Sunday, May 14, 2006

"Who is Afraid of the Last Communist?"

Who is Afraid of the Last Communist?

By Farish A. Noor

The news that the film Lelaki Komunis Terakhir (The Last Communist) by Malaysian director and producer Amir Muhammad has been banned by the Ministry of Home Affairs - despite the fact that it had been passed by the Malaysian Censor Board - has struck some by surprise.

After the initial hullaballoo brought about by some individuals and groups, including UMNO Youth, who argued that the Malaysian movie industry ought to have focused more on national heroes who fought against the Malayan Communist Party instead, the Malaysian public has been left none the wiser. The Home Ministry has defended its decision to keep the film out of our cinemas on the grounds that 'the Malaysian public' has demanded it. For a government that has not proven as effective when it comes to probing into the internal affairs of the police and the alleged misconduct of some of its members, the Home Ministry now seems to have returned to form and is acting speedily to serve the interests of the public!

Here the first of many questions arises: Who, pray tell, makes up this nebulous 'Malaysian public' that is ever so sensitive to the depiction of Malaysia's leftist leaders, activists and intellectuals? If the mass 'protests' against the film are to be taken into account, then surely one would have to also take into consideration the actors and agents who were behind these protests themselves - in this case none other than the leaders and members of the Conservative Barisan Nasional coalition themselves whose ideological differences with the secular left are well known and documented.

Secondly we are then forced to ask what service this ban is meant to do for us, the Malaysian public, in whose interests the ban was imposed in the first place. Underlying the argument of the Home Ministry seems to be a paternalistic logic of pastoral and custodial care that seeks to domesticate society by safeguarding it from 'insiduous' and 'subversive' elements (catchwords of the Cold War one would recall). One can only wonder if this is the same sort of parental control logic that prevails when the state-appointed authorities act against Malaysian couples who hold hands in public and are accused of 'indecent behaviour'...

The Malaysian state remains stuck in its maximalist model of policing and control, like some overbearing parent that cannot come to terms with the fact that his children have grown up and can now think for themselves. Are we, the Malaysian public, wise and mature enough to vote for the government yet immature enough not to be able to assess the merits of director Amir Muhammad's movie on our own? Or would we need to be given printed guidelines to help us interpret every sentence, every scene, every character, in any film deemed 'unfit' for Malaysian consumtion? If that be the case, the Ministry could have provided us with printed illustrated guidelines that spell out how to interpret the movie and whose side we should take while watching it. A photo of Chin Peng could have been printed with the warning: 'Orang Jahat- Jangan ikut lagaknya. Bahaya- Macam Darth Vader'.

The bottom line is that Amir Muhammad's film was an attempt - albeit in his own artistic mode - to interpret the character and personality of an individual who was instrumental in the formation of post-colonial Malaysia.

Whatever Chin Peng's ideological convictions may have been, he stands among the most important political figures of Malaysia in the 20th century. The fact that he is of Chinese background is also important for the simple reason that it reminds us of the contribution of the non-Malay communities to the development first of colonial, and later post-colonial, Malaysia. It is sad enough that the number of non-Malays who appear in our history books are few and far between. Now it would appear that those who were in the opposition camp are doubly damned for being both non-Malay and in the opposition as well. Will our present day non-Malay opposition leaders like Lim Kit Siang and Karpal Singh suffer the same fate in the future, one wonders?

The writing of Malaysia's complex history can and will be a difficult venture indeed. The enterprise is fraught with difficulties that extend well beyond the ideological and political. Any nation as plural and articifical as Malaysia will have to grapple with its contigencies and radical accidental moments of hazard and chance. Malaysia - the country that was initially thought to be a potential Balkans in the 1950s - has turned out to be one of the few so-called economic miracles of East Asia instead. But this development has not followed a linear path, nor was it predetermined by fate or necessity. Many characters and events were thrown into the bargain, and each of them - both positively and negatively - did, in their own way, steer the ship of the Malaysian state to where it is today.

Chin Peng and the Malayan Communist Party were among those crucial actors whose role was pivotal in the formative years of Malayan nationalism in the 1930s and 1940s, when the decolonisation movement was gaining momentum and the nascent idea of a Malayan (later Malaysian) nation came into being.

