By Steve Oh
The fires of May 13, 1969 still burn in the mind of older Malaysians who lived through the racial riots that swept through the major cities of the peninsula.
I was a teenager then and the sight of my father quickly putting on his shoes to go out to our middle-class and predominantly Chinese neighbourhood to call for the menfolk to come out and defend their homes if the Malays attacked us was hard to reconcile with the ‘happy-go-lucky’ life we were enjoying.
We could hear the drums beating in the distance where there was a Malay kampung. And for his efforts my father came back fuming that an old Chinese woman had scolded him for being a ‘busybody’. It turned out she was also a distant relative.
A month before Penang had seen a curfew when a policeman was killed after a politically linked incident.
Tension was high. But not all of us were bent on spilling racial blood.
We made sure that the Malay teacher and his mother who lived in our street was safe. I checked with my Malay friend and his family who lived in an adjoining suburb (which was predominantly Chinese) that they were safe. We took care of one another and there was no incident in all the neighbourhoods around us – Chinese protecting Malays and Malays protecting Chinese.
Not everyone, in fact few Malaysians considered in total, were infected with the madness.
Ours was a clique of friends from both sexes – some from school, and others from outside, who were drawn from all the races. Malay boys had Chinese girlfriends and Chinese boys had Malay girlfriends and so on.
It was a time when we could have fun together without the scourge of religious separatism. It was the time of innocence uncorrupted by the poison of the politicians.
Some of those friendships have lasted to the present.
There is no racial madness except that which is taught and caught, and the politicians have much to answer.
Years later we learned that it was all a ploy to rid Tunku Abdul Rahman of his leadership and that the racial riots were the plot of shameless politicians as Dr Kua Kia Soong explains in his book, May 13, Declassified Documents on the Malaysian Riots of 1969.
Darkest time in Malaysian history
Besides the bits and pieces I heard from friends and those who were eyewitnesses, I like most of my friends in Penang, were sheltered from any real violence. The real bloodletting was in Kuala Lumpur.
Who knows the final number of casualties but as usual the official figures that I won’t even bother checking would be understated. That many had died from gunshot wounds left questions unanswered.
One real-life account was given by my university mate overseas. He was in a cinema in Kuala Lumpur and suddenly he was roused from his seat in the dark cinema by loud shouting and banging on the doors. When he saw that people were being attacked with parang, he quickly got out and escaped.
It was the darkest time in Malaysian history.
So many innocent lives were lost and Kuala Lumpur in certain Chinese-dominated areas was like a war zone. The ghosts of May 13 still haunt those who lost loved ones and property.
Therefore why would anyone today remind us of a bloody day in the country’s history and make cheap political capital out of the innocent blood of their fellow Malaysians?
What unscrupulous politician would stoop so low as to draw his or her own race into a scheme that would leave no one any benefit but many homes with nothing but suffering and sorrow?
I agree with CPI columnist Koon Yew Yin that Malays will be the biggest losers of a May 13 repeat because they now have so much more to lose but it is not even right to say who will lose more when the truth is everyone will have something to lose.
The nation will lose most from the bloody minds and hands of those traitors.
Playing with fire
Umno Wanita chief Shahrizat Abdul Jalil deserves our condemnation for even raising May 13 let alone scaremongering and relating the bloody day to an Umno political defeat.
What a shameless and despicable display of desperate and unconscionable politics that should be deplored by every conscionable Malaysian.
It goes without saying that the country will be plunged into the abyss of a failed state and recovery will be hard and painful should the race riots recur. And this time nothing will be hidden from the world.
We will see images that were not possible when the state-controlled media had a news blackout and modern digital media technology did not exist.
You can be sure that if anything like May 13 happens again, the international community will see what takes place and no one will be able to stop mobile phones sending images all over the world and anything that happens being recorded by someone somewhere.
And there will be sufficient evidence to charge those responsible for the cowardly and cold-blooded murder.
Those who play with the fire of May 13 are shameless and gutless, and the reason they do it is to drag their race and others into their dirty political war, one in which they face certain defeat.
Fortunately today is not the era of May 13 though some specimens from that dark era still survive in power but not for long because they and their monstrous ideas will be rejected by every responsible Malaysian who wants peace and prosperity, not bloodshed.
Some politicians are just that callous and poor losers and the sooner we see the backs of them the better it will be for every Malaysian.-fmt