COMMENT Sep 2: While the media frenzy over the remarks by PAS deputy president Mohamad Sabu on the 1950 Bukit Kepong incident continues, it has renewed interests in the nation's history, with a fresh view of addressing official distortions therein.
Leading the charge against Mat Sabu was none other than Utusan Malaysia, accusing him of insulting the country’s security forces for praising the communists as heroes during a speech in Tasek Gelugor on August 21.
But the outspoken PAS veteran, far from being apologetic, went on the offensive, saying he would initiate legal action against the paper for its lies.
“I did not mention that Mat Indera was communist, I did not mention any Chinese names like what had been reported by the paper. In fact I came to know these names only after reading the UMNO’s paper’s report," Mat Sabu told Harakahdaily.
Sabu-bashing is however not a new trend. Since the nineties, UMNO leaders past and present have made it into a political art, in the hope that PAS members would dump him, thereby providing a little more breathing space for UMNO both within and outside parliament.
Long before Opposition Leader Anwar Ibrahim was accused of sodomy and other sexual trysts, Sabu had already made headlines for what UMNO claimed was his adulterous affair, a claim thrown out by the Kota Bharu Syariah court after finding him not guilty of a khalwat offence.
As such, Mat Sabu's return to occupy a top post in PAS came as a nightmare for UMNO leaders, especially for former strongman Dr Mahathir Mohamad, who now joined prime minister Najib Razak, his deputy Muhyiddin Yassin and UMNO vice president Hishamuddin Hussein in this latest episode of Sabu-bashing.
Muted PR leaders?
But history is a path not many dare to traverse. Not even the more 'brave' Pakatan Rakyat leaders who in the past had made more controversial remarks. This is especially so when the subject has been fraught with distortion by the official version, indoctrinating school children up to their adolescence with stories of the 'communist threat'.
It is therefore no surprise that even DAP's Karpal Singh found himself unable to answer the media propaganda against Sabu in defence of the text book history, telling the PAS number two to apologise because his comments could hurt PR's chances in the next general election.
In contrast, DAP secretary general and Penang chief minister Lim Guan Eng urged Sabu-bashers to make up their minds: is he an Islamist or a communist?, he asked.
Anwar on the other hand slammed the trial by media, saying that Mat Sabu should be allowed the opportunity to explain his position.
The culmination of this yet another noisy episode, as usual, is a spate of police reports - 49 of them thus far - and an announcement by the police that Mat Sabu was to be investigated. This too failed to force Mat Sabu into submission, saying he would not apologise but would give full cooperation.
From Mat Sabu to Mat Indera
So what is this half-a-century old incident all about?
In 1950, when Malaya was still under British rule, an attack led by Mat Indera, a legendary fighter who spooked the British with his lightning raids, killed 25 police personnel in what has come to be known as the Bukit Kepong 'tragedy'.
The incident not only left the British fuming with anger, but also perhaps forced them to rethink their stay in Malaya and begin the process towards independence. The difference of opinion about the raid lies not only on the status of the attackers ('freedom fighters' or 'communists'), but also in the loyalty of the police personnel involved (to a 'free Malaya' or to the 'British colonialists'). One could see here an eerie resemblance with the media's current parlance, equating some of those who fight for independence to terrorists and Al-Qaeda.
Heroes or traitors
Tuan Ibrahim Tuan Man, who challenged Mat Sabu in the PAS deputy president's race in the last muktamar, is one of the few who came to Mat Sabu's defence, and questioned who the so-called heroes and traitors were during the British era.
“In 1950, were the communists fighting against the colonialists or the country?" asked the PAS information chief.
"Or course it was the British colonialists. That is the reality because the nation was not yet independent. The Communist Party of Malaya were fighting the British government and those seen to be collaborating with it to rule Malaya," said Tuan Ibrahim.
The situation is different after the declaration of independence in 1957, because the communists were fighting a free nation, for which they had lost much public sympathy.
Tuan Ibrahim, who is also the Pahang PAS commissioner, echoed other independent historians in calling for an honest interpretation of the country’s history.
He pointed out that the contribution by leaders such as Onn Jaafar, Tunku Abdul Rahman and others involved in the negotiation with Britain for independence was not being questioned, although they had been part of the colonial government.
L-R: Dzulkefly and Mujahid
PAS's Kuala Selangor member of parliament Dr Dzulkefly Ahmad meanwhile took to task the belief that UMNO was the only party involved in the struggle for independence.
“The religious nationalists who were marked as left wing by the British were the real independence fighters, but it was not brought up in history.
"Individuals like Tok Janggut, who fought British in Kelantan, Tok Ku Palor and Haji Abdur Rahman Limbong in Terengganu, Datuk Bahaman in Pahang and others who sacrificed their lives fighting the British colonisation,” he reminded.
Dzulkefly said renowned leaders such as Burhanudin al-Helmi, Ibrahim Yaakob, Abu Bakar al-Baqir and Ahmad Boestamam were all sidelined by the official version of history.
“There is a need to revisit the history of our independence because the history or narrative today was written to reflect the views of UMNO-BN, who were handed over the power by British colonialists (in 1957).
"It is too narrow and skewed and it has no intellectual honesty and integrity," stressed Dzulkelfy.
Dzulkefly said it was important that religious nationalists and left-wing freedom fighters were appreciated for their struggle against colonialism.
For Parit Buntar MP Mujahid Yusof Rawa, the labeling of Malayan freedom fighters was nothing new. Those who opposed British colonialism would be automatically called "left-wing" or "communists".
So what about the "right-wing", the question may be asked.
“The right-wing or conservative were those quietly take orders from the British," said Mujahid. "This conservative group wanted to preserve the colonial power. Those against this, who wanted to free the country in the true sense, were labeled as 'left-wing' or 'communist'."
Loyalty to whom?
According to Mujahid, UMNO was also part of this 'conservative' group, and described the party as the colonialist's whipping boy, 54 years after independence.
Outspoken Muslim scholar Dr Asri Zainul Abidin said he had always questioned the official version of history, suggesting much of the accusations against the Japanese were made to ensure Britain continued to rule Malaya.
“They (Japan) were not enemy of the Malays, they opposed the British. Also the Chinese because of their dispute [with China]. If Japan had conquered Singapore and Malaya, the British and the Chinese would be driven out from Singapore and Malaya. But the Malays defended the British fort because they had joined British army.
"Prior to independence, the police and army were Britain's defense. The question is whether those Malays in the British army could be regarded as national fighters or Malays fighters, or simply, the British army?” said Asri.