GETTING THE FACTS RIGHT ON OPS LALANG

Press statement by Kua Kia Soong, SUARAM Adviser, 25 Jan 2018

Testifying at the hearing of Bersih chairperson Maria Chin Abdullah’s defamation suit against Sungai Besar Umno division chief Jamal Md Yunos, Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim (DSAI), the former Education Minister during Ops Lalang has claimed that the infamous Operasi Lalang resulted from the discord between MCA Youth and Umno Youth. At a stroke, he placed the responsibility on the UMNO Youth leader, Najib at the time and thus absolved both himself, the then Education Minister and Dr Mahathir, the then PM.

Those who respect the importance of truth in historical accounts, no matter how distasteful it may be, begin with discerning accurate facts and the related sequence of events. In this process, for facts before the advent of Google, Malaysians can be assisted by my record of the events in my 1992 title, ‘Malaysian Political Realities’. In the Introduction to my book, Leader of the Opposition Lim Kit Siang wrote:

“Dr Kua Kia Soong has aptly chosen the title of his book ‘Malaysian Political realities’…In Malaysia, there is not only an industry to rewrite history but a very high-powered conspiracy to daily distort and suppress reality through the government monopoly and control of the electronic and printed mass media…The ‘free press’ which the PM, Datuk Seri Dr Mahathir Mohamed, claims in international forums that Malaysia enjoys, is a press which is only ‘free’ to distort and suppress political realities in Malaysia.”

Contrived controversy between UMNO & MCA, October 1986

The first chapter in my 1992 title is called: ‘History and the Pribumi: Fruitless quest for the unholy grail’, which is a comment on the rather contrived controversy between UMNO and MCA during October 1986. It is important to note the date that the controversy was contrived, namely, October 1986.

In this article, I was at pains to point out that “the issue of whether any community is genuinely ‘pribumi’ or ‘immigrant’ has absolutely no significance to the question of peoples’ rights.” This controversy was by no means the only one orchestrated by UMNO in 1986. There was also the one about the “social contract” created by Datuk Abdullah Ahmad of “Ketuanan Melayu” fame.

Any serious scholar of Malaysian politics will know that all the “racial” controversies in recent Malaysian history including the May 13 incident, have been orchestrated by UMNO. Through all these years, there is no doubt that UMNO Youth has played the role of stormtroopers who carry out the breast beating and gong banging at the behest of their political masters in UMNO. I am sure DSAI is familiar with these “Standard Operating Procedures” within UMNO. The mob which attacked us during the Asia Pacific Conference on East Timor in 1996 was no different. Who should bear the responsibility for that shameful event then? Saifuddin or the UMNO Youth chief at the time Zahid Hamidi or DSAI himself?

Orchestrated controversy in Chinese schools, October 1987

Nevertheless, in Chapter 12 of my book, ‘OCTOBER 1987: The Furore in the Chinese Schools’, it was the Education Minister, namely, DSAI with the connivance of the PM at the time, Dr Mahathir, who made the decision to send non-qualified administrators to the Chinese schools. Whereas the contrived controversy over ‘Pribumi vs Immigrants’ by UMNO Youth and MCA Youth was in October 1986, it was the Chinese schools controversy in October 1987 which caused the Chinese community to protest against the unjust move and which resulted in orchestrated tension that led to Ops Lalang.

The DAP was also in the committee which opposed this unjust and orchestrated move to send unqualified administrators to the Chinese school. I am sure DAP leaders such as Lim Kit Siang will agree with me that it was not the UMNO Youth-MCA Youth spat in 1986 but the Chinese schools issue in October 1987 that led to Ops Lalang.

Certainly, the UMNO Youth leader at the time, Najib Razak was one of the UMNO firebrands who were at the Jalan Raja Muda stadium where racist banners were displayed just before Ops Lalang was launched. But responsibility for sending the unqualified administrators to the Chinese schools rests on DSAI while responsibility for launching the arrests and detention rests squarely on the Home Minister and Prime Minister at the time, Dr Mahathir.

Yes, you can be forgiven but…

Having left UMNO, both DSAI and Dr Mahathir can ask for forgiveness from the victims of Ops Lalang and the Chinese community for orchestrating that racial tension which gave Dr Mahathir the excuse to launch Ops Lalang, the precursor to his assault on the Judiciary.

One thing they must never do is to distort the facts of history. As Noam Chomsky has warned us:

“Younger people who are being indoctrinated into the contemporary system of falsification – they really have to do some research to find out what is the truth…”

Jean-Jacques Rousseau goes even further by saying, “The falsification of history has done more to impede human development than any one thing known to mankind!”

VITAL TO PRESERVE MAY 13 CEMETERIES

Press statement by Kua Kia Soong, SUARAM Adviser 16 March 2017

When I published my book on ‘May 13: Declassified Documents on the Malaysian Riots of 1969’ in 2007, I called for a ‘Truth & Reconciliation Commission’ (TRC) as a step forward for Malaysians to gain access to the truth about the May 13bloodshed and take the nation on the road to reconciliation. As the South African experience demonstrated, such a commission is not aimed at allowing old wounds to fester but to call upon the people of Malaysia to learn to forgive, to be generous in spirit and above all, to learn lessons from that traumatic past in our history.  Such a Truth & Reconciliation Commission should pay due respects to the victims of the riot and the grief suffered by their kin.

