In search of lost truth 

People tend to believe what favours their preconceived notions. It feels comfortable and gives them a sense of security as it is compatible with their existing beliefs. They’ll remain in their own echo chambers, selecting news and opinions on  May 13 which fits their own emotions. This is called confirmation bias. 

Aerie Rahman, TMI 

The polemical Tanda Putera was screened a few days ago to mixed reviews. I dislike reading reviews before experiencing the said movie/book/concert myself as it conditions my mind to see things according to the reviewer.

However, since Tanda Putera didn’t make it to any cinemas in London and probably won’t ever, I read and listened to reviews to get a glimpse of all the fuss.

What piques my interest about this film is the brouhaha surrounding it. Some people are angered at the RM4.5 million grant it received. Some are angered at how it masquerades itself as a historical film when some parts are purely fictional. Some are just angry.

At the heart of the controversy there is actually a contest: a contestation of the truth as to what really occurred on that fateful day of  May 13, 1969, the contextual considerations that triggered the violence and the subsequent events that unfolded after that day.

Most people are unsure and uncertain about this black spot in our history. Materials on this topic are insufficient.

Since the truth is unclear, people start to formulate their own versions of the truth. I can’t blame them; the truth is after all elusive and relative. The truth is liable to be subjected to various interpretations and manipulations to suit the ears of the hearer and wishes of the maker.

Films such as Tanda Putera are controversial because it is perceived as being intellectually dishonest by telling only one side of the story. The huge subsidy demonstrates the government’s power in the production of a certain historical narrative.

Books such as Kua Kia Soong’s May 13 and the Tunku’s 13 May: Before and After tells the author’s own version of what happened – not actually what happened.

These are not the authoritative truth. A single and authoritative truth must come from an independent institution comprised of a collective of individuals who have scrutinised and weighed every piece of evidence presented. This ensures credibility.

A lack of closure

Post-May 13, our leaders tried their best to restore order and security. They were very deliberative and cautious in their actions. Emergency was declared and the National Operations Council was established. The priority was lives.

This was a sagacious course of action. The result speaks for itself.

The only problem is, no mechanisms were established to investigate what really happened on that day.

When a nation endures a traumatic event in its history, it can choose to inquire or be silent about it. The choice is between fact-finding, like in trials and truth commissions or a national amnesia, where nothing happens.

Malaysia chose the latter, employing silence as a means to construct our history.

The South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) was established not only to decide on amnesties and listen to the stories of victims. It was formed to unearth facts and create a single authoritative truth. The truth was not only discovered, it was also constructed.

A single authoritative truth was needed so that it can be embedded within the collective memories of South Africans. The process has to be credible enough that people are unable to deny the truth.

While we’ve heard of many Holocaust denials in public, until today there’s hardly a case of a public “Apartheid denial.” People cannot deny Apartheid because the hard evidence points to Apartheid’s existence and the evils it caused.  You’ll look ridiculous if you deny that Apartheid and violence never happened.

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