Historical reconstruction again?





By Farish Noor, Harakah Daily

And so, for reasons that are both complex and irritating, the past is being dragged into the present yet again; while we Malaysians bury our heads in the sand and neglect the future.

By now most of us will be familiar with yet another controversy-in-a-teacup that has grabbed the headlines: namely the question of whether the events that took place during the attack on the police outpost in Bukit Kepong ought to be remembered as a historic event in the Malayan struggle for independence.

Unfortunately for all parties concerned it seems that the issue has been hijacked by politics and politicians yet again, as is wont to happen in Malaysia on a daily basis almost. More worrying still is how the manifold aspects of this event have been taken up selectively by different parties and actors to further their own arguments, while neglecting to look at the wider context against which the event took place. It is almost impossible to be truly objective when it comes to the writing and reading of history, and perhaps we can do away with that pretense. But for now perhaps some marginal notes on the matter might come in useful to clear the air a bit.

A. Was PAS pro-Communist?

One of the outcomes of this debate has been the resurrection of the old question of whether PAS (The Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party) was pro-Communist at that point in its history. This seems an odd question to ask in the first place, as it seems incongruous for an Islamic party to harbour any real sympathy for Communism, which has always been seen as the bugbear to the Islamist cause.

But it has to be remembered that when the Malayan Islamic party was first formed in November 1951, many of its founder-leaders were anti-colonial nationalists who were keen to see the end of British rule in Malaya. Some of them were former members of the Parti Kebangsaan Melayu Malaya (PKMM) and also the first Islamic party in the country, the Hizbul Muslimin (that was formed, and almost immediately banned, in 1948)

PAS’s left-leaning days were at their peak during the presidency of Dr Burhanuddin al-Helmy (1956-1969), who did not hide his opposition to British rule and who refused to negotiate a settlement with the British then. Dr. Burhanuddin was sympathetic to the Malayan Communist Party (MCP), whose anti-British sentiments he shared; but this does not mean he supported Communism as an ideology.

PAS’s stand towards the MCP then (in the 1950s and 1960s) was thus a pragmatic one that was based on the same goal of rejecting British colonial rule. However, it has to be noted that PAS was equally wary of Beijing’s influence in the region, and there is nothing to suggest that the leaders of PAS would have ever accepted Malaya coming under Communist rule, albeit directly or indirectly, from Beijing.

B. Was the MCP a tool of Communist China?

That the MCP and its guerilla wing were against any and all forms of British colonial rule is simple enough to verify, and their record of anti-colonial struggle is there for anyone to investigate.

The more difficult question to answer however is this: How independent was the MCP, and was it – as the British alleged – working to further China’s communist influence in the region then?
The British were somewhat ham-fisted when dealing with the MCP, and it ought to be noted that the invention of the image of the MCP as a ‘Chinese threat’ was the work of the British colonial propaganda agencies then.

Here, however, a broader perspective on the matter might come in handy. Think of Malaya in the 1950s and envisage the region as a whole, as the Cold War was heating up. In Vietnam, Burma and Indonesia the Communists were gaining strength in numbers; and perhaps the biggest worry to Britain then (as to the departing French and Dutch colonial powers) was the possibility that all of southeast asia might turn Communist.

Remember that this was the time when the region was called ‘the Second Front in the war against Communism’; and when the Western bloc was keen to ensure that Indonesia – being the biggest country in the region – would not come under the rule of the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI).