he gate-crashed a party for the Tunku at a penthouse in one of the tallest building in Kuala Lumpur.

August 9, Monday morning at 10, on the steps of Singapore’s City Hall, Lee proclaimed Singapore independent from Malaysia. Meanwhile in the Parliament House in Kuala Lumpur at exactly the same time, the Tunku presented the Separation Bill to Parliament. He added, in a somewhat reconciliatory tone: “There can only be one Prime Minister for the nation, and so the best course we could take was to allow Lee Kuan Yew to be the Prime Minister of an independent Singapore in the full sense of the word.”

Before the curtain falls on this the Final Act, a voice is heard off-stage. It is Tan Siew Sin, in the debate he had painted a grim picture if Singapore was allowed to stay, his words now echo ominously,” A Sino-Malay clash in Malaysia on a large scale, with the two races roughly equal in number and scattered all over the country, and in many places inextricably mixed, would have been the kind of holocaust beside which racial riots in other countries might appear a mere picnic.”

History was to prove him right in 1969.

In the end, Keith’s tale seems more like a Shakespearean Tragedy say, ‘Othello’, rather than ‘The Merry Wives of Windsor’; there was no ‘Machiavel’, though Lee actually shed tears on TV when he announced the separation there was no indication they were crocodile tears. (“It was for all of us a painful meeting. It was not relieved even when I turned to Dr Lim Chong Eu, and when I remarked that Chong Eu thought Lee Kuan Yew should be quite happy that Singapore is now independent and was wondering whether the tears that Kuan Yew shed which he saw on T.V. were of joy or sadness. Lee Kuan Yew replied that he was ‘angry, he was frustrated and sad, because he had worked so hard to bring about the formation of Malaysia but now his efforts ended in this.” Footsteps in Malaysia, Memoirs of Tan Sri Datuk Amar Ong Kee Hui, 2002)

There may be an Iago perhaps, whose stratagems have caused the nation more grief than a simple separation could have caused, among the cast of characters on the stage. The Malayan Constitution had given the Malays special rights under Article 153, however, in the new Malaysian Constitution it raises the question of the rights of the other ethnicities having equal rights under the law, and an equal right of participation in the governance of the country. Nonetheless Lee had been willing to accommodate Article 153, “I keep reminding people that I am a Malaysian. I am learning Bahasa Kebangsaan and I accept article 153 of the Constitution.” However Ultras wanted a Malay Malaysia. Iago had perhaps whispered into the Prince’s ears. It was what they got. Fifty years later, the seed that was planted in 1965 has grown into large tree, but so far that tree has yielded only bitter fruits.

By Patrick Keith (2005, Media Masters Pte. Ltd. 197 pages).

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1st RMN chief: Don’t distort history for political gain

Saturday, November 2nd, 2019
Rear Admiral (Rtd) Tan Sri K. Thanabalasingam (fourth from left) chatting with actors re-enacting World War 2 soldiers at the Malaya at War conference in Kuala Lumpur recently. PIC BY SALHANI IBRAHIM

KUALA LUMPUR: Factually written historical records should not be distorted to suit political or religious agendas.

This is the take of the country’s first local Royal Malaysian Navy (RMN) chief, Rear Admiral (Rtd) Tan Sri K. Thanabalasingam, who turned 83 on March 12.

Thanabalasingam, popularly called Bob Thana in naval circles, said history was the study of past events.

“To make sense of current affairs, we must remember our history as everything happening around us today is, one way or another, related to our past.

“Therefore, historical records should be factually written and generations later, countries should not distort history to suit their needs,” he said at the Malaya at War conference at the Royale Chulan Hotel here recently.

Thanabalasingam added that there should be no shame in what had happened in the past, whether decades or centuries ago.

“Historical denial is a felonious distortion of history as it inhibits us to learn from the past.

“(Former British prime minister) Winston Churchill once said that those who failed to learn from history were doomed to repeat it.

