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The uneasy peace

Posted: 20 Jul 2013 06:38 PM PDT

The younger generation, those born long after the 1950s, need to understand this. And they need to understand plus respect both the letter and the spirit of what our Founding Fathers (or founding grandfathers for many of us) tried to achieve and did to a great extent achieve. You have to be very careful about 'rocking the boat' lest we trigger what the British and our grandfathers tried very hard to avoid.


Raja Petra Kamarudin

Indonesia obtained its independence in 1945. Philippines obtained its independence in 1946. India obtained its independence in 1947. Malaya started talking about independence in 1942 (during the Japanese occupation) but obtained it only 15 years later in 1957.

Why did it take 15 years for it to happen? Well, there are two reasons.

First of all, these other countries literally fought for their independence. Malayans, in particular the Malay Malayans, do not like to fight. They like to talk (which is why they make good politicians). And they in particular do not like to fight their rulers ('rulers' not meaning just the monarchy but the colonial masters as well).

Hence the Malays would rather talk and negotiate/discuss the issue rather than take up arms like those from those other countries (or even launch 'civil disobedience' like in India -- which is another form of fighting called passive resistance).

Secondly, in Indonesia, Philippines and India, those seeking independence were Indonesians, Filipinos and Indians. In Malaya it was Malays, Chinese and Indians. Hence it was more complicated than in those other countries. There would first be an issue of ethnicity that needed to be resolved before we can come to the issue of a new nation state.

Hence it took 15 years, from the time of the Japanese occupation until the day that Merdeka was declared, before Malaya actually saw independence.

Now, some say that the British dragged their feet and put obstacles in the way that caused this 15-year delay (or 12 years delay if calculated from 1945 when the British took back Malaya from the Japanese).

That is not quite true. The British knew they had to give Malaya its independence once India and the other countries in Southeast Asia got their independence (it was a 'Tsunami' the British could not fight against). The fact that the British supported the creation of Umno (and I know this because back in the 1990s I had interviewed various people in their 70s and 80s -- and now all dead -- who gave me the inside story regarding how Merdeka was gained) and 'forced' the creation of the Alliance Party is proof of the British plan.

So, in that sense, the British were preparing Malaya for independence. But they wanted it done properly and with a peaceful transfer of power with everyone's interest protected -- the Malays, the Chinese, the Indians, and the interest of the British as well.

The British interest was simple. At that time, most of the businesses in Malaya were British owned -- estimated at 80%. And 30% of the British economy was supported by their businesses in Malaya. Considering that World War II practically bankrupted Britain, they could not afford to lose their business interests in Malaya.

And there were two ways their business interests in Malaya would suffer. One would be the 'wrong' Malayans take over the government and they will nationalise all British business interests. Second would be Malaya erupts into civil war. Both ways the economy would collapse and the British would suffer.

Hence the British had to make sure that the 'wrong' Malayans, the left-wing Malayans (and at that time the left wing was very strong and militant as well and many were actually Malays), plus the Communist Party of Malaya (CPM), did not grab power. And the British also had to make sure that the Malays, Chinese and Indians were forcibly brought to the negotiation table to JOINTLY talk about independence based on terms that all three races can agree to and accept. 

The issue of the CPM required a military solution. The CPM supporters (mostly who were reluctant supporters anyway and only supported the CPM out of fear) needed to be isolated and insulated from the CPM (hence the creation of Chinese 'new villages').

The issue of the left wing, many who were Malays, was solved with the Special Branch arresting them and detaining them without trial (that was how the EO first came about). Hence Umno was free to talk while all others were silenced.

But the issue of ethnicity was more complicated. The British had to force Umno, MCA and MIC to form a coalition called the Alliance Party so that independence would not be based on Umno's wishes or interests but based on those of the Alliance Party.

And that was why it took more than a decade to finally see independence declared -- because it took a long time for the Malays, Chinese and Indians to come to an agreement on what we call the Merdeka Agreement.

Today, some of us may view the Merdeka Agreement as outdated or no longer practical. Today that may be true. However, if you consider when this agreement was conjured, that is back in the 1950s, that was the best solution for a smooth transition of power without the danger of a civil war.

