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History a pass subject, but whose version?

“Apa yang saya perkatakan ini tidak menghairankan. Di abad ke-20 kita telah dipampangkan dengan kes-kes hukuman tanpa perbicaraan di Amerika Syarikat, tragedi ‘holocaust’ di Benua Eropah, penyembelihan rakyat Palestine di Asia Barat serta penghapusan etnik di Bosnia dan Rwanda.

“Jadi, bayangkanlah, apakah kesudahannya, jika setiap generasi rakyat Malaysia mengambil pendirian untuk mempersoal kewajaran kontrak sosial kebangsaan yang telah dimuafakatkan pendahulu mereka sebelum ini.”

Prime Minister and Umno president Datuk Seri Najib Razak in his opening speech at the 2010 Umno general assembly. Najib said Malay Malaysians had made the ultimate sacrifice to achieve independence in allowing other races to share what was then known as Malaya.

He said open debate on the special position of Malay Malaysians and the social contract could lead to unease and incite primordial instincts amongst the races. Citing examples of the Jewish holocaust and ethnic cleansing in Bosnia and Rwanda, Najib said history had shown that such instincts, if not tempered, could result in violence. (Source: Umno president’s speech at the 2010 Umno general assembly, Office of the Prime Minister of Malaysia, 21 Oct 2010)

“The (education) ministry will improve the history syllabus content by focusing on aspects related to the country’s constitution, to improve understanding on the formation of Malaysia.”

Deputy Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin, in his closing speech at the Umno general assembly, announcing that it would be compulsory for Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia (SPM) students to pass their history paper from 2013 onwards. He said that this decision was in response to Umno delegates’ complaints that the younger generation had poor knowledge of the nation’s history. (Source: Muhyiddin: Compulsory to pass SPM history paper from 2013, theSun, 23 Oct 2010)

“…from the mid-1980s, the idea that there had been an implicit ‘social contract’ was fashioned. It was suggested that the notion of ‘Ketuanan Melayu’ had, by inference, been part of or implied by that contract.

“In this way, born only in the 1980s, the new idea of ‘Ketuanan Melayu’ was ‘read back’, or subsequently ‘smuggled’, into the Merdeka agreements and process…If there was an implicit contract at that time…then universal assent to ‘Ketuanan Melayu’ was and must have been part of it.

“This, quite simply and evidently, is historically erroneous. It is sheer revisionism. It is retrospective meddling with national historical truth and the nation’s constitutional foundations.”

Clive Kessler, emeritus professor of sociology and anthropology at the University of New South Wales in Sydney. Kessler stressed that the notion of Malay supremacy was not part of the Merdeka process and agreements. At the very least, there was an “implicit” contract, and definitely not an agreement on paper or cast in stone. And to his historical understanding, this implicit contract was about inter-ethnic power-sharing and the secular nature of Malaysia.

In another article published in Malaysiakini written in response to Najib’s recent comments at the Umno AGM, Kessler said that any suggestion that Malay [Malaysian] political domination in perpetuity was part of the nation’s foundational agreement “is simply wrong”. He also notes that different parties have “enlarged or ‘inflated’” parts of the Merdeka agreements that fitted their politics. (Source: What social contract? — Clive Kessler, The Malaysian Insider, 6 Sept 2010)

“It is important for Malaysians not to be gagged into silence on what is perhaps the most contentious issue standing in the way of better inter-communal relations in the country. The quicker we can reach consensus on what the social contract means — not only in terms of what was agreed by the nation’s early leaders in the past but also, more importantly, on how this agreement should be understood by Malaysians today — the less divided and more hopeful [we can be about] our future.”

Academics Dr Lim Teck Ghee, Dr Mavis Puthucheary, Dr Azmi Sharom, Dr Toh Kin Woon and Dr Wan Zawawi Ibrahim, in a joint press statement. They stressed that Malaysians should have the benefit of reading the Reid Commission reports to understand the logic and wisdom or our founding leaders. They said this was preferable to depending on “politically skewed interpretations of what is supposed to comprise any agreement or social contract for that period.” (Source: The “social contract” — Concerned scholars, The Malaysian Insider, 27 Oct 2010)

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28 Responses to “History a pass subject, but whose version?”

