Azhar Ibrahim (Wiki
commons) MUCH as some of us want to move on, we keep being reminded about 13 May 1969 in fearsome ways. For many, in particular those who feel politically threatened, the date is a bogey to scare others into submission.
That’s why we still have the likes of Penang Opposition Leader Datuk Azhar Ibrahim from Umno threatening a repeat of 13 May while responding to criticism of the fatal shooting of Form Three student Aminulrasyid Amzah. No matter that there’s little relevance between the two topics.
Azhar retracted his remarks, but is unapologetic in spirit. His reason for having said what he had was because the Barisan Nasional was repeatedly criticised during that debate for being corrupt and autocratic.
“Everyone’s wrong — police, [the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission], Umno — only [Pakatan] is right,” Azhar huffed.
Forty-one years after the incident, 13 May is still being used as a threat. But it’s also evident that this spectre is being used as a line of last defence by those who feel backed into a corner. It’s also being used as a diversion from moving forward on current issues, such as, in Azhar’s case, the police’s limits when discharging firearms. It’s why Perkasa’s Datuk Ibrahim Ali refers to it when he can’t take the debate on economic competitiveness and meritocracy further.
Ibrahim Ali How, then, should we remember 13 May? Or should we even remember it at all? Some feel the less said, the better. Some feel it’s better to just ignore it, because the search for truth will only open up old wounds.
It’s hard to know how to acknowledge a sad date in history, more so when all truths of the incident are not fully known. There are still contradictory accounts as to who started it and the amount of human and material losses suffered.
With inconclusive facts and more than one version of the event, it is left wide open for people to remember 13 May in manipulative ways.
Another Malay Malaysian pressure group called Gerakan Kebangkitan Rakyat chose the date to hold a gathering called Melayu Bangkit in Kuala Terengganu to discuss topics like Malay unity and the New Economic Policy. The gathering has since been postponed. Regardless, it is the group’s right and freedom of expression to debate those subjects, but linking it to the bloodshed of 13 May makes its motives seem less than sincere.
It’s also disingenuous to threaten another 13 May, given that the Federal Constitution now protects the special position of the Malay language and Islam. It also protects the right of citizenship for non-bumiputera and the right to vernacular education. So just what are we in danger of?
We’re in danger of those who are allowed to get away with and perpetuate selective, biased memories of 13 May. In these versions, one group of people or one political party is blamed, and the others depicted as victims. I think instead, 13 May should be acknowledged by all races as a day of national shame where each group behaved in ways that provoked the situation.
Kuala Lumpur in the aftermath of 13 May (Pic by Hassan Muthalib)
The point of remembering
Which is why citizens would do well to remember 13 May by reclaiming it from the fear-mongers. Let’s not hope for any such initiatives from the government or politicians. Let’s do it ourselves. We can seek to change our own prejudices about the other and evaluate them as holistic individuals and not racial caricatures. We can appreciate people’s complexities, rather than locking them into singular, racial identifiers.
Differences will always exist despite common ground. The real challenge should be about having mutual respect in spite of our differences, rather than to whitewash disagreements by temporarily seeking common ground.
Do you have an act by which you can reclaim 13 May?
(Pic by mzacha / sxc.hu) Mine will be to rise early and run 5km while praying for Malaysia. It’s part of my training for the Run For The Nation, a Christian event on 22 May organised for churches across the country. Teams of runners will complete 5km each in a relay that will cover 40km in each locality.
As the runners go past homes, temples, mosques, government buildings and police stations on their route, they are to pray for forgiveness for hurts they have caused. They will also pray for wisdom, integrity, honesty, justice, good relationships, and other blessings on people and institutions.
It’s not a race to see who’s the fastest, but an opportunity to deal with concerns about the nation in a spiritual and positive way. Maybe in the future, the run can be a multifaith event.
I suspect that more than my telling the Almighty what to do for Malaysia, I’ll have some prejudices of my own to correct.
Shouldn’t that be the point of remembering 13 May?
Deborah Loh expects running and talking or praying aloud at the same time to be difficult, but will try to appreciate it in the context of “struggling for change”.
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