“Somehow, humans have an astonishing tendency to ignore the obvious signs, which can lead to war and subjugation,” said Thanabalasingam.

He called on government and military leaders to identify the warning signals and attempt to avert conflicts, failing which disasters would prevail.

K. Thanabalasingam is the country’s first local Royal Malaysian Navy chief. PIC COURTESY OF ROYAL MALAYSIAN NAVY


Thanabalasingam recounted how he, at the age of 5, had experienced the perils of torment during the Japanese Occupation of Malaya during World War 2 in 1941.

“The war disrupted my education, which I eventually completed at Victoria Institution here later on before joining the navy,” he said.

He also said he had witnessed traumatic moments during the war and his family had to shift home several times to escape danger.

“While living in a government bungalow in Kampung Attap one day, I remember once looking at the sky and being fascinated by some glittering objects floating down from an aircraft, unaware that they were actually bombs.

“My father frantically grabbed and dragged me into an air-raid shelter,” he recalled.

His family shifted to, among others, Effingham Estate (now Damansara) and several places in the city.

“While at home one day, I witnessed from my upstairs balcony, how armed Japanese soldiers were physically abusing some cyclists.

“I just stood there frozen by what I was seeing. My father then spotted me and whisked me off quietly inside the house.

“He made sure I understood that if the Japanese soldiers had spotted me observing them, our family will be in serious trouble,” said Thanabalasingam.


Thanabalasingam said as he grew up, he further experienced the two Emergencies (1948-1960 and 1967-1989) and the Confrontation with Indonesia (1963-1966).

“Those were trying times for the country,” said Thanabalasingam, who joined the RMN in Singapore on May 1, 1955 and became one of the pioneer nine cadets sent to Britannia Royal Naval College (BRNC) at Dartmouth in England in December that year.

After graduating from BRNC on May 1, 1958, Thanabalasingam served briefly onboard the British frigate HMS Chichester before the RMN was established on July 1 that same year.

“I was invited to be transferred from the British Royal Navy to the Malayan outfit in October 1958.

“My first posting was as an instructor at the Federation Military College in Port Dickson in 1959 before I was posted out for sea duties in April 1960, for six years,” said Thanabalasingam.


He recalled vividly how, when he was serving as the resident naval officer, as well as KD Tawau’s commanding officer in Sabah, the government had earmarked him to eventually helm the RMN.

“It was a time when (the then prime minister) Tunku Abdul Rahman (Putra Al-haj) wanted local sons to helm the tri-services — the army, navy and air force.

“I was groomed to helm the RMN, while (Air Vice-Marshal Tan Sri) Sulaiman Sujak for the Royal Malaysian Air Force, (General Tan Sri) Hamid Bidin as Army chief and Tunku’s nephew (General Tan Sri) Tunku Osman Jewa as the armed forces chief,” he said.

Within 1967, Thanabalasingam was meteorically promoted a record four times (from lieutenant to lieutenant-commander, then to commander, captain and commodore) to become RMN chief on Dec 1 the very year at the age of 31.

He, however, prematurely retired in 1976 at the age of 40, along with Sulaiman at age 42.

“I had just returned from a familiarisation visit to Australia and New Zealand when the government appointed me as RMN chief.

“I was fortunate to have an Australian, (now retired Rear-Admiral) Guy Richmond Griffiths as a naval adviser for two years,” said Thanabalasingam, who was able to renew his acquaintance with Griffiths, 96, after 52 years at the conference.

K. Thanabalasingam (right) renewing his acquaintance with Rear Admiral (Rtd) Guy Richmond Griffiths after 52 years, at the conference. PIC BY ZUNNUR AL SHAFIQ


When Britain decided to withdraw its forces East of Suez in 1968, Thanabalasingam had his hands full in the RMN’s rapid expansion.

During the RMN’s infancy, it had several operational vessels, a naval base and just over 1,500 personnel.

