Taking the fear out of May 13, the title of my latest column in The Malay Mail, Thursday 18th Nov 2010, basically supports a fellow journo's call for a Unity Day on May 13 to bury, once and for all, the specter of a black mark on this country's race relations. The PM has said there is no necessity for us to commemorate the day but he didn't say there was no need for a Unity Day. Heck, we even have a World Toilet Day [read here], so why not a Hari Muhibbah?
"We should regard it as an event in the annals of history from which we can learn from... as a demarcation for us so that it will not recur." — Prime Minister Najib Razak ("No need to commemorate May 13 riots", NST, Nov 17, 2010).
SOMETIMES Najib Razak is just too decisive.
As in the case of whether we should or should not commemorate the day this nation went amok in the bloody racial riots of May 13, 1969, for example. The Prime Minister was too quick to rule it unnecessary to commemorate the day, as suggested by Zaini Hassan, the Utusan Malaysia deputy editor-in-chief.
He could have allowed the people to talk about the idea, at least.
Zaini's idea, which he penned in his column Cuit, published by the Bahasa Malaysia daily, is that the government should declare May 13 a 'National Unity Day'. The idea, as a colleague pointed out last night, may be a contentious one but not seditious.
And it is a timely one. Malaysians have become a strange people since Dr Mahathir Mohamad stepped down as Prime Minister after 22 years. Instead of counting our blessings, we are blaming each other for the disparities that remain in our society.
And instead of burying the one incident that nearly tore us apart more than 41 years ago, we are digging up each others' closets for skeletons and using it to blame other people for our own present day shortcomings.
Some quarters have even resorted to rewriting history. In recent published books on the riots and sold openly in major bookstores, the stories about how the disturbance broke out are distorted beyond recognition, obviously so that some political parties who sponsored these publications will gain mileage.
This has driven others to come up with their own versions of what happened in the days leading to May 13, the factors that led to the bloodshed, the exact casualties, and the consequences of the racial riots.
Most of these clashes of opinions on May 13 are still taking place in the Malaysian blogosphere.
One of the more definitive blog postings on the issue is the May 13th 1969: The Correct View, a two-part series plus an "intermission" that promises (or threatens) more sequels by anonymous blogger Jebat Must Die (jebatmustdie.wordpress.com).
The three postings garnered nearly 400 heated comments. There is talk that these postings will be published in the form of a book in response to the book by Dr Kua Kia Soong entitled: Declassified Documents on the Malaysian Riots of 1969.
JMD was concerned as readers of Kia Soong's books would be driven to conclude that:
• Tun Abdul Razak masterminded the May 13 racial riots as a form of coup d’etat against Malaysia's first Prime Minister, Tunku Abdul Rahman;
• Datuk Harun Idris led Umno Youth members to spontaneously launch an unprovoked attack against the Chinese people; and
• the racial riots were not the fault of the racist opposition or the subversive communist movement
And what would readers of JMD's upcoming book be driven to conclude of the riots? Will the book be subject to multiple police reports as Zaini is being subjected to by several politicians who claim that the journalist's article was seditious?
Yes, believe it or not, many of our politicians need to grow up and learn that making police reports against every little thing you don't agree with is a reaction that is childish.
Personally, I am all for the idea of Malaysia having a Hari Muhibbah or Unity Day and I think it would be great if the nation commemorates May 13 by promoting racial unity and organising programmes that will bring us closer to one another.
At the very least, nobody can use this day to promote their narrow, political agenda anymore. Once it is made a Hari Muhibbah, no politician may use May 13 as a fear factor.
In the discussions on blogs that followed Zaini's article, those who were not for the idea (without having to lodge any police report because they see the good intentions behind the suggestion) felt that Malaysia needed stronger fundamentals, such as a single-school system (an idea the government has also shot down, unfortunately).
One of Malaysia's neighbors has done both - it integrated the Chinese, Malay and Tamil primary schools since the late 60s after its own brush with racial riots. It has also declared Unity Day to commemorate the worst day in its racial relations.
But did the single-school system and the Unity Day work for our neighbour? Maybe, but then again Malaysia has not had a serious racial problem in the last four decades, either. The ones we encountered, such as the Kampung Medan issue and Hindraf's ridiculous allegation of ethnic-cleansing in Malaysia, were few and far between.
We need to work on becoming a united people. We have witnessed how fragile racial unity can be, even in America and Europe where things are believed to be more equal.
If helping bury the May 13 spectre by declaring the day Hari Muhibbah, we should explore it.
At the end of the day, the government will be the one that has to decide whether or not it is necessary to commemorate the racial riots of May 13. And if government politicians in the end agree with their counterparts in the DAP and other Opposition parties that May 13 is not an issue, good for them.
But the people need to be allowed to discuss such issues. We are not always right, but let's hear us out first.
AHIRUDIN ATTAN is group editorial adviser for The Malay Mail, Bernama TV and The Malaysian Reserve. He blogs at rockybru.com.my.