If anything, Chin Peng and the MCP should be remembered for what they were: partners in the collective attempt to free Malaya and Malayans from the yoke of British colonialism and Western imperialism. The British understood very well why the Malayan Communist Party was a threat to their own imperial and colonial interests, for the Communists were hardly allies who could be counted upon to defend the rights and privileges of the colonisers. Instead the British chose to support the liberal Malayan conservatives like Onn Jaafar who later created the Independence for Malaya Party (IMP) that was little more than a soft bulwark against the tide of growing anti-colonial sentiment spreading through the country and the region by extension.

During its heyday, the Malayan Communist Party was part of a greater international coalition that struggled against both colonialism and imperialism and which regarded Fascism as its greatest enemy. While the liberals and conservatives among our forefathers lay dormant, the Malayan Communists were the ones who stood up against both Japanese militarism, and following the Second World War, the attempt by the former colonial powers to reimpose their imperial rule in Asia. Were these 'sins' that they, and us, should be ashamed of?

To return to the original question posed at the beginning: If Amir Muhammad's film on Chin Peng is deemed as unfit or even dangerous for the Malaysian public, we need to ask ourselves whose interests are being served here? The Malaysian public that still has to learn the true extent of the commitment and sacrifice of all Malaysians from all races and all walks of life in the anti-colonial struggle? Or the interests of the conservatives among us who insist that theirs and theirs alone is the official account of Malaysian history that deserves to be told? One can understand how and why the British colonisers were adamant that the Malayan Communist Party should be destroyed and all traces of it wiped out. But why should the same skewered beliefs be held by the Malaysian political elite of today?

* Farish A Noor is a Malaysian political scientist and human rights activist, based at the Zentrum Moderner Orient (ZMO), Berlin. The above article was written for Eye Asia.


Blogger Jane Sunshine said...

At last. An thoughtful, sensible piece on the implications of the ban on the film and Malaysian history generally. Important questions about the future for us all. Kudos, sir.

5:44 pm  
Blogger Michael Guillen said...

A well-written editorial. Thanks for sharing it.

7:10 am  
Blogger Billy said...

Despite the atrocities committed by Chin Peng and his men, it is already a well known historical fact (which UMNO refuse to come terms with)that had it not for him and the MCP, we today would probably be speaking Nihongo and living under the yolk of the Japanese. The MCP together with Force 136 jointly operated to bring the Japanese occupation to an end in this country which was expedited by the dropping of the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Our children must be told of this part of our nation's history as it is and not changing the facts in the textbooks. For doing so, we are no better than the Japanese who refuse to face the past and continuously whitewashing their history text books.

10:37 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I read Noel Barber's "The War of the Running Dogs" when I was in secondary school.

The MCP did fight alongside Force 136 but exactly why is only known to them. If indeed they fought to free the country from the "yoke of colonialism", why did they continue to fight after August 31, 1957?

My late father was caught in 2 ambushes in December 1957 and August 1958 respectively. My mother lost many sleepless nights everytime my father when into the jungle.

The old man had to live with the memories of soldiers blown to piece by MCP booby traps.

My batchmates from the Royal Military College who joined the Armed Forces find it very sad that the man is now being glorified by the DAP and Amir.

2:23 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

anon 2.23,

nobody glorifying chin peng, the film even make me proud to have tungku abd rahman. watch it, and u will understand.

3:14 pm  
Blogger hann said...

Anon 2.23,
Does that mean controversial subjects should never be tackled for fear of "upsetting the public"? I haven't watched the film yet, but I'm willing to go into it with an open mind. People aren't daft, there is a multitude of literature out there to let them make their own minds up whether Chin Peng was a hero or a villain or neither. Glorifying? YOU be the judge, AFTER watching it.

3:33 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

mata-mata and hann,

mata-mata is indeed fortune to have seen the movie. I would gladly watch the movie with as open a mind as yours hann but the last movie I saw in a cinema was "Ghandi" and I turned a free ticket for the X-Men premiere yesterday.

I agree that there is a whole gamut of material on C.P and the M.C.P and the only way to make a balanced assessment is to digest the whole lot with as open a mind as possible. Since that is highly unlikely, one's assessment would still be influenced by one's biases.