“One of my first major tasks was to procure surface-to-surface missiles to thwart communist terrorists infiltrating arms and personnel by sea across southern Thailand, on the east and west coasts of the peninsula.

“The terrorists preferred to come by sea as the Malaysia-Thailand border was tightly controlled by the security forces,” he said.

Thanabalasingam said similarly in Sarawak, the RMN played a pivotal role in using its vessels to transport troops, vehicles and artillery equipment 112km up Sungai Rejang.

“At that time, the RMAF did not have heavy-lift capable aircraft to get the job done.

“Thus, the army relied on the RMN’s riverine boats like the landing or riverine craft personnel, landing craft mechanised and workboats for its operational requirements.

“Our vessels were often the target of the terrorists who took pot-shots from lofty vantage points along the river,” he said.

He added that the RMN had established a base in Sibu, eventually expanding its fleet from 18 vessels to 32 by 1974.

When Tun Abdul Razak Hussain succeeded Tunku Abdul Rahman as prime minister, as well as defence minister, he initiated the establishment of the Rejang Area Security Command (Rascom) in March 1972 to fortify Sarawak’s security.

K. Thanabalasingam attending the Malaya at War conference in Kuala Lumpur recently. PIC BY SALHANI IBRAHIM


Thanabalasingam, who was trained as an anti-submarine specialist and diver in 1963, had steamed the newly acquired
KD Sri Kelantan home from Britain.

He was instrumental in the planning and construction of the naval bases in Lumut, Perak, and Kuantan, Pahang, as the RMN relocated out of Singapore’s Woodlands and Sembawang bases.

He had introduced the MM38 Exocet missiles into the RMN during his tenure and even had recommended that the navy be equipped with submarines, way back then.

At one time as RMN chief, he was briefly appointed as acting armed forces chief when Hamid who succeeded Tunku Osman, was away overseas.

To date, he remains the youngest and longest serving RMN chief, as well as the only non-Malay service chief.

By Adrian David.

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Need to tell our young Malaysia’s real history

Thursday, August 22nd, 2019

AN inclusive history – a truthful, unbiased and balanced historical narrative that encompasses all the facets of Malaysia’s plural society, and inculcates a sense of belonging and identity among Malaysians – is long overdue. We need to construct and build an all-encompassing historical narrative that incorporates the roles and contributions of all communities and captures the full spectrum of the Malaysian past.

An inclusive historical narrative is a vital component in our quest to build “New Malaysia”. It would enable Malaysians, especially the younger generation, to understand the origin of the nation’s plural society.

Unfortunately, our current history textbooks since 1996 continue to be plagued with factual errors, half-truths and blatant disregard of the critical role played by the non-Malays in the development of our beloved nation. An excellent case in point is the current Form Three History textbook which was first published in 2018. It has numerous factual errors, half-truths and omissions of important historical facts but I will only highlight a few.

First, the British North Borneo Company was officially established in 1882 and not 1881.

Second, it was not only the British who were involved in commercial agriculture (as stated in the textbook) but also the Chinese who played a significant role in cultivating pepper, gambier, tapioca and sugar cane. The role of the Chinese in the development of commercial agriculture in British Malaya during the 19th and early 20th centuries is completely ignored.

When I shared this with a leading Malaysian historian, he could not stop laughing. Then he stated bluntly that this is the price the nation pays for mediocrity.

Over the last three decades, high positions in government have become virtually the preserve of Malays, and when did “holding government positions” qualify as an economic activity?

Fourth, the textbook makes no mention of the role of Yap Ah Loy in developing Kuala Lumpur.

Fifth and finally, the role of the Indians and Chinese in the economic development of British Malaya is not given due emphasis, unlike in earlier History textbooks.

The real historical truth, as reiterated by the late Kernial Singh Sandhu (an internationally renowned historian), is that modern Malaya is “mainly the joint creation of British, Chinese and Indian capital, enterprise and labour.”

