By Kee Thuan Chye
The pettiness of the Government has not been so clearly exposed as it is now over the issue of whether the former Communist leader Chin Peng’s ashes should be allowed into Malaysia to be buried in the land he loved and fought for. Even the police – who should have better things to look out for like the increasing incidences of crime – are putting out alerts to prevent the ashes from being brought back from Thailand, where he died. As if these ashes were lethal and could, by some preternatural means, maim the Malaysian populace.
Imagine this. Police personnel stationed at every entry point into Malaysia from Thailand, including at airports, going through the bags of everyone coming in. As if they have nothing better to do. But then, for all we know, the ashes might have been sent to someone in, say, Indonesia instead, and this person comes into Malaysia with it, unchecked. How stupid can it get?
Meanwhile, the authorities still quibble over the trivia that Chin Peng was not Malaysian because he could not produce the necessary documents to prove he was so, but it seems more likely that they did not want to let him return, full stop.
He first applied, under the guarantees of the peace agreement, to resettle in Malaysia in 1990, but his application was rejected the following year. In 2004, he wrote to then prime minister Abdullah Badawi, but got no reply. That year, he received instead a letter from the Home Ministry’s secretary-general saying that his request to enter Malaysia had been rejected. No explanation was given.
He took the matter to the courts. But in 2005, the High Court rejected his application to enter Malaysia on the grounds that he had to show identification papers to prove his citizenship. Chin Peng, however, said he could not do so because his birth certificate was seized by the police in 1948. In 2008, the Court of Appeal upheld the ruling.
Just a few days ago, Inspector-General of Police (IGP) Khalid Abu Bakar reiterated that Chin Peng was never a Malaysian citizen and, as such, the question of his being buried in Malaysia should not arise.
But documents are only stuff on paper. They are no match for what a person feels for his country and the things he does in respect of that feeling. Whatever you call that feeling – patriotism if you like – it is far and above more meaningful than a piece of paper.
The fact is, Chin Peng fought against the Japanese when they invaded Malaya and the British retreated. If this alone does not automatically qualify him to be Malaysian, what will? Entering the country illegally and agreeing to vote for Barisan Nasional, like the immigrants in Sabah who have been given identity cards for doing just that? In the latter case, in fact, having documents doesn’t mean diddly squat.
More tangible than this, the Malaysian Government signed a peace treaty in 1989 with the Communist Party of Malaya (CPM), of which Chin Peng was its head. And in that agreement, the CPM agreed to disband and cease all armed activities while the Government agreed to allow the CPM’s members to settle down in Malaysia. Since then, many have been allowed home, including leaders like Rashid Maidin and Shamsiah Fakeh. But why not Chin Peng? Why was he discriminated against?
The other favourite argument of the Government’s against Chin Peng’s return to Malaysia is that he was a terrorist and the head of a terrorist organisation that had caused the deaths of thousands. But when you hold this up against the terms of the agreement, you can straight away see that the argument is unfair. The man and his comrades had given up the fight, they would no longer “terrorise”. It was time for both sides to put the past aside and move on. For the sake of peace. That’s what an agreement is about. So how could the Government sign an agreement and still call the other signatory a villain? Might as well not sign the agreement in the first place!
Why does the Government want to behave in such bad form over this? Because it thinks maintaining Chin Peng as a bogeyman is worth its tarnishing its honour?
But even on the issue of Chin Peng being a terrorist, the lines are not clear-cut. To some, he was one, but to others, he was a freedom fighter. When he served the British cause in fighting against the Japanese, he was awarded the OBE (Order of the British Empire), but when he consequently fought against the British to gain independence for Malaya, he was a terrorist.
True, his Communist ideology was not everyone’s cup of tea and the CPM did kill many people to fulfil its mission, for which it should be condemned, but Chin Peng has also taken responsibility for the CPM’s taking of thousands of lives. In an interview with history professor Cheah Boon Kheng in 1998, he said, “This was inevitable. It was a war for national independence.”
That this was so is affirmed by our first prime minister, Tunku Abdul Rahman, in his book Lest We Forget: “Just as Indonesia was fighting a bloody battle, so were the Communists of Malaya, who, too, fought for independence.”
The Japanese, on the other hand, were invaders, and they tortured and killed thousands more of our countrymen during their invasion, and yet we have forgiven them their atrocities. In fact, the Japanese are now our friends, and they are a people we look up to, thanks to ex-premiere Mahathir Mohamad’s Look East policy. So why is it that we cut them more slack?
Is the Government hard on Chin Peng because it feels embarrassed that Umno, the party that it has heaped so much credit on for winning independence, did not fight any bloody battles for it, like Chin Peng and the CPM did? And that, also, one of Umno’s revered leaders of the past, Abdul Razak Hussein, actually worked for the Japanese?
Well, in the book Tun Abdul Razak: Potret dalam Kenangan, a collection of reminiscences by people who knew the country’s second prime minister, there is a mention of his having been an administrative officer for the Japanese. It is in the chapter entitled ‘Saya Mendayung, Dia Mengemudi’ (I Rowed, He Held the Helm), written by former Cabinet minister Ghazali Shafie.
And in a study called ‘Sejarah Penubuhan Universiti Teknologi Mara UITM’, there is a photograph of Razak with three others dressed in Japanese uniform with the rising sun insignia pinned on their shirt pockets. This apparently depicts the time he was being trained by the Japanese.
To be sure, Ghazali also mentions in his chapter that he and Razak were actually nationalists. “We felt that since we had known the British much longer … it was easier to stand up to them than the Japanese, whom we had not got a full measure of yet … Therefore, we felt we had to master [the] Japanese [language] and at the same time, we had to look for channels to contact the British … so as to obtain their assistance in fighting the Japanese.”
From his account, it looks like the strategy adopted by him and Razak was a pragmatic play-both-sides one that is different from the direct warfare approach opted for by Chin Peng.
In view of this, do we still say that Chin Peng doesn’t deserve to even have his ashes brought home to the country he wanted to return to and die in?
Well, I would say that he has more right to be buried in Malaysia than many people I could name. For example, those who have been behind the giving of illegal identity cards to illegal immigrants in Sabah are certainly not as worthy as Chin Peng in claiming this country as their home. He never sold out his country; in fact, he wanted it to be free. His problem was, his ideology was not accepted. And he was on the wrong side of history.
I think it’s time to set the history right.
* Kee Thuan Chye is the author of the new book The Elections Bullshit, now available in bookstores.