Not only has the Government ignored this call for a Truth and Reconciliation process, we now hear that the burial ground of some of the May 13 victims at Sungai Buloh is threatened by plans to create a car park there.  We know that there were at least two burial sites for the victims of May 13, one in Gombak and the other in Sungai Buloh. There are around 100 victims buried at this Sungai Buloh cemetery with summary tombstones citing “courtesy of the Malaysian government” inscribed on them.

Honour the victims by revealing their identities

Historical facts and especially relics are a source of collective wisdom on which we must value whether these are about the Bujang Valley 2500 years ago or the May 13 riots less than 50 years ago. The first task then for a TRC is to identify who the victims of the May 13 riots were. What are the names of the victims in these hundred or so graves at Sungai Buluh?

According to official figures, there were 196 fatalities in the May 13 incident even though foreign diplomatic estimates put it at several hundred. The real historical fact of how many and who died can thus be uncovered by a TRC. But even if we take the official figures at face value, how do we account for the other 96 victims? Were they all buried in Gombak? Where is the evidence of this? Can we honour them by revealing their identities and giving them a decent ceremonial burial?

Time to declassify May 13 records

I managed to research my book on May 13 only because of the lifting of the British Government’s Thirty Years’ Secrecy Rule. Is it not time for the Malaysian Government to do the same now that the event is nearly fifty years old? An important source of information is the Special Branch archives. During my detention under Operation Lalang, the Special Branch investigation officers bragged that they have the best archives in the country, far better than any university library in the country! I believe them… Now the people should demand that they declassify these May 13 records, or at least the names and numbers of the victims of the riots.

Doctors who were working at the Kuala Lumpur General Hospital and University Hospital at the time have testified that corpses that were brought into the hospital morgues had been tarred to conceal their ethnic identities. If these stories are true, their bodies should be exhumed and identified and the cause of death determined. These are facts that a Truth & Reconciliation Commission can uncover about events at that time through listening to testimonies from victims’ families and friends; doctors and nurses on duty in the hospitals; Red Cross staff who played an important role then; policemen and soldiers on duty; politicians and journalists who covered the event, and of course our ubiquitous Special Branch.

A TRC on Malaysia’s May 13 Incident will not incur the time and efforts that South Africa’s Truth & Reconciliation Commission went through. South Africa’s TRC was established by the new South African government in 1995 to help bring about a reconciliation of its people by uncovering the truth about human rights violations that had occurred during the period of apartheid. Its emphasis was on getting to the truth and not on prosecuting individuals for past crimes. The commission was open to the public and allowed victims or their loved ones to tell their story. These documented accounts then became public record, which helps deter the possibility of any denial of the history.

Those who ignore history…

The Qingming (All Souls) festival is about honouring the departed. This festival is a time of reflection and a time to honour and give thanks to the departed ancestors by visiting their graves. Thus, as this year’s Qingming festival approaches, let us honour the victims of May 13, 1969 by vowing to preserve their graves. It is time Malaysians face up to our real history and to understand that if we do not confront the past, we will not be able to move into the future…

MAY 13: HIDDEN HANDS STILL AT WORK

MAY 13: HIDDEN HANDS STILL AT WORK
By Dr Kua Kia Soong, Director of SUARAM, 13 May 2011

When the May 13 Incident broke out in 1969, Said Zahari wrote these lines while under ISA detention in Singapore:

“Once again
History repeats itself
By savage deeds
In a civilized age

Once again
Hidden hands appear
Seeking the blood
Of the poor and the wretched

Once again
Colour, race, religion and language
Become sharp blades
To use in the carnage

It has happened
In every corner of the earth
Where the few eat bread
And the rest sand

It has happened
Where the few clothed in velvet
Sleep in palaces
The rest go naked, squeezed into shacks

It has happened –
Then hidden hands reappear
Spilling the blood of the poor
To cling on to power…”

Said Zahari certainly did not buy the official line that the riots had broken out spontaneously. The thesis of my 2007 title May 13: Declassified Documents on the Malaysian Riots of 1969 was that the pogrom was orchestrated by these hidden hands to facilitate the rise of the Malay state capitalist class in UMNO and to topple the aristocratic class headed by the Tunku. This opportunity presented itself after the devastating results for the ruling coalition in the 1969 general elections.

It was not until July 1969 – a lapse of two full months – that the security forces played their expected role of restoring order. It was not as if the Malaysian security forces were inexperienced in the role of maintaining order. They had successfully contained the armed insurgency during the Emergency from 1948 to 1960 under more difficult circumstances. Allowing the riots to continue for so many weeks provided an excuse for the new UMNO ruling class to make use of the state of emergency to implement their agenda for political and economic dominance through the New Economic Policy. In this plan, they received the full backing and connivance of the police and military.

