Ali Rustam and the prolonged May 13 trauma

Aidila Razak
21st Sept 2015

COMMENT National Silat Federation (Pesaka) chief Mohd Ali Rustam seems to be suffering from prolonged trauma.

The symptoms were striking in his interview with Mingguan Malaysia yesterday on the achievements of Himpunan Rakyat Bersatu on Sept 16.

Asked what the rally, meant to ‘reclaim Malay dignity’ had achieved, Ali turned Dr Who to travel close to five decades into time to the race riots of 1969.

“They (Bersih 4 organisers and participants) try to show that Kuala Lumpur belongs to Bersih and the DAP gang, and Malays should balik kampung (go back to the villages). But now the villagers are coming to Kuala Lumpur.

“They think we have lost our self-worth and that Kuala Lumpur does not belong to various races. They think Malays don’t belong to Kuala Lumpur, and it is only for DAP and Bersih.

“They try to show they are brave and that Malays are not. They held rallies four times, and yet no Malays were brave enough to fight back,” he said.

Note the mention of taunts of ‘balik kampung’.

On May 12, 1969, majority-Chinese parties held a post-election victory parade in Kuala Lumpur.

The ethnic Chinese participants of the parade reportedly brought brooms to symbolise sweeping Malays out of the capital city, and told Malay bystanders it’s time they go back to their villages now that the Chinese have political power in the city.

What brooms?

I did not see brooms at the Bersih 4 rally on Aug 29 and 30. Nor did I witness anyone telling the Malays to ‘balik kampung’.

Instead, there were blatant displays of distaste for a sitting prime minister who admitted to have received RM2.6 billion – an amount greater than the entire Selangor budget for 2015 – into his bank account, from a donor he did not care to reveal.

But for Ali, who lived through the riots, the sight of ethnic Chinese protesters flooding the streets of Kuala Lumpur urging the PM’s resignation induced flashbacks.

He saw brooms again, he heard people telling Malays they didn’t belong in the city and when these uncouth Chinese youths started stomping on Najib’s picture, it all became convoluted into another form in what seems to be a mind addled with fear and anxiety.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is no joke.

Recently, the US government found a pattern of suicide among marines who went on tours in Afghanistan and Iraq.

It was later traced that many of those who committed suicide after returning to the US were from the same company, and had gone through some of the most horrific incidents on duty together.

In the UK, police officers on duty during the 2001 race riots sought legal action for compensation over psychological trauma sustained during the violent clashes between white and British Asian youths.

Some 46 officers went on sick leave over the incident. A total 260 officers sustained physical injuries.

Recurring flashbacks

According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 4th Edition (DSM IV), among symptoms of PTSD is the feeling “as if the traumatic event were recurring”.

This would include “a sense of reliving the experience, illusions, hallucinations and dissociative flashback episodes”.

Is Ali suffering PTSD or are we all suffering from some never-ending collective trauma from May 13, 1969?

As far as ethnic clashes go, Bosnia-Hezergovina remains one of the more harrowing examples in modern history.

In 2000, there were hundreds of international and local NGOs working in Bosnia to repair the social and emotional damage of the war, which resulted in ethnic cleansing.

The work includes attempts to break the ‘us’ vs ‘them’ mentality, and dialogue to help the previously warring groups see each other as humans and fellow citizens.

There was never such a thing after the fledgling Malaysia woke up from the charred remnants of the race riots. There has never been any since.

I remember the date referred to in whispers when I was growing up, like it was something evil never to be uttered.

When I was in school, there was hardly a mention in my history textbooks of the incident, which scarred the nation’s psyche and changed policy irreversibly.

I imagine this to be the case today, when even a fictional love story between a Malay man and a Chinese woman at the time of the riots in a literature anthology caused a DAP MP to jump.

For those from my generation and younger, only those willing to go out of their way to know about this significant moment in history, will learn more about it through academic papers and books.

Propaganda from both ends

The rest will be left to the fuzzy ruminations of pop culture (remember ‘Tanda Putera’) and propaganda from both the opposition and government on what apparently happened and why we should or should not be afraid.

Suffice to say, it is easier to mislead the ignorant than those who know.

I suspect Ali’s sudden claim that Bersih 4 was a rally to tell Malays to balik kampung is more odious propaganda, and less a symptom of an ailing mind.

Let’s get this straight. Telling a sitting prime minister he needs to shape up or leave has nothing to do with ethnicity.

Najib is Malay, but so what? Would getting a RM2.6 billion from an unidentified donor be any less questionable if the PM was Chinese, Indian or Iban?

Malays should not feel insulted if Najib is insulted, nor should the ethnic Chinese feel demeaned when an effigy of Lim Guan Eng is torched.

These are politicians, office-bearers, civil servants. They are copping criticism for what they do in their day jobs.

They do not represent the entire ethnic community, nor should they be an extension of anyone’s understanding of their own identity or self-worth.

Ali and the 45,000 people at Himpunan Rakyat Bersatu may think otherwise.

But really lah.

If he continues to see brooms and hear taunts of “balik kampung” when there were none, he should get some help instead of infecting others.

AIDILA RAZAK is a member of the Malaysiakini team.

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