Ignoring history means Malaysia risks losing its soul


K. Kabilan

Malaysians must learn to value the nation’s rich multicultural heritage, which makes up the soul of the country. – The Malaysian Insight file pic, January 16, 2024.

TWO recent news reports bring to focus the need to rewrite Malaysia’s history to be more inclusive and reflective of the reality of our nation’s past.

The first is Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s favourite pastime of putting down the non-Malays as he continues to play up his pro-Malay agenda.

His recent rant that Malaysia Indians are not completely loyal to the country is the latest of his hate speech – that’s what it is in reality. 

He keeps questioning the loyalty and patriotism of Malaysian Indians and the Chinese simply because they still identify with their countries of origin, speak their mother tongue and continue to practise their culture and heritage.

For the former prime minister, these two communities should identify as Malay to have the right to call this country their own.

“Malaysian Indians do not speak Malay as their home language, they speak Tamil,” he said in an exclusive online interview with Indian satellite TV channel Thanthi TV.

He added he had an issue as these “immigrants” call Malaysia their home while keeping their own cultures and customs.

This is not the first time Dr Mahathir has spewed such arguments but it has become even more rampant in recent months after he had aligned himself with the Malay-based Perikatan Nasional parties which use the Malay agenda to gain political power.

His views also bring to question his honesty, integrity and ethics in claiming to represent all Malaysians as the prime minister in his two separate tenures which ran to almost 24 years.

Were the non-Malays duped into believing that the governments of the day under Dr Mahathir had cared for them?

However, such insensitive remarks are not only confined to Dr Mahathir.

Remember the current prime minister’s utterance of the word “keling” at a function recently and his excuse for using it when he could have avoided it? Would he have uttered a sensitive word, even if he was reading it out from a text, if it had referred to the majority race?

So why is it that politicians and many others continue to mock non-Malays and question their loyalty and patriotism?

Is it because our history books have erased all mention of what these people had done for the country? How long have they been here? How many members of these communities had served loyally to ensure this land’s prosperity and development?

Not just history books in schools. Access to all public records from the British colonialists right up to the early days of Malaya is very limited. These records will show the important role played by these “pendatang” in developing this land. One wonders if these records are still available.

Local historians meanwhile are just not keen to talk about all these. For them, their agenda is seemingly to highlight and promote half-baked and unproven theories on the might of the majority race. 

Only one race matters for our historians, politicians and some narrow-minded Malaysians.

Forgotten heroes

This brings us to the second piece of news: the death of communist leader Abdullah CD on Saturday. He was 100.

The former Communist Party of Malaya (CPM) chairman, whose real name is Che Dat Anjang Abdullah, has long been labelled as a terrorist who had killed many in the years leading to Merdeka and after.

This is what is taught in our history books.

However, for others, he is also a freedom fighter who played his role effectively in ensuring this country was not ruled by the British or the Japanese.

A brief recap of his and his comrades’ fight first.

Abdullah’s foray against the Japanese occupation started through his Kesatuan Melayu Muda, or the Young Malay Union. He had then joined the communist-led Malayan People’s Anti-Japanese Army.

When the British returned, he joined other freedom fighters such as Mokhtaruddin Lasso, Dr Burhanuddin al-Helmy, Ahmad Boestaman and Ishak Mohamad to form the Malayan Malay National Party, or Parti Kebangsaan Melayu Malaya (PKMM).

PKMM was formed shortly before another Malay-based party called Umno was set up, and both had fought for the same cause in self-rule, only their ideologies differed.

Entering the 67th year of our independence, Malaysian students only read about the mighty role played by Umno and its type of nationalists. The others, including PKMM and CPM, are all erased from our books.

In fact, last November Home Ministry officials seized eight locally published Chinese-language books that contained “communist elements” from a popular independent bookstore. These books are not officially banned in Malaysia.

When this writer interviewed Abdullah in 2009, the latter was disappointed with how they were being portrayed.

“Our contributions for Malaysia are immense but we are not properly recognised. For them we are terrorists, not freedom fighters.

“We had so many good fights. We gave them as good as we received. Many people died from both sides but we were fighting for a cause,” he had said ruefully.

The passing of Abdullah brings an end to the CPM chapter in Malayan and Malaysian history. However communism continues to remain the bogeyman of our present mindset.

The stories of people like Abdullah and his comrades must be told to our students as they, too, had played a part in this country’s history.

Like local historian Ranjit Singh Malhi says regularly, Malaysians must learn to value the nation’s rich multicultural heritage, which makes up the soul of the country.

He said the teaching of inclusive history is an integral part of nation-building.

“Our young are not being taught the real and inclusive history of our nation but a consciously selected historical narrative skewed towards establishing Islamic and Malay dominance based upon the divisive concept of ‘ketuanan Melayu’,” he said in an interview. – January 16, 2024.



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