  1. KK Aw says:

    History as we know it will be based on advocacy. Why don’t we promote “discovery” – check out

  2. Yeah says:

    It doesn’t matter whose version. History is so badly taught, [and it’s all about memorising] facts and dates, that it will all be a bad memory most students will erase once they’ve regurgitated the facts for the exam.

  3. BNatang says:

    Umno will be HISTORY in 2013!

  4. Farouq Omaro says:

    All it took was for a delegate at an Umno assembly to ask for it, and now history will be a must-pass subject. I dare say the same delegate will not dare to ask for English to be made a compulsory pass subject!

    • frank peter says:

      Exactly! But these very same people are probably the same people who flunked history anyway.

  5. beeyong says:

    Whose version? BTN’s version, of course.

  6. Fern says:

    The problem with our History textbooks is that it is extremely subjective, so much so that it turns a lot of students off. They almost seem like propaganda. If the British were to read our textbooks, I’m pretty sure they’d get offended due to its excessive criticism and the cruel, manipulative image that they are painted as. And the textbooks do not challenge students’ minds by asking them to justify and question whether a political decision was rightfully made. How do they expect us to be future leaders?

  7. Ramlah Ramadan says:

    I hope the version taught will make the non-Malays realise that their existence in Malaysia was due to opportunist forefathers who took advantage of colonial capitalism, and that jus soli citizenship for them was a privilege that was unprecedented anywhere else in Southeast Asia. There was no pressure on them to assimilate into the culture of the host country, or to prove their loyalty to the state (let’s remember that the Chinese government–both Qing and Republican, considered overseas Chinese as still China nationals). The children of guests, who did much to destabilise the demographics of what could have been a […] homogenous society, should know their place.

    • Lainie Yeoh says:

      I wonder what the indigenous people think of the phrase “opportunist forefathers”? 😐

    • koala says:

      Oh, you’re just racist. 😛

      • Jeff says:

        “Just racist” is like “just pregnant” or “just dead.” It invites the subject of the observation to belittle the observation in his own mind, instead of seeing it in the ten-metre-tall, bloody red neon-lit letters with cacophonous sound effects that it justly deserves.

        Racism has killed many societies over history, and, thanks in part to the “modern” invention of what never before truly existed, racism has brought Malaysia to death’s door. I’ve lived in the USSR. I’ve lived in the old South Africa. I’ve lived in the Deep South of the USA. But I’ve never, ever, lived anyplace that so consistently, deliberately, needlessly made me feel that “what” I am is more important than “who” I am than in Malaysia — or Singapore. (There is little enough real difference between the two, that it can charitably be called a “rounding error.”)

    • JW Tan says:

      The PM’s comments, and yours, are ridiculous. Am I, as a Malaysian citizen, supposed to be thankful that your ancestors did not kill my ancestors, instead offering them a form of second-class citizenship, with all the limited rights and privileges that implies?

      What your ancestors did was the civilised response. And it was begrudged – my family has been in Malaysia for more than a hundred years, yet we are still referred to by your ilk as pendatang. I can’t believe that I’m being asked to be thankful your ancestors didn’t act like monsters, and acted like human beings instead. And even then, they gave my ancestors a raw deal, which ultimately led to my generation of the family being sick of being exploited for our taxes and contribution to economic growth.

      My son will grow up as a citizen of another country, one where he is fully entitled to all the relevant rights and privileges, simply because he is a citizen. For him, and future generations of my family, Malaysia will be a memory – beautiful, wonderful, but ultimately, not a country that deserved our loyalty and trust.

    • ahkhoo says:

      So, Ramlah Ramadan, your [ancestors] have been here in Malaysia since time immemorial ? Or rather, they were the Orang Asli in the deep of the jungle, but today are the politicians calling the shots? Get real and get a life! Smell the roses and feel the dew! No one race owns any piece of country today; each person has migrated where the grass is greener!

      Many great politicians today are descendants of our neighbouring countries. So tell me, who are the original peoples of the land, without talking about migration???

