50th Anniversary of May 13 and Failure to Learn from the Racial Riots

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Call to Malaysians to stand together and fight together, to outlaw racism and racial discrimination in our society.

Malaysians have not learnt from the May 13 racial riots five decades ago, as there are people who keep bringing up the spectre of ethnic violence to divide the nation, said Daim Zainuddin.

Seth Akmal/TMI

As Malaysia marks the 50th anniversary of May 13, there has been a resurgence of racial and religious rhetoric at the same time Pakatan Harapan (PH) is celebrating its first year in power this month, said the chairman of the Council of Eminent Persons.

Those instigating racial supremacy today choose to be obsessed with May 13 instead of the success story of Malaysians standing together against the British colonists and later on against the communists and Indonesian army, Daim said.

“We fought together to save this country, we succeeded, as long as we are united, for a common cause, we will succeed,” Daim told The Malaysian Insight.

“But again, we have a group who says ‘our position is threatened’. We are threatened because we are not united. If we are together, nobody can threaten us, confront us. We fought together and won.

“Why are we sending the wrong message to our children? Why? We are together here. History is history, we have to accept reality, we fought the communists together, as long we united, we are okay.”

Despite the long history of communities living peacefully together, the voices of racism have returned, Daim said.

“Now (it’s) beginning again, this is dangerous (message) to our children,” he said referring to the racial and religious rhetoric that has besieged the administration.

Opposition parties, Umno and PAS, are creating and riding on a wave of Malay nationalism they hope will help them build up support among Malays against the PH government.

They are hoping that this wave, which hypes up imagined fears of Malays being disenfranchised, will propel them into federal power in the next general election.

Daim urged Malaysians, especially Malays, to look towards the future instead of dwelling on the past.

“Malays like to look back on the past but the past is history. So let it be a lesson learned. No point talking about the Malacca empire being successful because if it were really successful it would have not been conquered.

“Just think of the present, the future, how do we build up this country?” he said.

He added that Malays have no choice but to accept the present multi-ethnic make-up of the country and move forward with others.

“We are together, we are still in this country…that stood together and fought together. Either we fall together, or we succeed together, there is no other choice.”

Meanwhile, Kua Kia Soong, the author of May 13: Declassified Documents on the Malaysian Riots of 1969, published in 2007, has called for the declassifying of May 13 secrets.


The main thesis of the book is that the orchestrated pogrom against the ethnic Chinese in Kuala Lumpur in 1969 was actually an attempt by the emergent Malay state capitalist class to create a situation to justify the coup d’etat against then prime minister Tunku Abdul Rahman in the state of emergency that followed.

Until today, it is still not known how many and who were the victims of May 13.

“We owe it to those who perished during the pogrom to at least register their unfortunate demise and grant some reparation to their loved ones. Where are the mass graves, besides those at Sungai Buluh? There are other stories about corpses being tarred to conceal their ethnic identities, corroborated by doctors working at Kuala Lumpur hospitals at the time.

“As at Wang Kelian recently, their bodies should be exhumed and identified and the cause of death determined, considering so many were tarred and buried without ceremony,” said Kua, who is also the adviser of Suaram.

In a poem about May 13, the writer and novelist Said Zahari makes reference to hidden hands behind the riots.

“So, is the government and our historians interested in what really happened in May 1969 — who started the violence; who were the “hidden hands” alluded to in Said Zahari’s immortal poem on the incident; how many casualties there were really?

Lu Wei Hoong/Malaysiakini

“Or are they more interested in the status quo and peddling the same old ghost story that we no longer believe in?” said Kua.

He suggested a monument to the victims of May 13 which would stand for the fundamental importance of human rights, and against the racist violence that was responsible for the pogrom.

“Now, 50 years on from the May 13 incident, imagine the powerful impact it would have if the government of the day were to use this anniversary as an opportunity to remember its past and honour the victims of the pogrom.”

Kua admits that Umno remains a political force that will continue to harp on “Malay supremacy”.

After BN lost Penang in the 2008 general election, Penang Umno retaliated by taking to the streets of Seberang Jaya in the hundreds chanting “Hidup Melayu” with provocative banners, including one asking if the state’s ruling coalition wanted another May 13.

According to Kua, one leader added, “If we lose our patience, please don’t blame us.”

“Such a response by Umno, among others, merely confirms the thesis of my book that the May 13 pogrom in 1969 had been orchestrated.”

He said May 13 will remain a spectre haunting the Malaysian collective conscience as long as racism and racial discrimination are not outlawed in our society.