This does not however mean that controversial issues should never be tackled for fear of "upsetting the public". I would normally not bother to leave a comment let alone respond to comments about my comments. If you read the thrash posted in our blogs, I am sure you will know what I mean. This is an exception because both your comments are very civil and allows room for further discussions.

In my last email to the late M.G.G. Pillay (I regret not accepting his inviting for teh tarik), I wrote that while I totally agree with what he had to say about the problem in MAS, his hijacking of a Malaysian issue and turning it into a "Melayu bodoh" issue lost him many Malays who would otherwise be his allies.

Given the many potentially divisive issues that has cropped up recently, is the ban really what it appears to be?

By the way ong 10:37, the 2 bombs made sure that, MCP or not, we do not have to speak Japanese unless we want to.

9:00 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


As mentioned by hann, there's a wide spectrum of material on the M.C.P and C.P. It is interesting to note that both you and Farish mentioned the M.C.P and Force 136 as if both these organisations consisted only of Chinese and British fighters.

I happen to know one of the last surviving members of Force 136. He is a Tan Sri who is a retired senior police officer who now lives in Kelana Jaya. When I first met him in 1975, he was the Chief Police Officer of Pahang and his Volvo was heavily armoured and he had a mini arsenal in it. This was in our 18th year of independence. That year the M.C.P blew up the National Monument in the Lake Gardens, the perimeter fence of the Sg. Besi air base and assassinated the IGP and another senior police officer who was Chinese.

Another prominent member of Force 136 was the late General Ibrahim Ismail. There was also the Wataniah based in Pahang with the late Tun Abdul Razak as one of the prime movers.

The M.C.P's fight against the Japanese was mainly an extension of the war against the Japanese in China. They received material and moral support from China until Tun Abdul Razak's historic visit when the Chinese government agreed to cease providing support. Their collaboration with Force 136 was merely a convenient way of getting free weapons.

When the Japanese surrendered, the M.C.P (known as Bintang Tiga to the public) moved into the towns and tortured and killed people they accused of collaborating with the Japanese. That reign of terror continued until the British came back in force.

At least that is my take from the people I know, the books I read, etc. Maybe I am heavily influenced by my grandfather, father and instructors at the Boys' Wing of the Royal Military College. These are people who actually saw the atrocities.

So you see ong, one man's freedom fighter (?) is another man's terrorist.

10:49 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

at least Amir is not detained and dehumanised in his own country. try to make a film of "questionable/political elements" in singapore and you will be detained under ISD.

if amir is a singaporean, would he be detained and all his friends and associates be questioned by the ISD...???

7:00 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Saya dapat jelaskan secara ringkas iaitu usah khuatir, usah ragu dan jangan hairan kenapa kerajaan (KKDN) melarang penyiaraan filem LKT ini.

PERCAYALAH IANYA SUATU KEPUTUSAN YANG SANGAT TEPAT. Inilah suatu keputusan yang cukup hebat pernah dibuat oleh kerajaan Malaysia.

Tetapi HANYA jika anda menonton Filem LKT dan carikan atau fikirkan penjelasan menasabah kenapa sesuatu episod itu di adakan malahan "seolah-olah di TEKANKAN on purpose",. Payah mau cerita, nanti kena saman. BUKAN soal menonjolkan komunis, bukan cuba amenonjolkan Chin Peng, bukan seperti kebanyakan yang difahami, tetapi terdapat tanda-tanda lain, yang membolehkannya di larang. PERCAYALAH

Mesej politik kenapa penjelasan seorang penduduk di XXXX, bahawa dia sangat seronok dapat wang XXXXX kerana melaporkan kepada XXXXX tentang penglibatan XXXXX dalam kegiatan Komunis. Kenapa XXXX sangat menekankan "ketawa" berdekak-dekah orang ini? (episod gelak ketawanya ini agak lama) Cubaan menggambarkan bahawa mereka yang sanggup bekerja untuk XXXXXX semata-mata kerana upah (hingga sanggup melaporkan penglibatan darah dagingnya iaitu XXXXXnya sendiri?)

Susah mahu cakap SEMUA. Memang tidak merbahaya menonton jika anda tidak faham. Orang yang pengsan tidak sakit.

Salah seorang yang nonton preview

1:25 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Assalamu'alaikum WW/Salam Sejahtera.

