Malaysians mudah lupa


Malaysians are a funny bunch. What was right 30 years ago is wrong today. And if the government had not acted back in 1985, Malaysians would have whacked the government like how they are whacking the government today regarding MH370.


Raja Petra Kamarudin

The date was 7th June 1974. I was then on a business trip to Kuala Terengganu when I received a phone call that Tan Sri Abdul Rahman Hashim, Malaysia’s IGP, had been assassinated at Weld Road (now Jalan Raja Chulan) in Kuala Lumpur.

Around that same era (I can’t remember the exact dates), two Special Branch officers were assassinated at Jalan Alor and Jalan Kampung Atap, both also in Kuala Lumpur. Then a hand grenade was thrown at the police barracks in Jalan Pahang, in Kuala Lumpur as well (I also can’t remember the date of this incident but it was around that same period, the 1970s).

All these incidences were within a decade of the infamous ‘May 13’ race riots so invariably it caused a panic, especially when it was announced that Chinese Communist Terrorists had done the deeds mentioned above. Urban Malaysians rushed out to stock up on food in the event that a curfew were to be imposed, the result of bloodshed on the streets, as what happened on 13th May 1969.

But there was no bloodshed and life returned to normalcy a week or so later.

Then, on 4th December 1977, a Malaysian Airlines plane (flight MH653) crashed in Tanjung Kupang, Johor, with the loss of all 100 crew-members and passengers on board. No one survived that crash (I lost a few friends in that tragedy).

It was rumoured that this was the result of a hijacking by the Japanese Red Army (JRA) that, two years earlier in 1975, had stormed the AIA building in Kuala Lumpur where they took 50 hostages (a year before that the JRA had attacked a Shell facility in Singapore). One of my friends, an Indian police officer, was shot in that AIA incident.

Not long after that, in 1980 (I was already living in Kuala Terengganu at that time), Muslim religious extremists attacked a police station in Batu Pahat, Johor. 23 police officers and civilians were slashed with parangs and eight of the 20 extremists were shot dead in that incident.

Then, five years later in 1985, the Memali incident erupted.

Batu Pahat

We must remember that the 1969 race riots, the 1974 assassination of the IGP, the assassination of the two Special Branch officers around that same time plus the grenade attack on the police barracks in Jalan Pahang, the 1975 JRA attack on the AIA building and the taking of 50 hostages, the 1977 MAS plane hijacking and the loss of 100 lives, the 1980 attack on the Batu Pahat police station, followed by the 1985 massacre in Memali, sent shock waves throughout Malaysia mainly because they were all reported to be the work of terrorists and/or extremists. And all these incidences occurred within just a few years apart.

At that time, Malaysians of my generation were a very nervous bunch of people. Every small incident would trigger a panic and people would rush out to buy food so that they would have enough stock to last at least a few weeks of curfew in case that happened. And they wanted the government to take stern action to maintain law and order in the country.

Hence, when the Memali incident happened, most Malaysians (other than PAS members), especially the Chinese and Indians, welcomed the government’s action against what they viewed as terrorists and extremists. If, in 1985, you had asked Malaysians (especially the Chinese and Indians) whether they government did the right thing, the vote would overwhelming be yes.

Today, there is a debate raging in Malaysia as to whether Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, the Prime Minister then, was still in Malaysia or already in China on that day that the police took action against Ibrahim Libya and his supporters in Memali.

This is discussing the colour of the dog collar rather than the issue of cruelty to the dog. Does it matter what the colour of the dog collar is when our concern is whether the dog has been subjected to cruelty?

Most Malaysians, even those from the DAP, and in particular the non-Malays, were most concerned about the security of the nation. With planes being hijacked and all onboard killed, with the AIA building being stormed and 50 hostages taken, with Special Branch officers being shot dead and hand grenades lobbed into police barracks, with police stations being attacked by religious extremists, the events in Memali was one event too many and Malaysians wanted an end to these threats to the security of the country.

Today, however, Malaysians are singing a different tune. They want to know who is to blame for Memali, the Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad or the Deputy Prime Minister cum Home Minister Tun Musa Hitam. The way Malaysians are talking today is that Memali was a criminal act on the part of the Malaysian government so we need to know who should be blamed for this criminal act, Dr Mahathir or Musa.

Malaysians mudah lupa. Memali was not an isolated incident. It was one more incident in a series of incidences that made Malaysians very nervous and created panic each time an incident erupted. Hence, at that time, the government’s action in Memali was most welcome as far as most Malaysians were concerned.

Why were Malaysians not outraged 30 years or so ago when the incident first happened? Why only now, almost 30 years later, are Malaysians demonstrating outrage? And have Malaysians forgotten that the Memali incident is just one more incident in a series of incidences over 16 years that sent shock waves across Malaysia?

Malaysians are a funny bunch. What was right 30 years ago is wrong today. And if the government had not acted back in 1985, Malaysians would have whacked the government like how they are whacking the government today regarding MH370.