      We do not choose to be born here. We can’t choose our parents or our country of birth. But within this realm of choicelessness, we do choose to live it well within our country of birth. No one can take the right away, and I ask that you get out of your cocoon and travel the borderless world. You will appreciate life much more and learn to live. We are here on earth for only a short while, and as mere mortals, we have to leave when our time is up. It may be 60, 70, or even 80 years, but all of us have to die.

      Be kinder and you will be rewarded with kindness as what your religion taught you. What you sow, you shall reap!

      • Jeff says:

        Exactly. We ALL migrated here from somewhere else at some point in time. Just remember that before the 12th century, Malays were overwhelmingly Hindu, having migrated from Indonesia (at the time itself largely Hindu and Buddhist) centuries before. That is a verifiable, documented historical fact, and no amount of chauvinist, racist bluster can change it.

        So if we’re talking about “original” cultures, we’re pretty much left with the Orang Asli, the later Indonesian and Indian migrations that eventually called themselves “Malay,” and… what?

        One problem this society consistently shows is its inability to adapt some romanticised, idealised notion of How Things Were (or Should Have Been) Way Back When to the fact that we’re now living in a multicultural, multilingual society that (hopefully) has progressed a bit along the sociological axis as well. Trying to stuff the genie back into a bottle that isn’t even really the one it came out of is not a particularly effective way to govern a society.

    • Merah Silu says:

      I enjoyed reading your comment. Very refreshing!

      • Kong Kek Kuat says:

        Ya… I too enjoyed reading your comment. Very entertaining!

        It´s like one of those chihuahuas barking as hard as it could in order to show that it is a big dog.

  8. Lainie says:

    Cheh. The main reason I disliked Sejarah in school was because it was so pompous and full of crap anyway.

  9. a few years back when i was still in school, history subject was a very tiresome subject.all the content was sooo full of flowery sentences and the flattest facts i’ve ever read…it was like reading a dictionary.

    and we (the students) were like,aaaargh,we gotta memorize the names, the dates, the series of sliced events,and everything. the only reason we’re doing this was only to pass the exam, we didn’t even felt the slightest spirit of patriotism after being done with the subject.

    the only time when me & my classmates were in high spirits about Malaysia was when our teacher (Miss Sharmiza) was telling us a story about her childhood in the village,how she in her teens witnessing history is written..

    If reform will be made on the subject of history, please add up the “backstage” of events; i mean the real unheard stories, and lose the long paragraphs.

  10. alamak says:

    “History is written by the victors.” W. Churchill

    so we can expect it to be just as corrupted.

  11. wartank says:

    Using education to further their political gains, is it any wonder that intelligence in Malaysia is at a low level?
    Young People should be nurtured to think and develop themselves, not be brainwashed and made to follow ideals like zombies!

  12. Liyana D. says:

    If my classmate Chong/Muthu and I were born on the same day, in the same hospital, of the same country, grew up and experienced our country together and it just so happened that he was NON-MALAY, would I really tell him:

    “Eh, Chong/Muthu, do you realize your existence in Malaysia was due to opportunist forefathers who took advantage of colonial capitalism?”

    Would I make him sit an exam for it?
    Would I care if he got better marks than me, the person Ramlah Ramadan’s history was designed for?
    Would I think THAT was all his existence boiled down to?

    NO, Ramlah Ramadan. I wouldn’t.

    Because Chong/Muthu is as Malaysian as I am. And like many Chong/Muthus I know, they get sickened by people like you, move to Australia and never come back. You might want to celebrate this, but hold on.

    Some day, Malaysians like you might need a Chong/Muthu. He could be a very specific surgeon, good samaritan, helpful neighbour, rare blood type, best friend of your kid, whatever, but guess what? Our country loses someone like him forever, because of defensive people hell-bent on believing their race comes with a war.

    Instead of accusing his (just-as-Malaysian-as-mine) family members of ‘destabilising the demographics’ of what could have been an ULTRA BORING “homogenous society”— where the Malaysian cabinet’s faces photocopied over and over again are the same people you eat sleep drink study with and marry, I would CONGRATULATE them for it. I would walk right up to heartbroken Malaysian Chong/Muthu, shake them by the shoulders and go

    “Macha, we’re nothing like them lah. We’re awesome. Old people all bitter and worried all these things, but we got each other. Come I buy you teh tarik.”

