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Monday, September 5, 2011

My mother, Abang Mat and true patriotism

Dr Siti Mariah Mahmud

September 4, 2011

COMMENT My late mother was a great fan of Mohamad Sabu. Whenever she came home from attending one of Abang Mat’s ceramahs, I could see her elated and satisfied because Abang Mat drove the points home - "hit UMNO on the head", as she would put it - things which she had in her mind but could not articulate like Abang Mat did.

My mother was also a fiery orator and even men commended her ceramah in those days when PAS's woman leaders did not address the crowd in a public setting, but in closed groupings meant for the women.

She was sometimes nicknamed “Mat Sabu Tino” (the 'female Mat Sabu') in Kedah PAS circuits. Prior to being an active PAS member, I had never heard Abang Mat’s ceramahs. I only heard about his oratory skills and that he always condemned UMNO. I was never happy that a ceramah had to be about bashing your opponent. I considered myself a professional, bred and trained in medicine to evaluate things objectively and to separate facts from fiction and also to keep emotions away from any decisions.

But in this case I was neither objective nor professional. His “image” precedes him. So without even knowing him, I had once disliked this man.

What is so great about him that whenever he was among the speakers in a ceramah, the police would be sent to erect roadblocks leading to the venue? Abang Mat is able to generate so much excitement. His fans would travel from far just to listen to him speak. Ceramah organizers too will not be disappointed with the donations collected.

One has to listen to him to understand how he can deliver critical evaluation of UMNO/BN and current issues in an entertaining manner. You would be holding your abdomen for fear you would be laughing out loud! Now I understand why my mother was such a great fan of Abang Mat. For those of you who have yet to hear him speak, let me say that it is worth listening to him.

Which side of history?

Now Abang Mat has caused a tornado. Admittedly this issue has given ammunitions to UMNO/BN who will spin this Bukit Kepong issue to the hilt to potray PAS and Pakatan Rakyat negatively in the eyes of the Malay constituents and the police force.

UMNO's so-called 'Patriot' even announced they were going on a roadshow to "strip Mat Sabu bare". Let not this issue be clouded and turned by UMNO and pro-government historians into an issue about communists and Mat Indera. This issue provides us a great opportunity, especially to the younger generation, to unearth our Malaysian history.

I do not agree that one should ignore the past and move forward, to forget what happened more than 60 years ago. If we do not set straight our national history now, it will always be an issue come every Merdeka Day.

The police force and the families of those killed in Bukit Kepong may feel that unearthing the issue is like desecrating their loved ones. We respect these sentiments, but we also acknowledge that policemen and the army took their command from the government of the day.

We appreciate their sacrifices and they will always be heroes of any nation. Similarly, Americans welcome their army home as heroes even after invading Iraq, causing thousands of deaths among both Iraqis and American peoples. To the Iraqis they are invaders. So is the case with the Vietnam war. It all depends on which side one is. The recent Bersih rally too illustrated how the police were used by the BN government against our own people. The government historians will picture the demonstrators as "trouble makers" and "provocateurs". However, the pro-Bersih population will always remember it as a day when Malaysians came together for a noble cause.

I remember the impression I got during my secondary school days, when the Histroy syllabus would brand Maharaja Lela as “bad” because he killed JWW Birch. But now our children are being taught that he was a hero for killing a colonial officer.

'Combat' series and Bukit Kepong

Coming back to the Bukit Kepong incident, if it were the Japanese colonial policemen or British mercenaries (Nepalese, Benggalis, Indians and Chinese) killed, Mat Indera and his insurgent comrades would have been hailed as a hero. Remember the 'Combat' series we all grew up with? Remember how the Germans were depicted as cruel, killing 'innocent' Americans? The American soldiers were the heroes in that television series. How I hated the Germans then!

UMNO can go on politicising this issue and Pakatan Rakyat may lose some or many Malay votes, but in the long run Malaysians will be more objective about their history and move to becoming more inclusive.

The real issue is the recognition for our past freedom fighters who had struggled to kick out the colonialists and imperialists, from the day they set foot in Melaka through a 400-year struggle that culminated in our independence. Malaysians especially the younger generation must be taught about true patriotism, that is the fight for freedom.

If this issue is not debated thoroughly, it will come again next August 31. We should not allow only a single interpretation of history to dominate, in spite of the fact that history is written by the victors. We have to be open to other interpretations so that we can make reconciliation, and so that the celebration of Merdeka will be more meaningful.

Otherwise, we will see only UMNO supporters flying the Jalur Gemilang on Merdeka Day. Just observe how Sabahans and Sarawakians are more enthusiastic about September 16, and not August 31.

* The writer is deputy head of PAS's Muslimat Wing, and member of parliament for Kota Raja, Selangor.

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