To conclude, history is a scholarly pursuit and not one which is driven by a political or self-serving agenda. Our beloved nation is the result of the blood, sweat and tears of various ethnic groups working together harmoniously.

We must take pride in our multi-lingual, multi-religious and multi-cultural heritage which helps to inculcate a sense of belonging and patriotism among our young.

by Dr Ranjit Singh Malhi.

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Khoo Kay Kim: An oral history appointment fated not to be

Wednesday, June 26th, 2019
File picture of Professor Emeritus Khoo Kay Kim at his home during an interview after winning the 2018 Merdeka Award in the outstanding scholastic achievement category for his contribution to the scholarly research, development of reinterpretation of Malaysian history and lifetime dedication in history education. Pix by NSTP/Asyraf Hamzah

HISTORY is what happened in the past. And the past can also be fated not to be, at the same time. On the Tuesday morning of May 28, I was initially slotted for an oral history session with Professor Emeritus Khoo Kay Kim, widely regarded as the nation’s historian.

That interview was destined not to be. It was earlier postponed as Khoo was hospitalised. An earlier attempt was also scheduled on the morning of the 28th day of the month. It was February. The initiatives were part of the Perdana Leadership Foundation efforts at documenting ideas and moments on the nation’s past. But on Monday of the last week of February, I was informed that the interview was called off: “The doctors need to run a few more tests on him,” said the WhatsApp message.

It was a coincidence that my column in Higher Ed last month on Wednesday, May 29, the day after Khoo’s demise, was on the use of newspapers as historical sources.

And I cited the late professor’s book titled Majalah dan Akhbar Melayu sebagai Sumber Sejarah (1983).

When I started my academic career at the then School of Mass Communication, Institut Teknologi MARA in 1986, Khoo’s writings were heavily used and referred to in my Journalism and Communication courses. It was unusual for the work of a historian to be used in a communication and journalism school in Malaysia — then in the early 1970s and even now.

Then I was teaching an introductory course on Journalism, where the focus was on newspapers and periodicals. The structure of the course was divided into three portions — the organisation, the producer and the product. For each, I would approach from a socio-historical perspective. This led to the need for some pertinent local literature to meaningfully understand the abstract and the context. There were few books then bearing on the sociology or history of Malay newspapers and journalism, or for that matter similar materials with reference to the national context.

One was W.R. Roff’s The Origins of Malay Nationalism (1967). Roff devoted a significant part of the book to the role of Malay and Malay-language journalism and newspapers, their leading editorial figures and opinion leaders from the early 1800s to the birth of Utusan Melayu (1939). I was looking for more context in narrating newspapers to society. Roff was useful enough. However, this led me to two works by Khoo pertinent to what I had imagined for the course. One is Malay Society: Transformation and Democratisation (1991), which I added as reference. The other was the 1983 Majalah dan Akhbar Melayu published by Perpustakaan Universiti Malaya. The latter in addition to Roff’s were my initial references on the socio-historical corpus on Malay newspapers. Malay Society: Transformation and Democratisation provided the context in understanding the how and why of the evolution of Malay newspapers and journalism.

There was also Ahmat Adam’s 1992 book Sejarah dan Bibliografi Akhbar dan Majalah Melayu Abad Kesembilan Belas.

A.F. Yassin’s Etika dan Wartawan: Satu Kajian Ke di Malaysia (1986) provided some discussion on ethics. The work was based on the author’s M.A. thesis in 1980 for Universitas Padjadjaran in Indonesia.

Khoo’s Majalah dan Akhbar Melayu sebagai Sumber Sejarah demonstrated his perspective on and insights into newspapers and journalism as legitimate objects and sources of study about society, Malay society in particular.

And in his autobiography I, KKK: The Autobiography of a Historian (2017), Khoo recalled his engagement with newspapers as a student of history.

