Malaysiakini Letter

Khoo Khay Kims comments highly impressionistic

Dr Collin Abraham  |  Published:  |  Modified:

I refer to the malaysiakini report The Brits did not divide and rule Malaya: Don .

It needs to be pointed out that the comments by emeritus professor Khoo Khay Kim are essentially descriptive, highly impressionistic, not based on concepts or theory, and consequently lacking in-depth analysis. I shall only take up two of his comments.

First, the reasons given to say that the British did not divide and rule Malaya fail to acknowledge that this was an entrenched colonial policy adopted in almost every country coming under the yoke of colonialism.

Indeed, I am surprised at Khoo taking divide and rule as 'normal' for Malaysians since he himself acknowledged the policy in the foreword to my book Divide and Rule: The Roots of Race Relations in Malaysia . He said that I had made 'the first attempt (at) an in-depth examination of the historical roots of the problem'.

Second, although his contention that the sultans maintained their sovereignty during colonial rule is accepted, the significance of this in terms of the ability to meaningfully assert political power or in decision-making was negligible because of the system of indirect-rule.

The importance of sovereignty therefore pales into insignificance not only because of the latter reason, but also because of the dependence of the rulers on the British to protect their thrones which were constantly subject to the claims of usurpers.

Of course, if all else failed the British military presence was always ready to intervene to serve British interests.

Khoo's comment that the 'British never ruled Malaya' is, of course, in a sense correct. They obviously did not have to directly rule because they did so indirectly!

Finally, it seems to me that while historians do an excellent job of recording history they should perhaps leave its interpretation to the social scientists who are trained to do this.

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