History is not always the best judge

Many years down the road the Islamists will talk about the attempted ‘Christianisation’ of Sabah and how the PBS government of Sabah led by Pairin Kitingan tried to erode the power of Islam and the Muslims in Sabah (plus plotted for Sabah to leave Malaysia — which was why his brother was detained under the Internal Security Act).


Raja Petra Kamarudin

Some people said today that history would judge Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad. They were referring to his testimony at the RCI that is investigating the Sabah illegal immigrants issue.

That is what I am worried about. And my worry is that history is not always the best judge and in most cases it is the victor and not the vanquished that write history.  

Hence is history a reliable judge?

History is not always about the event. Most times it is about the interpretation of the event. While we may not disagree that the event did happen that does not mean we will also agree as to the interpretation of the event.

Let’s take the history of Umno and Merdeka as one example. Those who talk about the history of Umno talk about Umno being created to oppose the Malayan Union in 1946 and then to fight for Merdeka thereafter.

Umno veterans I talked to 20 or 30 years ago, many who have since died, gave me a slightly different interpretation of Umno’s history. It may be true that Umno came into being because of the Malayan Union. However, in the beginning, Umno only opposed the Malayan Union and did not really fight for Merdeka.

You need to research the many different opinions and views as to the events of the 1940s and 1950s to understand the big picture. Umno was a party of mainly the ‘upper class’ Malays. These Malays were what we would call ‘orang istana’ or courtiers. In short, they were feudal Malays.

People ask me as to why I say that those who opposed the Malayan Union were upper class Malays. Well, just look at the photographs of the Umno demonstration in front of the Majestic Hotel in 1946 and see how these people were dressed. In those days, more than 60 years ago, only the ‘orang kebanyakan’ (elite) dressed in that manner. The masses dressed very differently.

It was the socialist and republican Malays who spearheaded the fight for Merdeka. And, of course, these Malays were anti-colonialists, the direct opposite of the feudal Malays who, because of their feudalistic tendencies, had no problems with colonialism just as long as the rulers had a place in the bigger scheme of things (and this was why they opposed the Malayan Union: because the power and position of the rulers would be eroded).

When the British realised that Malaya was in danger of going the militant route, especially with Chin Peng and the Communist Party of Malaya being fiercely anti-British and anti-Colonialism, the British decided to work with the less-militant Umno. It was safer to negotiate Merdeka with Umno than risk Merdeka being taken by force like in Indonesia, Philippines, etc., where Merdeka also meant nationalising foreign or colonial interests.

Britain was almost bankrupted by the war, and with 30% of Britain’s economy dependent on Malaya, it could not afford a bloody Merdeka followed by nationalising of British interests in Malaya. Hence it was in the British interest to ‘sort out’ Merdeka with Umno than allow the communists, socialists, republicans, etc., to grab power by force.

No doubt Umno’s version of its history and its opposition to the Malayan Union and Merdeka, etc., are not entirely wrong. But it is a more complex story and not as straightforward as we are being led to believe. The ‘main plot’ may be correct but there are still many ‘sub-plots’ that people do not talk about. And history is not just about the main plot.

History is probably one of the most unpopular subjects in school. So most Malaysians do not care much for history. But knowing our history is very important because unless you know the past you will not understand the present.

And this is why Malaysians argue over issues such as the Social Contract, Article 153, the Monarchy, Bahasa Malaysia, the New Economic Policy, citizenship, and so on — because they do not know their history. If you understood the history behind all these issues, you could probably have a more balanced and tolerant view and not go into one extreme or the other.

So how will history judge Dr Mahathir with regards to the Sabah illegal immigrants issue? As I said, it all depends on who is writing this history.

Many years down the road the Islamists will talk about the attempted ‘Christianisation’ of Sabah and how the PBS government of Sabah led by Pairin Kitingan tried to erode the power of Islam and the Muslims in Sabah (plus plotted for Sabah to leave Malaysia — which was why his brother was detained under the Internal Security Act).

They will talk about how the Vatican helped finance this program by channelling the funding through the Philippines. They will also talk about how the identity cards of Muslim immigrants in Sabah were confiscated and the immigrants kicked out while Christians from the Philippines were brought in and given identity cards in a move to dilute the Muslim population and increase the Christian population.

Dr Mahathir will be touted as the man who ‘saved’ Islam by establishing a secret operation headquartered in Kampong Pandan in Kuala Lumpur that issued identity cards to Muslim immigrants in Sabah in a move to counter the move that Pairin was making. Hence, through the effort of Dr Mahathir, the Christian plot with the backing of the Philippines and the Vatican was thwarted and Sabah remained a Muslim state and part of Malaysia instead of being turned into a Christian or independent state.

This will, of course, depend on who will be given the task of writing or rewriting history. But if I were to be given that job I will know exactly how to do it to make Dr Mahathir appear the hero and the saviour of Islam. Some people will reject this version of history as a fairy tale, of course, but many, the Islamists in particular, will accept this as the gospel. After all, history is not always about facts but about what you want to believe.

Are people really that gullible? Of course they are. All you need to do is to look at the history of the many religions and see how people will believe the most ridiculous stories and accept them as the Gospel or God’s truth. People normally believe what they are comfortable in believing rather than what is credible. And that is why many people have a religious belief even though not a single of these beliefs can be proven.

If people can regard religion as historical fact instead of doctrine, not a single religious belief can pass the acid test because there are no facts in religion. But that is not how we have been indoctrinated. And because that is what religion is, indoctrination, we have been taught to believe the most implausible stories and take them at face value.

So, how will the future generation judge Dr Mahathir with regards to Sabah? Well, they will judge him according to what their beliefs are. And if they believe that Dr Mahathir is a traitor that is what they will believe. But if they believe that Dr Mahathir is the saviour of Islam that, too, is what they will believe. The truth is not always important in cases involving religion, emotion and sentiments.