Wednesday, September 07, 2005

The unrest is history


OUT of the squall that’s blown up in the past week over DAP analyst Ronnie Liu’s National Day essay on his party’s website, let Liu be quoted above all as saying: "Perhaps my way of writing and the choice of words were not polished and well-rounded as it should be [sic]." That’s it in a nutshell, sir, and let that be a lesson not just to you but to all of us. Unless we actually enjoy these nasty little spats, perhaps as some kind of healthful exercise for the national contract, we should learn to express ourselves better. That way, Liu’s central point — that Malayans of all political leanings walked the road to nationhood, not just the forebears of those at present in power — might not have been "twisted", as he says, into a grouse that Chin Peng didn’t become Prime Minister instead of Tunku Abdul Rahman.

It might seem the last thing we need is another debate on history, its meaning, and the influence of its being "written by the winners". Kept within reason, however, these exchanges keep history alive, awaken new generations to their past, and inform the present of precedents and provenances. This is vital to the sense of self, and the collective nationhood arising from it.

But it is simply wrong to say that those who stood up for Malayan nationalism have been erased from the record, regardless of their chosen paths to "Independence". Some saw logic in the "Greater Indonesia" idea; others in communism. Some were republicans, others monarchists, others socialists. Despite, or because of, their English education and civil service jobs, none of any import were the Anglophile stooges Liu’s revisionism suggests.

Until political organisations emerged to marshal these disparate impulses, however, they were united only against British rule. The Malayan communists, for all their resistance of the Japanese Occupation, were dedicated to what most of their countrymen saw as just another form of imperialism: the rule of Malaya shifting from London to Tokyo to Beijing. Hence, Umno, the MIC and the MCA were destined to be the principal political rallying points in this country, and the rest is history.

Hence, also, the demonisation of the Malayan communists in popular culture as an alien invader force rather than a homegrown "armed struggle". Chin Peng’s own memoirs (a rare and welcome instance of a loser getting to inform the record) tell a sad tale of how misguided the CPM was throughout its benighted existence: double-crossed, ideologically conflicted, shunned by most, doomed from the start. Still, there was something in their fortitude against futility; in the capacity of human beings to cling fast and forever to hopelessly lost causes. But their heroism is not celebrated, for despite the part they played in dismantling the old order, they were to play no part in building the new. And that, as with all roads less travelled, made all the difference.

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