Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Deficiency In Intellectual Honesty

Courtesy of Malaysiakini:

Deficiency in intellectual honesty
AB Sulaiman
Sep 19, 11
COMMENT The collective Malay mind has been featured by conformity and guided by the collective or group mentality, where individuals are extorted to conform to group norms.

If the group will says something is white, then white it is; if it says turn left then turn left it is. There is otherwise no disagreement, no doubt, and no inquiry. There is no desire for intellectual honesty.

Something major is happening in this landscape. Its beginning could be since the time Malaysians have been privy to the Internet and social media like Twitter and Facebook. These modern channels have been tearing open and emancipating this mentality.

I relate a recent case by going back to Sept 13 when the venerableUtusan Malaysia printed six caricatures depicting the 'cruelties' of the communists in Malayan history. The cartoons were drawn by a retired cartoonist or illustrator Hamzah Mohd Amin and designed to expose 'communist cruelty' to ordinary people.

NONEAmong the most controversial of his artwork is a depiction of slant-eyed men in tan-coloured uniforms, waving weapons and forcing a group of Malay-looking (therefore Muslim) people to eat pork.

My point is that Hamzah's artwork reflects the prevailing conventional wisdom:
  • That the communists were Chinese;
  • The communists were also terrorists;
  • That the Chinese communist terrorists had committed various atrocities to the peace- loving Malay and Muslim community; and
  • There is no tolerance for the views of others.
"Today's generation does not know the hardships of life during the communist era. I worked to create the drawings a few weeks ago, so that they will be able to picture the cruelty of the communist and why we hate them," he was quoted as saying.

"Through the drawings, I hope that they will realise the cruelty of the communists and learn from it.”

NONEThe message in turn was clear enough: The standard stereotype that the communists were inflicting untold cruelty on gentle and pious (Malay-Muslim) citizens. The communists were taken as wholly Chinese: so hate the Chinese! Hate the communists! Also, wake up Malays and defend your agama, bangsa dan negara against the marauding Chinese and communists!

It's all hogwash of course. But until the recent past such sentiments were in vogue.

Not this time. Indeed this time around the messages conveyed by the series of cartoons received critical comments from the public. I take the liberty to quote some responses published in the 'comments' column in Malaysiakini.

'Anak Sabah1' chided the cartoonist: Hamzah, why don't you spend time drawing pictures of BN's corruption that will affect the future of your children? There are better ways to earn a living than working with Utusan to spew lies and affect your soul.

'Black Mamba' in turn challenged the notion that only the communists were cruel: Caricatures can be drawn too on how Altantuya was C4ed, how TBH was thrown down, how Kugan was tortured to death and how that Malay boy in Shah Alam was sprayed with bullets, Francis was thrown into Klang river, all these acts carried out by our uniformed men.

He ended with the telling statement: 'As if our government is not cruel.'

On the same wavelength 'Clean&Clear' stated: Yes, as a Malaysian Chinese, I am aware of the atrocities committed by the Communists and the hardships we had to go through. BUT, the cartoons above definitely have a racial overtone depicting as if the Communists were all Chinese and the victims were all Malays. We, Malaysian Chinese also fell victim to the Communists cruelty. So, it's NOT just one race that is the casualty during the Emergency period.

It's regrettable that the writers write behind some pseudonyms. But I share their sentiments and feel free quoting them virtually ad verbatim and inclusive of the emphasis. Thank you guys, whoever you are.

Personal viewpoint

The important point to note though is that Hamzah does not get away with his caricatures without any critical comment from the public; a case not at all possible a few years back.

I interpret this fresh new wind as akin to the changing of the baton from the old conforming to new inquiring era, from acceptance to analysis, from group demands to individual views.

pengukir nama johor mat sabu 050911Another tsunami-size status quo-breaking case is raging the same landscape right now. It came in the form of a fairly innocuous statement made by Mat Sabu about what is known as the Bukit Kepong incident.

According to the history books, policemen were defending a police station against attack made by a group of insurgents back in 1950. Apparently the policemen and some members of their families were killed. To historians the policemen were the heroes for defending the country against the communist insurgents, while the attackers were villains.

Mat Sabu, an up and coming PAS bigwig, claimed otherwise. To him the policemen were guarding the security line of the British colonial government and the attackers were akin to freedom fighters who wanted to see the end of colonial power. He was saying this in a most casual coffee shop-chatter way.