“…one of my principle resources for research was old newspapers, such as the Prince of Wales Island Gazette, Malaya’s oldest newspaper. I found them to be a great source of information for those wanting to know about the past. Until today, I have a fascination for reading Malaya’s old newspapers. Visitors to my office are often bemused at the piles of newspapers that rise from floor to ceiling.” (Khoo Kay Kim, 2017: pages 124-125)

I experienced the “piles of newspapers” in the late 1980s when I entered his room for an article I wanted to publish in a journal I was editing. The article was on Walter Makepeace (1859-1941), journalist and editor of the Singapore Free Press.

In I, KKK, the late historian argued that there is no easier way to find out about the past, without which it will be difficult to understand the present. To him, newspapers seized the mood of the times. Khoo had a fair sense of the logic of journalism and newspapers, their importance in public education. He recalled that in the past, local newspapers were important because they played the role of publishing talks and lectures by the more educated segments of society.

In the course of witnessing the early development of the nation, Khoo began to be approached by journalists “who liked to discuss the country’s affairs. I would lead them into a discussion of history, which they knew very little about.” (Khoo Kay Kim, 2017: page 130)

How well do we know our past? Before the interview that never happened, a list of questions was drafted — of the past, present and future of the nation and of the man generally regarded as a historian of Malaysia. There were 25 questions.

Broadly what we would have discussed would cover the times of his life and how that has shaped the person, the teaching and appreciation of history, his publications, the future of Malaysia and how he wants his legacy to be remembered. And sports, P. Ramlee and national unity.

By A. Murad Merican.

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May 13 and societal insecurity

Tuesday, May 21st, 2019
A dated picture of a deserted Kuala Lumpur during the May 13, 1969 incident with security forces on patrol. FILE PIC

THE incident of May 13, 1969 had been regarded by most historians, political scientists and sociologists as an event symbolising “the worst racial riot” in the history of Malaysia’s post-independence period.

Analysed from the perspective of security studies, however, the incident was a testimony to Malaysia’s political and societal insecurities experienced by our people in the aftermath of the 3rd General Election.

In his book, People, State and Fear (1991), Barry Buzan explained that “political security concerns the organisational stability of states, systems of government and the ideologies that give them legitimacy”. He also stated that “societal security concerns the sustainability, within acceptable conditions for evolution, of traditional patterns of language, culture and religious and national identity and customs”

The May 13 incident threatened Malaysia’s political security because it had disrupted our system of parliamentary democracy; and had affected the day-to-day management of our country through the cabinet system. Its threat to democracy was reflected by the suspension of the Malaysian Parliament. Its impact on the country’s management system was evidenced by the setting up of the National Operations Council (NOC) as an emergency government.

The above were enforced from May 1969 until the restoration of democratic rule in 1971. Tun Dr Ismail Abdul Rahman, the then home affairs minister, said that within the above period, “democracy is dead in this country. It died at the hands of the opposition parties who triggered off the events leading to this violence” (The Straits Times, May 19, 1969).

Whether this statement was correct or otherwise, the fact remains that the May 13 incident had truly damaged Malaysia’s national unity, religious harmony, public order and national security.

Arjunan Narayanan and Kamarulnizam Abdullah, on the other hand, wrote in Keselamatan Nasional Malaysia (2013), “the incident of May 13, 1969 communal crisis was the turning point in Malaysia’s political system”. It had changed “the structure of Malaysia’s race relations”. More importantly, “it had brought about a new transformation to Malaysia’s nation-building process”.

The incident also had jeopardised Malaysia’s societal security. In his book, May 13, 1969: A Historical Survey of Sino-Malay Relations (1983), Leon Comber said that “the government acknowledged that the riots were caused by “ethnic polarisation and animosity”. This was because the incident was believed to have resulted from intense politicking in GE3, particularly on Article 3 about Islam as the religion of the Federation, Article 152 on Bahasa Melayu as our national language, and Article 153 on the special position of the Malays and Bumiputeras.

