Memali must be revisited


FMT LETTER: From Syed Izzaddin Jaafar, via e-mail

The sleepy kampung of Memali in Baling, Kedah entered into the public consciousness all bloody and frayed 29 years ago. Fourteen men, deviants by the standard of the government of the day, heroes to some and ordinary Malaysians to the rest, lost their lives.

Now, after 29 years of pain, conflicting details and forgotten memories, we must know the truth of what happened on that fateful day in Memali.Wwe owe it to the 14 villagers who died in a hail of bullets. We owe it to the three police officers who had fallen in the line of duty.

We owe it to the 36 other villagers who were incarcerated without trial. We owe everyone the truth. Hindsight gives us the ability to dwell on things, but for Memali we must do more than just dwell. Closure, however we crave for to assuage guilt, is not enough. What we need is the truth.

Why such impunity? Why two tanks and about 3,000 heavily armed officers to quell a handful of villagers armed only with parangs, sharpened bamboos and crude Molotov cocktails? We want answers. We want assurance that lessons were learned and will not be repeated. We want justice for those who had fallen. We want to know why it had to come to such an extreme end, what prodded the authorities to unleash its deadly might on that village.

I was 11 years old when Memali happened, remembering how I was asked to stay at home in Sungai Petani because something ‘bad’ happened nearby. I remember hearing whispers of ‘Apa dah jadi?’ and ‘Awat sampai macam tu?’ in the days following the tragedy not really knowing what the adults were talking about. I knew than that lives were lost and something was wrong. As years went by, people no longer talked about Memali and all that remains unknown remains.

For to remain unknown about this tragedy, and it is a tragedy, is perhaps the greatest wrong of all. Until the whole truth is revealed, Memali will remain one of the darkest dot in all of our lives and not just for a former deputy prime minister.

Memali, alongside the May 13 race riot, remains a potent reminder of the worst that can happen to Malaysia. Adressing the event is not about assigning guilt. It is not about finding closure. It is not just about delivering justice.

It is about acknowledging that there are moments where things went terribly wrong for our country. And from these darkest of moments we must find the conviction to do better and avoid repeating them. It is the least that we can do for the lives that were needlessly lost 29 years. It is the only meaningful thing that we can do now.