In pursuit of their ends
by Zaharom Nain. Posted on September 4, 2011, Sunday
THE history of this country, for quite a while now, has remained a pretty touchy subject. For those in power, there often appears to be one – and only one – version of Malaysian history.
As a consequence, other versions are either rubbished without much analysis and discussion, or worse, condemned as being ‘anti-national’ or ‘unpatriotic’.
A few years back, for example, some keen Malaysian archaeologist declared that there were indeed remnants of an ancient civilisation located in the jungles of the southern part of Peninsular Malaysia, I think in the state of Johor.
Other ‘experts’ then immediately crawled out of the woodwork – or were dragged out – to question and discredit the poor man’s suggestions and, if memory serves me, nothing further transpired.
And the whole project just died an unnatural death.
It seemed quite clear then, that those in control – politicians and mainstream academics among them – just wanted to let sleeping dogs lie. They refused to explore the possibility that, among other things, culturally and religiously, this country may not have started off the way that it had been depicted.
Then, a couple of years or so later, the young, quite brilliant, film-maker and author, Amir Muhammad, had his interesting, intelligent film ‘Lelaki Komunis Terakhir’ initially banned, then un-banned, and, finally, banned again.
No artistic or aesthetic reason was given. Instead, the politicians, especially, then went ballistic based on the rumour that his film glorified the communists and the Malayan Communist Party.
True to form then – as now – many of those opposed to the film had not even seen it to enable them to make any worthwhile comment. And this evidently included a minister who initially said the film was innocuous but later made a fantastic U-turn. Something that seems to have become a habit with him since.
Be that as it may, the main assertion made by the film’s opponents was that those in this group – the MCP – were virtually inhuman, indeed demons.
And, of course, the mainstream media joined the fray, led by this national newspaper that now has made such rabble rousing its forte, rather than providing news.
As with any predictable script, the usual suspects were dragged out to condemn the film and the film-maker. And this included veterans from the security forces who became instant media heroes.
In the end, everyone discovered that you could go to Singapore and purchase a DVD of the film there. And, despite that, nobody was really influenced to set up a local – and modern day – chapter of the MCP.
What this sad episode indicated to many was that many Malaysians, by and large, are more than capable of making quite rational judgements. Yet self-appointed political and cultural gatekeepers refuse to stop babysitting us.
Of course this is all deliberate, so that a particular point of view, a particular version of Malaysian history continues to dominate.
Indeed, that is evident in the way our history textbooks have been written and, certainly, how the novel, ‘Interlok’, was brought into the curriculum as a set text for SPM and how the controversy surrounding it was addressed.
What is also evident is that, more often than not, emotion displaces rational debate when such matters crop up. And such emotional ramblings are not only highlighted but also begun and orchestrated by numerous sections of the mainstream
The most recent example is of an opposition politician being vilified for allegedly saying nice things about the communists (again!).
Of course, there was very little actual recourse to his speech and more condemnation of what he was alleged to have said.
And, as is typical of this oft-repeating scenario, the ‘experts’ were dragged out, including this predictable historian who provided the needed critique, again without initially referring to the politician concerned or his actual speech.
Whether the politician uttered or did not utter what he is accused of thus becomes inconsequential, no matter how important that may be.
But what is also sad is that in pathetic recurring instances such as this, when emotion takes over reason, where making a political point is all, we tend to forget that Malaysians are not really gaining anything.
Indeed, isn’t it time these jokers cottoned onto the fact – a fact that is evident to most of us – that history is such a vast discipline that no one historian, irrespective of the accolades bestowed on him, could grasp all aspects of Malaysian history?
And, also, that, irrespective of the number of pages the mainstream press may devote to spinning a particular yarn, it now has competent, legitimate and credible competition in the form of the new media?
So much for helping to develop a knowledge society.
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(The writer’s opinion does not reflect that of the paper).