He was airing an alternative and personal viewpoint, different from the old established collective one.

But this off-the-cuff point had been taken as though he had committed the most dastardly crime like say having murdered 50 innocent people, or taking a billion ringgit in corrupt money, or surrendering some islands to foreign governments. The newspapers have been full of stories of how traitorous this Mat Sabu has been.

This was also the time when suddenly people from all over the country came up with many tales of how cruel the communists had been (similar to Hamzah's perception) and that treasonous people like Mat Sabu should be stripped of his citizenship.

All this happened when some spin-doctors, perhaps to curry the favour of the government, were going for the big kill to discredit Mat Sabu.

er teck hwa visit bukit kepong police station 060911But when some more rational members of the public began to question the spin-doctors' over-reaction they saw one flaw in the attacking arguments: that the episode happened in 1950 while this country had its independence in 1957. So chronologically and technically it could just be possible for the unfortunate policemen of Bukit Kepong be the colonialists' agents. Mat Sabu might just have a point!

Kee Thuan Chye a noted author and social commentator (Malaysiakini, Sept 16) made some telling remarks about this case: 'The spin against Mat Sabu has gone out of whack. His (opponents) have even extrapolated the meaning of his remarks to imply that he does not appreciate the sacrifices of the police and the armed forces. This is certainly not true. There is no such implication.'

All for truth

Sensing this possible embarrassment the spin-doctors went into another offensive. This time it was on the ground that the country was not really colonised by the British that they came only to administer the country.

upm student suhakam memo 211107 khoo kay kimProfessors Khoo Kay Kim(right) and Zainal Keling for example came up with the contention that in effect Malaya was never colonised by the British but instead were 'administrators'. In other words the policemen were loyalists and nationalists of the Malay sultanate.

There was confusion galore. And this part is easy to understand: if the country had not been colonised by the British why have we been celebrating Independence Day on Aug 31 every year since 1958?

But the people saw through this ruse. Their recently emancipated mind began to see that the whole episode has been a case where 'history is written by the victors' i.e. by the ruling coalition.

It thereby appears that the government wanted Malaysian history to be written to conform to their designs and agenda. This is translated to highlighting what is good for them while ignoring what not. Forget the facts and evidence, go for the tapestry that we have designed, they seemed to be saying.

But the people would rather go for intellectual honesty. In history they go for the facts and evidence. As to whether these are good or bad does not matter, so long as it is the truth.

And this new era has allowed the people to say so. One platform for expressing this new sentiment was in the form of a forum organised by the Kempen Sejarah Malaysia Sebenar (KSMS) on Sept 15.

kim quek new book where to malaysia forum 100708  hishamuddin raisHere Hishamuddin Rais, a noted social activist, aired the alternative view that there is no such thing as history being written by the victors. He claimed that in the case of the Malay society the people were 'lazy' as writers so they had Malay history written by others.

Or that they wanted history to be written with their perception and agenda in mind. Forget the truth, forget the facts and evidence, just write what we want you to write, they seemed to have directed textbook writers to do.

Kee had said something similar: 'This is not unexpected. Our leaders have been twisting things to suit their political agenda for decades. And historical facts are not spared.'

In other words intellectual honesty is gravely deficient in Malaysian history.

So where do we go from here? For this I come back to KSMS. This is a civil society movement set up by concerned groups and individuals who are aware that the History textbooks in secondary schools have been doctored (i.e. modified, altered) so much from its original version of 30 or 40 years ago - in other words they contain history as seen in the eyes of the ruling coalition, paying little due regard to the accuracy of facts and evidence.

KSMS feels the time is due for a thorough rehash, a thorough rewrite, a thorough re-introduction of intellectual honesty and factual integrity to our History textbooks. This as good a starting point as any. I am happy to say that I am closely associated with this movement.

AB SULAIMAN is an observer of human traits and foibles, especially within the context of religion and culture. As a liberal, he marvels at the way orthodoxy fights to maintain its credibility in a devilishly fast-changing world. He hopes to provide some understanding to the issues at hand and wherever possible, suggest some solutions. He holds a Bachelor in Social Sciences (Leicester, UK) and a Diploma in Public Administration, Universiti Malaya.

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