    20-something Melayu on paper, mother’s side rooted from Indian blood (Malabar, India), father’s side got Baba Nyonya Cina blood, personally thankful that her ancestors and friends are nothing like Ramlah Ramadan, or else she would not have ever existed or understood the power of rojak and friendship. Or cats.

    • Merah Silu says:

      I can understand your feeling to Ms Ramlah’s posting. You are not a real Malay. You can join Muthu and Chong in Australia. In case you decide to come back and get citizenship, then you can re-apply. I am sure the current legitimate government will give fair consideration to your application.

      • Kong Kek Kuat says:

        Ya ka…? You mean there are real and unreal Malays ka? Please tell me more! This is interestingly exciting!

        Anyway, I am sure the current govt will give more than fair consideration to Malaysians like Liyana D over you. Why else do you think the Malaysian govt set up the Brain Gain Malaysia programme, Returning Experts programme, and the Talent Corp.? Because Malaysians like you can’t do much other than calling people real or unreal Malays.

      • JW Tan says:

        Real Malays (TM) aren’t real Malaysians. Real Malaysians are patriots. Real Malays (TM) sound greedy and grasping.

        Ketuanan Melayu is killing the country. It distracts people from the really important issues of the day. Like how to move the economy up the value chain. How to fix the educational system such that it produces employable graduates. How to fix the tax system such that the tax base doesn’t consist mainly of non-Malays. How to ensure that every citizen’s rights are protected.

        Because of the constant focus on how to divide the pie in favour of the Malays, no one is looking at how to make the pie bigger. In 50 years’ time Malaysia will be so far behind other countries we’ll be exporting maids and labourers because that’s all our population will be fit for, and because menial jobs in other countries will pay a windfall in ringgit terms.

        It’s very, very sad.

      • Pongo pygmaeus says:

        Merah Silu,

        Please define what ‘real Malay’ is. I am very curious to know.

        Many thanks.

      • Liyana D. says:

        Merah Silu (alahai, cantiknya nama pena):
        Thank you for your permission to let me go to Australia. However, you will not get me to leave my country by calling me names, lagi-lagi lah when you don’t reveal your own. Sorry. If you really did “understand [my] feeling”, you will know why Malaysia is still my home.

        JW Tan: I think your comment is fantastic. We all need a bigger pie.

  13. JW Tan says:

    I find the quotes from Najib to be disingenuous.

    Reasoned, well-argued dissent; questioning of established norms; and the presentation of socio-political alternatives are things to be cherished. They make a country stronger, not weaker. They do this by shining light on things that could be made better, by ensuring that “social contracts” get the widest airing possible, by ensuring inclusion of diverse viewpoints, by forging consensus etc etc.

    But then, I suppose it’s not in the interests of UMNO or Najib to have a strong country, free press, or vibrant policy debate. It’s far easier to control the country and feather one’s nest by fostering apathy and presenting the status quo as a fait accompli.

    And that’s why history should be a must-pass subject. It is a framework for examining facts in order to synthesise broad conclusions about the course of human interaction in a relevant context. But as with most other subjects in the Malaysian education system, it’s taught with the wrong approach, badly, and at a very low standard.

  14. ahkhoo says:

    All said, politicians are worse than prostitutes. At least prostitutes mean what they say, i.e. pay as you use. But politicians, after robbing us blind via proxies and cronies, still have the guts to ask for our votes! They have no shame of their names, and taking us for a ride is their game. So people, be aware of the words of politicians that speak with forked tongues!

    If we allow history to be distorted, this country will never have peace. It is from history that we learn of [those who contributed towards independence]. People of all races helped to care for the well-being of this nation, not the version that our politicians want us to believe in. They have to lose the right to take us for more joyrides after all these years of plundering, where the poor have remained poor while these politicians live pompous lifestyles with planes as their toys. What a mockery of justice!!!

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