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Tanda Putera: Portrait of an apologist

At the outset, let me clarify that I am certainly not the "most vocal critic" of the director of the movie ‘Tanda Putera' (TP). Until this controversy started, I had never heard of this maker of pontianak movies.

Still, I was ready to give her the benefit of the doubt by appealing to any fibre of intellectual honesty in her body when I wrote my reply to her unwarranted attacks on my credibility in her interview with (news portal) FMT. It appears that my efforts have all been water off a duck's back.

This controversy started I believe, when DAP parlimentary leader Lim Kit Siang rightly protested against images posted on TP's website and the outrageous allegations by some bloghead that the DAP leader had urinated against a flagpole at the time of the May 13 incident.

Such a blatant untruth and serious warping of history was explained away without heartfelt apologies by the TP director and I believe the loathsome images and comments were only taken down four weeks later after Kit Siang had made a strong protest.

We witness the same attempt by the TP director to blame others by claiming that "I did not refer to Kua when I pointed out that a writer published his work on May 13, 1969 but did not qualify he was not even in Malaysia during the incident. The credibility of that source is questionable."

Did the director of TP feel that there had been grievous harm done to the reputation of both Kit Siang and myself when these supposed "errors" were discovered?

Did she demand that FMT make a correction and would she have bothered to make a correction if I had not protested against her scurrilous attacks on me? Or are we considered mere collateral damage in her mission to beatify the Umno leaders?

The director of TP has clearly fallen in with the "official" version that the May 13 Incident was a "spontaneous outbreak" of violence between "the Malays" and "the Chinese" after "the Malays" were provoked by "the Chinese".

In this official rendition, the victory parade by the Opposition parties in 1969 is often compounded with an earlier demonstration by the Labour Party which had actually boycotted the 1969 general election because practically all their leaders had been incarcerated under the ISA.

Were these parades so provocative that they were the trigger for the pogrom? From the declassified documents at the British Archives, they were not.

The British were more likely to be pro-Alliance rather than pro-Opposition since after all, the Alliance leaders were the local custodians of British interests in the Independence manoeuvres. But if the director of TP has credible local documents to the contrary, pray, produce them.

Malaysians in recent years are only too well aware of the manner in which the far-right fascists have been quick to stage violent actions against such civil society initiatives as Suqiu in 2000, the racial violence at Kampung Medan in 2001, the Article 11 Coalition in 2006, the even more recent cow head protest and the other recent fascist actions against the Penang state government.

Would the director of TP likewise conclude that these recent incidents by "the Malays" were similarly "justified" because they were provoked?

The well-known poet and writer, Said Zahari wrote his poem "Hidden Hands" when May 13 broke out and he was under ISA detention in Singapore. He wasn't even in the country! Still, he knew enough of the class nature of the ruling coalition to write this poem that is now the "soundtrack" of May 13.

To the evidence I produced of credible Malay intellectuals who did not find my book on May 13 "prejudiced against the Malays" as alleged in her interview with FMT, she says:

"No point going behind names like Subky and your ‘Malay colleagues'. They don't bring validation. "

In fact, I only needed to point to one Malay intellectual to expose her own prejudices but I produced the highly respected (the late) Rustam Sani, Dr Syed Husin Ali, Dr Mohd Nasir Hashim, Dr Azmi Sharom and now, Said Zahari.

By the way, the PAS leader, Subky Latiff is also a renowned Malay journalist and an academic whose work I cited from "Southeast Asian Affairs", a respectable academic journal of the Institute of Southeast Asian Affairs, Singapore.

All of these citations she dismisses as "my Malay colleagues" who "don't bring validation". Apart from echoing the old trite official version of May 13 that has no credibility, she does not cite a single intellectual of note to back her official version.

But apparently, the director of TP has another theory, namely, "What about the view that May 13 was a push for the Chinese radicals at that time to get rid of the Malays and take over power in Selangor because only one seat stood in the way? Was that a failed coup d'etat? Gerakan held on to that seat in favour of the Alliance."

Is the director of TP serious in posing that it was "the Chinese radicals" who had started the violence and that they were ready to take on Umno and the police and the army to achieve their objectives? So where is the evidence to back up this theory?

Declassify SB files on May 13


The only evidence we have is the fact that the violence started at the Mentri Besar's house. I based that on the declassified documents from the British Archives which happen to be the ONLY declassified documents available to researchers. The director of TP betrays her ignorance of public records when she says:

"You blame the British for the things that didn't go your way, like this country not being a socialist country. But you stand by their records and declassified reports. I'm no stranger to the British public records library and I can say that British intelligence reports were known to also make mistakes. They are human. But some mistakes were not corrected and only done on hindsight."

Bob Dylan has a line that says: "If you don't underestimate me, I won't underestimate you..." A credible social scientist knows how to sieve information from public records regardless of whether they are Malaysian, British or American.

I too read the rags of the ruling coalition but that does not mean than I am incapable of sieving the information I want. I would be only too happy to join the director of TP in calling for the immediate declassifying of the documents on May 13, especially the Malaysian Special Branch reports.

