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I felt a deep sense of betrayal

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WE WERE staying in a holiday cottage in Lynton, the quintessentially small English village in Devon, the setting of the great classic, Lorna Doone, by R.D. Blackmore, first published in 1869. We had run out of milk for breakfast, and so my wife, little daughter and I got into our rented Morris Traveller for the short drive to our favourite local grocery. My wife went into the store while we waited in the car. No sooner had she entered the shop than out she came, in shock, to tell me that race riots had broken out in Kuala Lumpur.

The lady who owned the shop had, in the week or so we were there, got to know us a little and knew we were from Malaysia. Her first words on seeing my wife were, “Your country is burning!" My wife replied, “You must be thinking of Vietnam, surely." In 1969, the war in Vietnam was still on. She then pointed to the stacks of The London Times, The Daily Telegraph, The Manchester Guardian and the rest of the British dailies, all with their screaming headlines. That settled any lingering doubts we might have had, and I bought every newspaper I could lay my hands on.

It was May 14, 1969, the day after the riots in KL. We had been living in England for nearly a year while I was on industrial management training that my employers, Guthrie's, had arranged for me. At the end of my training, we decided on a motoring holiday in the West Country, a part of the British Isles that has always fascinated me.

It was to be a quiet holiday, away from it all, and we deliberately planned to shut ourselves out of the goings on in the big world outside. That plan was to last until that fateful morning when we visited the grocer's in the village. Our world that until then had seemed so secure came abruptly apart.

Call it misguided national pride or misplaced personal arrogance, but to me the idea of people butchering each other in the streets and torching homes was something that only happened elsewhere. It was the same with corruption in the 60's. I thought it was to be found only in Indonesia, Thailand and the Philippines, countries we looked down on in our part of the world. My country, NEVER! We are Malaysians!

As the events of May 13 began to sink in, I felt a deep sense of betrayal. I had grown up believing, as an article of faith, in “Unity in Diversity." That was also the motto that was incorporated in the Federation of Malaya's Coat of Arms. I was, more than I realised, deeply wounded emotionally, as if the world that had sustained me, body and soul, had suddenly abandoned me.

My world that until then seemed so bright and full of promise had come unstuck. It was for me a time for serious reflection: I realised how close we all were to a mighty, irreversible holocaust.

My faith in the good sense of our people, however, had not for a moment deserted me because, deep down, I knew that there were those millions upon millions of decent, God fearing Malaysians who wanted nothing more than to live in peace and security under a government that was just, fair and inclusive. Unfortunately, these sentiments remain largely unfulfilled even as I write because subsequent official policies have done little or nothing to create a sustainably united and viable nation grounded in justice and equity for all.

May 13 could have been avoided. While I have no intention of turning these reminiscences into a blame game, the evidence of political manipulation to pander to personal ambitions for power is compelling, and politicians of all party stripes must come to terms with their part in fomenting the worst racial violence in our country's history, and putting the clock of nation building back by a “million years" as a friend suggested by way of underlining the monumental tasks involved in picking up the pieces.

I believe that in our present troubled circumstances, the most important role politicians can play is to identify and examine dispassionately those social, political and economic causes that can possibly lead to racial disunity and then set about rectifying them. The government must learn to recognise that these are issues of national importance, and they must not ignore the role all political parties can play in this critical mission.

If there is one thing we can learn from the lessons of May 13, it is that we all have to be prepared to make substantial mental adjustments. Fair weather Malaysians can uproot themselves and have the best of Australia and Malaysia, for example. Good luck to them.

I am more concerned about the rest of us, Malaysians, who will be here through good and bad times either by choice or through force of circumstances. It is for all of us remaining that we must do all we can in the name of justice and common humanity to ensure there will be no justification or excuse whatsoever for a repeat of May 13, a blot that we can do without on our otherwise clean record of race relations.

Let us not politicise justice, and policies that unite us. Let us put in train now those policies that will hasten our search for the kind of national identity that we can relate to with a sense of justifiable pride and loyalty. There can be no substitute for a Malaysian Malaysia with all that this implies. Let not those victims of the mindless massacre of May 13 die in vain. (By TUNKU ABDUL AZIZ/MySinchew)

Read also:

The truth forty years later by Bob Teoh
Only the truth will set us free by Bob Teoh
A million May 13s by Farish A. Noor
The critical 30 minutes by Abdullah Ahmad
May 13 - A memory by Ee Tiang Hong
May 13 - So what? by Lilei Chow
May 13 - Redeeming the tragedy by Steve Oh
We've not recovered from May 13 by Hilary Sta Maria
May 13 - We were having a pillow fight by Azian
May 13 - Is racism dead? by Mohsin Abdullah
May 13 - Hidden Hands by Said Zahari
May 13 - I choose to remember by Mohsin Abdullah
May 13 - The racists live on by Bob Teoh
May 13 - Poem from London by Tan Jing Quee

MySinchew 2009.05.16


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