Before the publication of my book, UMNO had all along been using “May 13” as a spectre to frighten voters of another pogrom whenever a strong political opposition had arisen to challenge the ruling coalition. This was seen in various general elections such as the one in 1990 when the public broadcasting media RTM was used to purvey scenes of carnage to remind voters of the consequences.

Even the Tunku could see through the ploy. In 1988, he gave short shrift to the Government’s White Paper on Operation Lalang:

“For the Prime Minister (Dr Mahathir) to repeat (the story of) the violence of the May 13 Affair as a warning of what would have happened if the Government had not taken appropriate action immediately is like telling ghost stories to our children to prevent them from being naughty. This is not a childish matter but a matter of national importance. The tale should not be repeated because it shows us to be politically immature.” (SUARAM, “The White Paper on the October Affair and the Why? Papers”, 1989: 5)

The prelude to Operation Lalang saw the UMNO leaders orchestrating racial tension over the transfer of non-qualified administrators to Chinese primary schools. They held a rally in Kampong Baru at which then UMNO Youth Chief and present prime minister was one of the chest thumpers on stage while banners called for “Chinese blood” and “May 13”.

Since then, UMNO has unleashed its Youth group to harass any groups which question UMNO policies such as the mob assault on the East Timor Conference in 1996; the demonstration against the Chinese associations’ Suqiu appeals and threat to burn down the Selangor Chinese Assembly Hall in 2000, among others.

Orchestration of the UMNO- Controlled Media
The UMNO-owned and controlled press, especially Utusan Malaysia and Berita Harian have been indispensable accessories in the orchestration of communalism and racial tension to justify authoritarian measures such as was seen in Operation Lalang, 1987 and to frighten the voters into supporting the status quo.

I have monitored the way “The UMNO Media Communalises” in Media Watch: The Use and Abuse of the Malaysian Press, 1990, in order to show you how the trick is done . For example, when the Government was being criticized for the BMF scandal in the eighties, Berita Harian (19.9.86) featured the UMNO president, Dr Mahathir’s veiled threat at the UMNO general assembly: KESABARAN MELAYU ADA HADNYA (“There is a limit to the patience of the Malays”). Utusan Malaysia (19.9.86) would not be outdone: JANGAN AMBIL MUDAH ORANG MELAYU (“Don’t take Malays for granted”)

When there was widespread opposition to the Official Secrets Act Amendment Bill in 1986 by all ethnic groups, Utusan Malaysia (6.12.86) chose to feature this headline quoting the UMNO Youth Chief Datuk Seri Mohd Najib: NAJIB INGATKAN ANGGOTA-ANGGOTA UMNO KEPIMPINAN MELAYU SEDANG DICABAR (“Najib alerts UMNO members Malay leadership being challenged”)

During the orchestrated “crisis” over the posting of unqualified administrators to the Chinese primary schools, the banner headline in Berita Harian (19.10.87) read: KEKAL KETUANAN MELAYU – PEMUDA (“Defend Malay dominance – UMNO Youth”)

Then when Tengku Razaleigh was leading the Opposition Front in the 1990 general elections, the editorial headline of Berita Harian (20.4.90) read: POLITIK TENGKU RAZALEIGH MERUGIKAN MELAYU (“Tengku Razaleigh’s politics – Malays lose out”)

One really needs to go further back to the Sixties to monitor how the UMNO media has deliberately communalized issues. It all gets rather tedious to even the most weathered media watcher because they carry on ad nauseum to serve the UMNO agenda for political and economic domination by playing on Malay chauvinism.

As the young generation can see with their own eyes today, the UMNO media have not stopped. The latest caper by Utusan Malaysia alleging a plot to make Christianity an official religion is probably one of the crudest yet in its arsenal of orchestrated untruths.

Yet, has any Utusan Malaysia editor been sacked by their political masters for all these deliberate attempts at stoking racial tensions? So much for Najib’s “1Malaysia” caper! And they wonder why Malaysian professionals are leaving the country…

Demands for the 13th General Elections
Calling upon UMNO and the UMNO-owned and controlled media to be more responsible is like asking a leopard to change its spots. Bumiputraism has been part and parcel of UMNO’s ideology and method for maintaining political and economic power. Demands for social responsibility and ethical standards in the media will not be heeded unless these are enshrined in new democratic institutions.

Therefore, as we mark this 42nd anniversary of May 13, we reiterate the call for:

– A Truth & Reconciliation Commission to honour those who lost their lives in 1969 and to learn the lessons of that dark episode of Malaysian history by pointing the way forward toward national reconciliation;
– An independent Press Council and Broadcasting Authority, whose members and Chair are seen to be truly independent, acceptable and respected by civil society;
– A Race Relations Act to outlaw racism, racial discrimination, hate crimes and other related intolerances and an Equal Opportunities Commission;
– Ratification of the International Convention on the Eradication of Racism, Racial Discrimination and all forms of Intolerance.