As such, it was appropriate to consider that the incident of May 13, 1969, had severely affected the government’s efforts in managing race relations and nation-building. This was why it needed a special security management tool — the NOC system — as well as several new policies and short- term programmes to resolve it effectively.

Tun Abdul Razak Hussein, for example, had dedicated his premiership (1971-1976) to resolve the problems of national unity, socioeconomic imbalance and disparity, as well as political instability.

On Aug 31, 1970, he announced the Rukun Negara or the National Doctrine to restore Malaysia’s fragile democracy, national unity and political stability. In 1971, he introduced the New Economic Policy as an instrument of “social re-engineering” through an affirmative action programme formulated by NOC.

Therefore, what else do we expect from the May 13 incident? Is it necessary for us to totally discard existing narratives about it as contained in various domestic literature; just because we
suspect a different version of it, especially because of its alleged prejudice against the non-Malays and the leadership of Tun Razak?

Is it necessary for us to pressure our government to declassify documents and data related to it? Can this move enhance our understanding of Malaysia’s political and societal security? What if the classified documents are politicised to further threaten national unity and national identity?

Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, as Malaysia’s chief executive of security management, had said that the government “will study” any request to declassify the documents. This is politically correct because the government had emphasised transparency, accountability and the rule of law.

But would it be politically inappropriate if the majority of us believed that the PH government should continue declassifying the information? Would it be pertinent if we suggest that the incident be studied from the perspective of security management structure and strategy?

The status of Malaysia as a multiethnic, multicultural and multireligious state should have motivated the government to encourage the people to conduct studies on the security management strategy of the NOC. As suggested by some analysts, the findings of this research should be incorporated into existing SOP on crisis management concerning Malaysia’s political security and societal security.

By Datuk Dr Ruhanie Ahmad.

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Yearender2018: Malaysians vote for change

Sunday, December 30th, 2018

The year 2018 will go down in the history books as the year Malaysians reset the nation’s course. On May 9, Malaysians took a leap of faith and embraced change for the first time by voting in an Opposition pact – Pakatan Harapan – to serve as the federal government.

The coalition made up of Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia, PKR, DAP and Amanah now holds 118 of the 222 seats in the Dewan Rakyat. Barisan Nasional, previously in power for 61 years before losing the 14th General Election, is now down to 37 seats.

Many of the component parties have left the coalition, leaving the party with only three core members – Umno, MCA and MIC.

In Umno, a spate of resignations by its members of parliament since the general election have left the party nearly crippled and its leadership in crisis.

Two other major political forces emerged when the balance of power shifted. The first is PAS with 18 parliament seats, the second is Gabungan Parti Sarawak, a four-party pact with 19 parliament seats which governs the state.

By voting in a new government, Malaysians also opted for the return of a familiar face. Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad leads Malaysia for the second time, earning the 93-year-old a Guinness record as the world’s oldest prime minister.

Widening inequality, rising prices, corruption, the 1Malaysia Development Bhd (1MDB) scandal and a sense that Malaysia was going astray created a wave of people power that grew and unseated Barisan.

Race and religious issues though, continue to cast a shadow over the country, while the large national debt, financial mismanagement and corruption scandals inherited from the previous administration have delayed Pakatan’s bid to fulfil a number of its election pledges.

Many challenges lie ahead, but this year will be remembered as the year we came together to create a New Malaysia. – Razak Ahmad

From Prison To Parliament


Photo: Bernama

Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim went from prison to palace, and then to parliament this year. The political fortune of Pakatan Harapan’s choice as the next prime minister saw a dramatic turnaround as Malaysians voted for change at the ballot box in the 14th General Election (GE14).

Anwar had been sacked as deputy prime minister on Sept 2, 1998 and charged later that year for corruption and sodomy. He was sentenced to six years for corruption and nine for sodomy.

Released from prison in 2004 after the federal court overturned his sodomy conviction, in 2008, he was again charged with sodomy. Acquitted in January 2012, this was overturned by the court of appeal in March 2014, and Anwar had to serve a five-year jail term.

