Patriots, Pretenders & Selective Forgiveness 

UMNO leaders say that the CPM’s insurrection against British colonialism was wrong but what alternative strategy did UMNO have to liberate the country from colonial exploitation? Do the UMNO leaders believe that Independence could have been won without the insurrection against the British colonial power? 

Dr Kua Kia Soong, SUARAM Adviser

Is there any wonder there is a crisis over public security in Malaysia when our cops are “on the lookout for Chin Peng’s remains” being brought back to rest in his homeland?

Is there any wonder there is a crisis of confidence in our leaders’ sense of spiritual proportions when they cannot reconcile with our nation’s history to allow Chin Peng to return to the land where he was born?


The Quality of Forgiveness

Forgiveness is taught in all religions but the UMNO leaders maintain that Chin Peng and the CPM cannot be forgiven for their past actions during the Emergency. It is clear, however, that the UMNO leaders are certainly capable of selective forgiveness. Let us put all this into perspective…

During the 12-year “Emergency” when the CPM was waging a war against British colonialism, a total of 3,945 security forces, 2,473 civilians and 6,697 insurgents were killed. (Anthony Short, ‘The Communist Insurrection in Malaya, 1948-60’, 1975: 507) Because of this record, it is argued, Chin Peng and the CPM he led cannot be forgiven.

During the Japanese Occupation of Malaya, more than 100,000 Malayans (mainly Chinese) were killed in the three years between 1942 and 1945. The Japanese killed 5000 Chinese in an operation called “Sook Qing” in just one month in February 1942 in Singapore. During the three years of occupation, 66,000 people were killed in Spore. (Ian Ward, ‘The killer they called a god’, 1992:319; Paul Kratoska, ‘The Japanese occupation of Malaya’, 1998:315)

The atrocities committed by Japanese fascism during the Occupation left an indelible mark on those Malayans who suffered the terror of those dark years. And yet we are, quite rightly, prepared to forgive and reconcile with the Japanese even though their authorities have not formally recanted for their fascist and imperialist actions as the Germans have.

Still, my greatest admiration is reserved for the East Timorese, who after years of genocide at the hands of the Indonesians, were prepared to forgive their former oppressors soon after winning their Independence in 1999. Be reminded that from 1975-1999, some 200,000 East Timorese (a quarter of their total population) were killed during Indonesian occupation. President Xanana Gusmao expressed this bountiful resource of forgiveness during his visit to Kuala Lumpur in 2001 when he also thanked Malaysian NGOs for our support and solidarity work for East Timor independence. In contrast, the priority of the UMNO leaders was to support the Indonesian government when we organized the Asia-Pacific Conference on East Timor in 1996!


The patriots and the pretenders

Do our history books extol the patriotic role of Chin Peng and the CPM during the struggle against Japanese expansionist aggression during the Second World War? The CPM-organised Malayan Peoples’ Anti-Japanese Army was decorated by the British queen in London after the war, but their contributions have not been acknowledged in our own country.

All over the world, the progressive left democratic alliance were the true patriots who fought against German and Japanese fascism during the Second World War. Can UMNO name any of their leaders who distinguished themselves during that effort to liberate our country from Japanese occupation?

UMNO leaders say that the CPM’s insurrection against British colonialism was wrong but what alternative strategy did UMNO have to liberate the country from colonial exploitation? Do the UMNO leaders believe that Independence could have been won without the insurrection against the British colonial power?

My research at the British archives shows that the Malayan Emergency was essential for securing western economic, political and military-strategic interests. With this aim in mind, the British high commissioner had initiated an “Alliance” formula between the Malay aristocracy and Non-Malay capitalist interests, a compromise that continues to this day, to play a significant role.

The colonial strategy against the CPM and the workers’ movement can be seen in the fact that the Emergency was declared by the British colonial power in June 1948, while the CPM only launched their armed struggle in December 1948. Against 10,000 Malayan National Liberation Army regulars, the colonial power arraigned 40,000 British Commonwealth troops; 70,000 armed police; 300,000 Home guards, “including aircraft, artillery and naval support…perhaps the largest armed force in proportion to population ever used in a colonial war.” (W.J. Pomeroy, ‘Guerrilla Warfare and Marxism’, 1964).

Anthony Short (UM lecturer, later Aberdeen University) was commissioned to write the official history of the Emergency but his work was rejected by the Malayan Government. Why?

‘Bukit Kepong’ is screened at every election, but where is Mat Indera in the film when he was the Malay CPM leader who led the assault on the police station at Bukit Kepong?


Communal purpose in CPM portrayal

The truth is that the strategy of the British colonial power and UMNO during the Emergency was to paint the CPM as a purely Chinese insurrection. Thus while 1,000 Malays were detained at the start of the Emergency in 1948, this information was not publicized. Is it therefore surprising that the propaganda film on Bukit Kepong shows the insurgents to be wholly Chinese, when the leader of the CPM assault team was actually Mat Indera?

The proclamation of Emergency also provided the British colonial power with an opportunity to implement measures that were completely against the principles of human rights. In 1948 alone, there were 4,500 arrests, 2,700 detentions and 500,000 were put into concentration camps euphemistically called “New Villages”. In 1949, more than 29,000 Malayans were banished to China.

The rest, as they say, is history…

The task for us, the reflective Malaysians, is to painstakingly record the contributions of all true, progressive Malaysians to our blessed homeland. We can leave the stalking of Chin Peng’s ashes to our police force. Obviously, they have nothing better to do!

Chin Peng, may you rest in peace…