If they show that the violence did not start at the mentri besar's residence but by "assorted bad elements" and "communists", I will be the first to retract my theory in the book.

Ultimately, if we really want to create a society "at peace with itself", we need to set up a Truth & Reconciliation Commission entrusted to encourage all witnesses including the police, army, hospital and Red Cross staff and families of victims to come forward to tell their story.

I made this abundantly clear in my article on "Deconstructing Prejudice". I do not see why a witness statement by my brother in law who was a professor at the University Hospital where some of the bodies were brought to, should not be credible.

Everyone who witnessed the violence and deaths during May 13 should be welcome to give us their narratives at a Truth & Reconciliation Commission hearing.

It's class, stupid!


The director of TP fails to see that my thesis in "May 13: Declassified Documents..." was essentially that the actions of the emergent Malay state capitalist class against the Malay aristocratic class at the time amounted to a coup d'etat. The historical personalities were significant in this analysis because of the class role they played.

It is clear the director of TP is unfamiliar with social scientific usage when she asks: "Kua labelled Razak as an ‘ambitious Malay capitalist'. Is it because of the colour of his skin...!"

That label is her own coinage. My thesis in the book was that Razak led the emergent Malay state capitalist class to power. They subsequently came to an accommodation with the local Chinese and Indian capitalists and they lived happily ever after with the formation of the BN.

Unfortunately, this cosy story came to a sobering end in the general election of 2008 when the rakyat finally got wise to the "bumiputeraist" fairy tale as being the ideology spun by the Umnoputras after May 13.

The director of TP may not know that class analysis in the academic corridors of our local universities uses similar designations. Social scientists are interested in ethnicity, not RACE which is Umno's strategy to divide Malaysians into "bumiputera" and "non-bumiputera".

We can't really blame her since, as Roger Ebert, the film critic observes: "Class is often invisible in the movies, and usually not the subject of films."

Learn from Dr M

Quite bizarrely for an artist, the director of TP repeats her deference to authority: "As a Malaysian, I accept anyone who is elected by the power of the majority as prime minister. It is about respect for the office of the prime minister, the highest office in the country. Not just anyone can become prime minister..."

I have already said my piece on a healthy disrespect for authority, including prime ministers in my previous article. I would think that the best reference and model for this is our former prime minister, the indefatigable Dr Mahathir.

Now, if the director of TP has read the surat layang (anonymous letter) that he wrote against the Tunku during the May 13 crisis, she will probably think that it was not sopan santun (courteous) and unbecoming of someone to slam the ‘Father of Independence' in that way.

And if the office of prime minister has to be so respected, why did Dr Mahathir proceed to humiliate and denigrate Abdullah Badawi after he had ascended to the post?

Prime Minister Najib Razak now has to tread carefully to not fall on the wrong side of our prickly former prime minister.

Let's not forget that Dr. Mahathir does not respect prime ministers and presidents in other countries either - he has branded (former British) prime minister Tony Blair and (former US) president George Bush as war criminals for their culpability in the Iraq war at a Peoples' Tribunal in Malaysia.

On this issue of the Iraq war, I agree with the tenacious Tun! So where is his "respect for the office of the prime minister, the highest office in the country..."?

The director of TP should perhaps re-examine her values which are archaic compared to those of modern film makers and socially critical artists.

The emperor's apologist

There is a Chinese phrase to describe artists or intellectuals who apologise for the ruling elite: yuyong wenren, which can be translated as "the emperor's apologists".

The director of TP does not merely parrot the "official" version of May 13, she even echoes the current attempt by the regime to demonise the organisation I belong to, viz. Suaram:

"Being a politician, left leaning and all, Kua is adept at playing victim. We see it everywhere. The pretenders who champion justice and truth, so cunning in engineering impressions to bring the country's government of the day to its knees, even if it means serving foreign interest..."

It would be asking too much to gauge the director of TP's opinion about the Scorpene scandal and her views on the murder trial of Altantuya although there is a movie there waiting to be made!

I have written quite a few articles to debunk such defamatory statements. She can google if she is interested in finding out the truth about the real foreign lackeys in this country and who has been profiting from arms procurements with foreign countries.

Doubtless, when Suaram sues for defamation, it will be against the administration headed by the prime minister the director of TP respects so much - fortunately for her, we will not bother to sue the lesser "emperor's apologists"...

The director of TP should stop pretending to be progressive when she echoes the same cry by the far-right ethno-centrists that we have heard since colonial days:

"One thing for sure - what the spilling of blood of May 13 did was bring people to their senses and decide whether you want to be in this country or you don't. Make up your mind. And let's work at living together."

Typical of the far right racists, she does not appreciate that all citizens are entitled to the same justice, equality, democracy and human rights. Does she not know that many Malayans were banished to China and India during the Emergency against their will even though they had decided that they wanted to be in this country?

Unfortunately Ms Director of TP, any spilling of blood, i.e. those responsible for mass killings - whether at Batang Kali in 1948 or Kuala Lumpur in 1969 - must be brought to account.


KUA KIA SOONG is adviser to human rights NGO Suaram.