Two days after GE14, the Yang di-Pertuan Agong granted Anwar a full and immediate pardon. He was released from prison on May 16, and on that same day, granted an audience by the King at the royal palace.

In October, Anwar won the Port Dickson parliamentary by-election held after the incumbent vacated the seat to make way for him to contest, and the following month, Anwar, who was the sole candidate for top position in PKR at the party’s national congress, was officially announced as PKR president. – Razak Ahmad

Tale Of Two Chief Ministers


Voters gave Pakatan Harapan a resounding win in parliament, but no clear winner emerged in the election for the 60 state seats in Sabah.

The then-ruling Sabah Barisan Nasional led by Tan Sri Musa Aman won 29 seats on May 9. It was equal to the tally of Parti Warisan Sabah and its Pakatan Harapan allies, DAP and PKR.

The deadlock was broken when Barisan won support of Parti Solidariti Tanah AirKu (Sabah STAR), winning the remaining two seats in the assembly. Musa was sworn in as chief minister by the Yang di-Pertua Negeri Tun Juhar Mahiruddin on May 10.

However, Barisan’s majority was erased when component party Upko quit the coalition, followed by the defection of six Umno assemblymen. Things tilted in favour of Warisan and its Pakatan allies, and Warisan president Datuk Seri Mohd Shafie Apdal was sworn in as chief minister on May 12.

Musa sought a court declaration that he was the legitimate chief minister to nullify Shafie’s appointment. However, he became the focus of the authorities after he left the country following a police report lodged by Juhar against him.

In November, Sabah’s political uncertainty finally ended with the High Court declaring Shafie as the legitimate chief minister. – Fatimah Zainal

Charged For Corruption


Photo: Bernama

True to its commitment to uphold the rule of law, the Pakatan Harapan government lost no time in prosecuting those allegedly involved in corruption. A first in Malaysian history, the country witnessed a former prime minister and his wife arrested for graft charges.

Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak was first arrested on July 3, and on the next day, slapped with charges related to the 1MDB scandal. This happened two months after police authorities raided his residences,  and seized luxury possessions and cash.

Najib later faced more charges related to money laundering, bribery and criminal breach of trust (CBT), with the total number of charges against him to date standing at 38.

His wife Datin Seri Rosmah Mansor was first charged on Oct 3 for money laundering involving more than RM7mil. Fugitive businessman Low Taek Jho, who is at the centre of the 1MDB scandal, was charged in absentia on Dec 4.

The anti-corruption crackdown also stretched its hand to many other senior officials linked to the previous administration. Among them were Umno president Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, hauled to court for 45 corruption charges, and Datuk Seri Tengku Adnan Tengku Mansor, charged for allegedly receiving RM3mil in bribes from property developers during his tenure as federal territories minister.

Baling MP and Umno supreme council member Datuk Seri Abdul Azeez Abdul Rahim was also charged over corruption and money laundering allegations. – Clarissa Chung

Toughest Year By Far.

This year has not been kind to MCA, which turned 69. It won only three seats (one parliamentary seat and two state seats ) out of the 129 seats contested – its worst electoral performance in history.

Winning the Ayer Hitam parliamentary seat for the fourth time, Dr Wee Ka Siong is the only MCA MP. He was elected MCA president in November.

“It has been six months down the road and we are learning and doing our best in our new role,” he said, adding the party accepted the people’s decision at the ballot box and is focused on being an effective Opposition. – Foong Pek Yee

Looking Into The Minority

For more than a decade, Senator P. Waytha Moorthy has been at the forefront of the Malaysian Indian dilemma. First with Hindraf, then as an exile, and later with a short spell in the Barisan administration. Now, he is with the National Unity ministerial portfolio in the Pakatan government.

The narrative that a majority of the Indian minority has been marginalised is borne out by lower life expectancy, disproportionately low business ownership, and higher crime rates.

by Martin Vengadesan
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Non European history: Out of place and outside the West

Tuesday, November 6th, 2018
The Stadthuys of Melaka. Melaka was the epitome of an enlightened and civilised world when Venice existed against the hinterland of uncivility.

