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Reclaiming 13 May


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.

What danger?

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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12 Responses to “Reclaiming 13 May”

  1. Naoko says:

    A group of friends and me are doing a 13 May Blogswarm. We want to break the silence about 13 May, and simply speak. On Twitter, the hashtag is #swarm13May. We’re posting our bloglinks on: http://www.jhameia.com/2010/05/may-13-blogswarm-links-post.html

    At the end of the day, we want to dispel the silence and fear of 13 May.

  2. Leithaisor says:

    Malaysia is burdened by too many bankrupt politicians who resort to scare tactics and bullying when they have no logical argument to offer.

    But Malaysia is also blessed with ordinary folks who show far greater maturity and wisdom than many Yang Berhormat’s, Datuks and such.

    Like the simple Malay [Malaysian] family which quickly saved a (then 7 year-old) Chinese [Malaysian] girl I know, who was unfortunate enough to be in the middle of Kampung Baru when the troubles started and the mob was advancing towards her. And sheltered her for days until the curfew was lifted and her family came for her.

    So whenever certain wira-wannabes start threatening non-Malays with 13 May from time to time, I remember both the bloodshed and the big-hearted Malay [Malaysian] family.

  3. min says:

    I share your view Deborah. Let us stand beside each other, regardless of any race, religion, and we both walk at the same time and the same path towards a greater Malaysia!

  4. Ellese A says:

    The writer wrote “the real challenge should be about having mutual respect in spite of our differences, rather than to whitewash disagreements by temporarily seeking common ground.”

    I totally disagree with you. The problem is we have been harping too much on our differences to the detriment of our common goal. By doing this we have become more polarized. Since 2008 Malay [Malaysians] have become more Malay and Chinese [Malaysians] more Chinese. My liberal Malay [Malaysian] and Chinese [Malaysian] friends have taken positions. We have too many negatives. We talk more on what’s wrong of others rather than what all (including all parties and races) of us can do. Singapore has done well based on the common ground method. They will propel while we’re stuck here focusing on our differences. Very sad state of ours.

  5. Ellese A says:

    You write “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.”

    But you don’t realise that it’s also disingenuous to seek change in the special position of Malay [Malaysians] and not seek changes in non-Malay [Malaysian] rights, say in vernacular schools.

    What has transpired is that you call Malay [Malaysians] racists for protecting these special rights while it’s not racists for non-Malay [Malaysians] to protect their constitutional rights. You know that discriminatory non-Malay [Malaysian] business practices and vernacular schools perpetuate further our racial [segregation] but never call for these changes. As a result of [such] mischievous agenda being pushed into [people's] minds, we thus become more polarized. We now have both extreme left and right and become too partisan. It’s sad because we again have failed to concentrate on our common grounds and goals. Why can’t we focus more on positive things and leave out partisanship. Why can’t we focus more on saying things which we can do together to improve our quality of life.

  6. Jeffrey says:

    It’s called bullying, and one of the common traits for all bullies is their inferiority complex.

  7. c says:

    The irony is that whilst the police do not allow the issue of “Allah” in the Sibu buy-election campaign on the grounds of being a sensitive issue, they conveniently forget that the race issue is equally sensitive if not worse, but yet they have no qualms in allowing the rally to continue on 13 May (which was was postponed). If this is not a case of discrimination then I really do not know what is it. Come on, they are supposed to be the protectors of the public, but then I may be asking for too much.

  8. Ka Wan Ka Rib says:

    May 13, 1969 was history, and [there are] FACTS.

    People are divided until now, 41 years later, on:-

    1. What are the main causes.
    2. Who were ‘in charge’ then.
    3. Why it happened.
    4. Post-13 May government policies and ‘actual implementation’

    I am proud to be alive until now, although I was barely 3 months old when that incident happened. Our family lived in the hot area – being sandwiched between the Kampung Baru and Gurney/Semarak area. I still have many good Malay friends.

  9. mlp says:

    The concept of an “almighty” or some intervening omnipotent/present/scient supernatural force and the various religions centered around are responsible for much of the polarization in the first place.

    Let’s make a pledge to Ourselves (because we actually exist) to be rational and empathic Malaysians.

  10. ekompute says:

    Quote: “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.”

    I beg to disagree that all truths of the incident are not fully known. Read Dr Kua Kia Soong’s book, “May 13: Declassified Documents On The Malaysian Riots Of 1969.”

  11. tunsrilanang says:

    13 May should be remembered as one of the “darkest” periods in the Malaysian history. PERIOD! The more one talks about it, the more the old wounds are going to open up again… and then the blame game begins and there’ll be no end to it. I said to be remembered BUT not forgotten!

    What the heck is happening to this country? If everyone wants to start digging up the past, we are going to end-up burying each other very soon!

  12. Farouq Omaro says:

    For those of you who think Sabah and Sarawak have never had racially tense moments, please remember the 1985 riots in Kota Kinabalu when PBS came to power. As for Sarawak, I am sure many know of the riots that led to the ouster of SNAP. Only, in Sabah and Sarawak the violence was not as bad as in West Malaysia. Unfortunately it was not the common people who had mistrust against one another, it was the politicians who pitted the people against each other.


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