Sep 2, 2013
What happened on May 13, 1969 was terrible, not just for every Malaysian, but also for the armed forces and the police. If the country is to move on and start the healing process, then the May 13 demons must be exorcised, once and for all; but first, the truth must be freed.
The National Operations Council (NOC) which was created in the aftermath of the disturbances by Najib Abdul Razak’s father, sought to return the country to normality, by restoring law and order, as well as re-establishing trust between the races. Its scope was limited and it did not seek to provide a definitive account of the tragedy.
If Najib is sincere in wanting reconciliation, one of the first things he should do is to hold an inquiry into the May 13 riots. Investigators will be hampered by Umno Baru’s unwritten rule, which is that anyone who disagrees with them is either Chinese or communist.
Sceptical Malaysians will accuse Umno Baru of refusing to learn or discover the root causes of the May 13 riots. Critics will worry about the cost and length of time for this inquiry. Many witnesses, victims, politicians, armed forces personnel, hospital staff or news correspondents, will have died. Memories of those who remain will have dulled with age.
Who will lead this inquiry? What will be the scope of this probe? Should the taxpayer be burdened with the cost? How will the government view the findings? Will families of the victims be given compensation or will an apology suffice? Will those who killed, in the line of duty, be prosecuted? Perhaps, the greatest fear is that this investigation will be another whitewash, just like previous inquiries.
The latest reviews on the mockumentary, ‘Tanda Putera’, which were garnered from the Internet, describe a badly produced film, littered with howlers.
If the film-producer, Shuhaimi Baba had done her homework properly, she would have discovered that there were many anachronisms, like CCTV and Proton cars.
Assuming the role of producer-cum-cinema-enforcer, Shuhaimi declared war on the cinemas which refused to screen her films and threatened them with closure. Was she not embarrassed that despite the hype around her film, each viewing attracted only a handful of patrons?
Most films become box-office hits when the threat of a ban generates massive free publicity.
In Shuhaimi’s case, ‘Tanda Putera’ bombed. It deserves the Golden Raspberry Award in recognition for all that is bad in film making.
Shuhaimi was under pressure to produce a propaganda film and the compulsory viewing suggests that Umno Baru is desperate. The first to view her film, despite a cabinet ban, was a group of university students and Felda settlers – an unwitting captive audience.
Khairy also practising double-standards?
Youth and Sports Minister Khairy Jamaluddin urged that ‘Tanda Putera’ be screened outdoors, for public viewing, when Lim Guan Eng announced that the films need not be shown in Penang.
Khairy complained about double-standards and the chief minister’s lip-service to freedom of speech.
Isn’t Khairy also practising double-standards? Did he support the film, ‘The New Village’, and did he know that Malaysiakini was barred from the premiere of ‘Tanda Putera’?
MCA president Dr Chua Soi Lek supported Khairy’s suggestion. Chua’s agreement smacks of political expediency, but Chua’s assessment of the scenes which depict the Chinese as aggressors would be more interesting.
Guan Eng did not ban cinemas from showing the film in Penang, he merely said that they need not show it. Conversely, Communications Minister Shabery Cheek and the film’s producer said that the licences of cinemas which did not screen the film would be withdrawn.
Shabery also called the DAP stupid and said that if DAP were to rule Malaysia, “art would not be allowed to grow, as the party was full of revenge and irrational sentiments”.
He conveniently forgot the recent furore about a Malaysian artist’s painting called ‘I is for Idiot’.
Mohd Nazri Abdul Aziz, the Culture and Tourism Minister, praised Shuhaimi for a well-researched film, before proceeding to blame the Chinese for starting the May 13 riots.
Is he unaware that Shuhaimi was economical with the truth?
Last year, critics slammed Shuhaimi for “historical inaccuracies” and she was forced to clarify that the scene of Lim Kit Siang urinating on a flagpole, was fictitious.
She may have claimed that the film described the relationship between Abdul Razak Hussein and his deputy Dr Ismail Abdul Rahman, but she is wrong to state that these, “two men who gave up everything, including their lives for the country”.
These two men died in office. They may have dedicated their life’s work to the country, but they did not die for the country. Her remarks have insulted the memories of the people who died defending their country, against armed insurgents.
Shuhaimi’s reputation is damaged, and her film has bombed. Even if she were to screen the film for free, it is unlikely that people would come, especially after the many negative reviews. Cinemagoers have been warned.
Shuhaimi could learn from her masters, Umno Baru. Their ceramahs have low rates of attendance unless they provide pocket money, food and gifts. Shuhaimi might get higher attendances if she were to give food and money to everyone who sat through all 117 minutes of the film.
Umno Baru is reluctant to let the ghosts of May 13 rest because they are needed to perpetuate the myth that only Umno Baru can “save” the Malays. These ghosts help prolong the fears and insecurities, particularly at election time.
If Umno Baru can’t maintain the spectre of May 13, it will become irrelevant and redundant to the Malays, because there will be no “enemy” to defend against.
Umno Baru knows that Malaysians do not read, much. Many would rather watch a film than read about the May 13 incident.
Shuhaimi has been economical with the truth when making her mockumentary. It is widely believed that May 13 arose from a power struggle within Umno. The failure to quell the riots quickly also contributed to the large loss of life.
The people of Malaysia bear the mental and physical scars of May 13. A responsible government would allow its citizens to bury the ghosts of one of the most bloody episodes in their modern history.
The shadow cast by May 13 blights every Malaysian who wishes to get on with his life. If our leaders refuse this request, then it is our right to demand an exorcism.
MARIAM MOKHTAR is a defender of the truth, the admiral-general of the Green Bean Army and president of the Perak Liberation Organisation (PLO).