LET us begin with this statement: European history invariably serves as a template for all history, even when we are least aware of it, or writing history in opposition to Eurocentric history. Malaysian history, and what is true of the nation’s history, is true of nearly every national history where the categories such as ancient, medieval and modern, for example, that have informed the study of the European past are assumed to be the “natural” categories through which one might interpret any history.

The problem in post-colonial states such as Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines, Pakistan and India, for example, is the national project for a post-independence history. These nations were made to partake in things “national”, hence the phrase “national history”, in part for the reason that history occupies a distinct place in the evolution and framework of the modern nation-state. Writing on “History ‘outside’ the ‘West” (2012), historian Vinay Lal begins with James Mill’s early 19th century “History of British India”, a voluminous work that until the end of the last century, remained the standard narrative of the Indian past.

The periodisation between ancient, medieval and modern, is not unproblematic, but quite commonplace. Vinay focused his arguments on Indian history, saying that Mills characterised ancient India as “Hindu” and rendered medieval India as “Mahomedan”. Along the way, the word “medieval” has come to represent not merely a chronological stage of history. It is a state of mind — a state characterised by the lack of reason, disregard for progress, and primitivism in thought, belief and conduct. It is like periodising the time of the Melaka Malay Sultanate as the medieval period in the history of Malaysia.

“Medieval” equates that period in the Malay Peninsular with that of Europe. But conditions were different. Melaka was the epitome of an enlightened and civilised world when Venice existed against the hinterland of uncivility. Europe was primitive then. With reference to India, Mill’s history demonstrated he was fully aware that north India, in second millennium CE, had come firmly under Muslim rule, commencing at least with the Delhi Sultanate, and he may have some knowledge of some Muslim sultanate in the Deccan, though like most colonial, and many contemporary historians and commentators of India, he had fallen into the habit of supposing that the history of north India could effortlessly be passed off as the history of the entirety of India.

Vinay’s argument was to establish a number of fundamental principles in the writing and interpretation of history. Apart from European history serving as a template for all history, he described European history as assuming a temporal linearity. This perspective sees the movement from the ancient age to the modern age, also the gravitation from slavery to liberty, from religious life to secularism, and from a life embedded in community to individualism. According to Vinay, the narrative from the most bitter conflicts readily becomes relics of the medieval age. The “fanaticism” of the Serbian nationalist, the Hindu fundamentalist and the (Islamic) terrorist are examples of an existentially troubled journey towards freedom.

People outside of Europe, those in Southeast Asia, and India for example, are condemned to live in someone else’s history, with consequences that have been seen across all domains of life. Europe’s past is “our present”. When at long last, “the native arrives at the destination, it is only to discover that the European has moved to another station, leaving only his baggage to be collected by natives”.

As a corollary to the above, it becomes imperative to understand that much of history is not merely Eurocentric, but in fact European history. Other histories are thus ancillary histories, the limbs to the body of European history, illustrating strands of European culture, thought and consciousness. To ourselves, the visible and invisible non-European self is distorted by Eurocentrism. The final fundamental principle was that most British histories of Britain are still oblivious to the history of colonialism — that itself alters the history of Europe and that of the entire West. There is no bridging discourse and assumes the absence of any influence by Asian and African histories upon British history, culture and politics.

The colonised had no place in world history, according to the dominant narrative. Being out of place does not necessarily originate from the metropolitan West. Many non-Western countries, including Malaysia, have their share of problems with regards to decolonise received narratives. We are oblivious to the process of taking possession of the past. Both in history, the arts and the social sciences, colonial frameworks of knowledge still linger. The desired “national” narrative is deeply contested amongst scholars, intellectuals and the laity. The activism of civil society and politicians has only exacerbated the problem.

By A Murad Merican.

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