Thursday, May 07, 2009
Red star

(Image taken from Wikimedia Commons.)

The decision of the Federal Court to uphold the ruling barring Chin Peng from entering the country is disappointing. No doubt there are valid reasons why some continue to despise him—he was ultimately responsible for attacks carried out by the Malayan Communist Party (such as the Bukit Kepong Incident), not to mention bloody purges within his own party. He remains, nonetheless, an integral part of the Malaysian story whom we cannot and should not attempt to bury in the backwater of history along with his contributions.

Not only was he instrumental in leading the (admittedly, low-level) Malayan Peoples' Anti-Japanese Army resistance against the Japanese occupation of Malaya during World War II, but played an important role, as yet unrecognised in state-sanctioned accounts, in the fight for independence from the British during the post-war period. As summarised by the BBC's Jonathan Kent, the anti-imperialist Malayan National Liberation Army, helmed by Chin Peng, '[focused] British minds on a political settlement' in the years leading up to independence and, for better or worse, gave greater impetus to the three Alliance parties—UMNO, MCA and MIC—to form a cohesive front. Sir Robert Thompson, who served as Permanent Secretary of Defence for Malaya in the 1950s under British High Commissioner, Sir Gerald Templer, himself admitted that Chin Peng accelerated Malaysian independence by 10 to 15 years, most likely because the prosecution of the Malayan Emergency was a costly affair for Britain. (All in all, the British Treasury spent £520 million, or £10 billion in today's terms, trying to hunt down Chin Peng and his 5,000-strong band of guerillas.)

It is a shame then that the man who: was able to hold out in the jungles for 12 years against the combined might of 50,000 British and Commonwealth troops, in what has been retroactively dubbed as 'Britain's Vietnam'; took part in the 1945 Victory Parade in London, having been awarded the OBE (later withdrawn in 1948) for his part in combating the Japanese; fought for an egalitarian and truly multi-ethnic, albeit communist, vision of society; has had his appeal quashed on the ridiculous pretext that he has no documentation to prove he is a citizen of Malaysia.

It is not that we should forgive him his shortcomings or, to the other extreme, create a hagiography of him—we have too much of that sort of thing already—but merely acknowledge his achievements within the context of the independence movement in a measured way. Without this, history will be incomplete and our understanding of the complex circumstances that gave birth to the nation curtailed. Not only will we have opened ourselves to more politically motivated revisionism then through our acquiescence, but ultimately lose out on an alternate ideal for Malaysian society that may point the way forward to a better future.


Update, 3rd June 2009:
Well, how about that... Turns out Tunku Abdul Rahman, Tun Dr Ismail Abdul Rahman and Tun Ghafar Baba (that is one former Prime Minister and two former Deputy Prime Ministers) have all acknowledged the role of the communists in the fight for independence.

posted by Hong at 6:59 pm | Permalink |