As I said earlier, independence for Indonesia, Philippines and India, was quite straightforward. It involved only Indonesians, Filipinos and Indians respectively. For Malaya it was not that straightforward. If it just involved the Malays it would not be so complicated. But then it did not involve just the Malays. It involved the Malays, Chinese and Indians.

It is very easy for those born decades after Merdeka to criticise the Merdeka Agreement and criticise their grandfathers who had agreed to the terms of the Agreement. But that was the best solution at that time. And it was a solution of compromise where everyone had to sacrifice something to gain something else.

In short, it was a solution on how the Malays, Chinese and Indians could keep the peace.

Nevertheless, it was an uneasy peace. It was not a marriage of love. It was a marriage of convenience. It was a union of diverse interests to ensure that everyone had a place under the Malayan sun and no one need fear for their lives.

This uneasy peace was not always problem free. From time to time, the peace was tainted by racial skirmishes, religious conflicts, and so on (until today, in fact). But the fact that none of us have taken to the street to kill our neighbours (other than some incidences here and there, the worst being May 13) proves that somehow what we agreed in the 1950s has worked to a certain degree.

Everyone has had to make concessions. For example, say Barisan Nasional wins Penang and Umno has more seats than MCA and Gerakan, a Chinese from either MCA or Gerakan would still be made the Chief Minister. That is the 'unwritten agreement' -- that a Malay would never be the Chief Minister of Penang.

The 'correct' thing would be since Umno has more seats than MCA and Gerakan then an Umno man should be Chief Minister. But we cannot always be 'correct' when we talk about compromise. Sometimes we need to be 'incorrect' to be able to compromise.

The younger generation, those born long after the 1950s, need to understand this. And they need to understand plus respect both the letter and the spirit of what our Founding Fathers (or founding grandfathers for many of us) tried to achieve and did to a great extent achieve. You have to be very careful about 'rocking the boat' lest we trigger what the British and our grandfathers tried very hard to avoid.

Many of you feel that your youth gives you carte blanche or the passport to say what you want and to hell with what others may feel. That is most irresponsible and is an act of treason. Yes, any attempt to trigger a civil war is an act of treason.

I am one person who has advocated freedom of opinion, freedom of choice, freedom of thought, and so on. Hence I support freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of lifestyle, plus more. I have said this for quite some time now.

And against that backdrop I respect the choice of Muslims to leave Islam, the choice of Christians to use Allah, the choice of anyone to enter into gay unions, and much more.

Nevertheless, after saying all this, I also recognise the need to temper this with respect for the sensitivities of different segments of society. Hence I accept that we cannot look at things in absolutes but as a balance.

For example, live as a gay couple if you wish but do not make an issue out of it by forcing the government to recognise gay marriages in Malaysia. Leave Islam if you wish but do not make an issue out of it by forcing the National Registration Department to remove the 'Islam' on your identity card. And so on and so forth.

In short, there are certain limitations and obstacles in making Malaysia a free society. So learn to navigate around it rather then meet in head on and trigger some sort of controversy.

Since 2008 we are seeing intolerance increase, reminiscent of the late 1960s. And this appears to be from the younger generation who, as I said, think that their youth exempts them from being decent and that they can be as nasty as they please. This is going to see serious repercussions if we do not rein in our arrogance. 

I have never been an advocate of Malay supremacy. I pride myself in being more 'Chinese' than Malay. But if even I can get pissed with the Chinese just imagine how those other Malays feel. And just because I say I am pissed with the Chinese that does not mean I am not also pissed with the Malays.

Those who have been following what I write since the 1990s will know that I have said more nasty things about the Malays than I have about the Chinese. While I say 'Cina bodoh' I also say 'Melayu bodoh'.

You have a choice. We can either move forward with even more racial and religious intolerance or we can turn back the clock to what Malaysia used to be back in the 1950s. I was born in 1950 and I just love Malaysia of the 1950s and 1960s. You people who were born after that may not know Malaysia of the era before you were born. But let me assure you it was a beautiful Malaysia.

Violence begets violence. Arrogance begets arrogance. So you decide what you would like Malaysia to be. And once we slide down that slippery slope of racial/religious strife it would be too late and impossible to turn the clock back.

And I am talking to Malaysians of all ethnicities and religious persuasion.



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