I came across the article below & hope you will NEVER EVER merendah2kan pejuang2 Malaya di zaman sebelum merdeka - Melayu, Cina, India.

Majority Cina Malaya LANGSUNG TIDAK SOKONG komunis - cuma segelintir.

Saya rasa usaha2 sekarang ini adalah kerana faktor terpengaruh dengan dakyah2 songsang pembangkang serpihan PAP s'pura yang pada saya hanya suka menidakkan menidakkan apa jua Malaysia (dalam case ini menidakkan perjuangan rakyat jelata Malaysia sendiri).

Saya harap tidak ada niat untuk mencetuskan kontroversi remeh yang lambat-laun hanya akan memudaratkan persaudaraan sekian lama antara Melayu & bangsa2 lain - kesejahteraan Malaysia.

Kita semua rakyat Malaysia harus bertanggungjawab untuk Keharmonian MALAYSIA, daripada mencari kemasyhuran tetapi tanpa integriti/berat sebelah. WALLAHU'ALAM.

Terima kasih.

Saya appendkan tulisan dari seorang Cina (anak kepada Tun Leong Yew Koh, bekas governor Melaka & seangkatan dengan Tun Tan Cheng Lok, founder MCA) yang disambung di bawah... (cont.).

Sejahtera Malaysia!

3:02 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Tun Leong Yew Koh
Author: Sun
Date: 01-23-07 10:15

The late Tun Leong Yew Koh was the first Governor of Malacca but not many Malaysians are aware of this.

Leong's daughter, 84-year-old Agnes Leong Kok Loon, regales JOSEPH MASILAMANY with fond memories of her father.
By: (Fri, 28 Oct 2005)

SEASONED survivors of jungle warfare know it like the back of their hand.
For every 700 hours of jungle bashing with extremes of discomfort against tropical weather, mosquitoes, uncertainty and boredom, there is only one hour of explosive action.

Pounding adrenaline, the bloody violence of combat at close quarters and sudden death comes only in the 701st hour.

At the height of the Malayan Emergency, Agnes Leong Kok Loon, was no jungle basher but the daughter of Leong Yew Koh, a practising lawyer in Ipoh.

In 1949, a graduate of journalism from Boston University, Kok Loon, was resting at her family's holiday home in Cameron Highlands when the 701st hour detonated at her doorstep.

Malayan Communist Party kingpin, Chin Peng and his comrades had come to rudely dislodge a defenceless lady from her reverie, with plans to abduct her for ransom to finance their political cause.

But armed with only the heightened plot from the fiction that she was reading, Kok Loon decided to play mind games with the communists.
"You can dismember my body and send the parts to my father but you will not get a sen from him," she repeatedly told the guerillas, aware that she was only a trigger away from martyrdom.

Exasperated by her obstinate nature and discouraged by what she had said, rifle-fire barked in unnerving staccato shattering the placidity of the cold misty morning.

When the gunsmoke cleared, Kok Loon was still on her feet but 30 heads of cattle owned by her family had fallen to the ground - Tommy-gunned by the ruthless bandits.
When Leong arrived from Ipoh, he stoically surveyed the scene, only muttering: "All is fair in love and war."

"That was the man that he was, full of fortitude and a judicious person," Kok Loon tells theSun in a recent interview at her Bangsar home.
She regrettably shakes her head when asked if Chin Peng should be allowed to return to his hometown in Sitiawan.

"Anyone who has raised arms against his country does not deserve a second chance," she says, referring to Chin Peng's armed struggle, underscored as "The War of the Running Dogs" in Noel Barber's best seller.
"However my father perceived everything, from politics to social life and home economics in a philosophical way," she says.

But today, the name "Leong Yew Koh" draws a blank not only among the digital generation but even among the immediate post-Merdeka set.
And yet Leong was one of several Chinese visionaries instrumental to the founding of the Malayan Chinese Association (MCA), a forerunner to the Malaysian Chinese Association.

When reminded that not many Malaysians have heard of Leong, the first secretary-general of MCA (1952-1957), Kok Loon smiles: "Even the current breed of MCA members have not heard of him.
"Yet he was the man who refused to accept a knighthood from the Queen of England."

According to her, Leong spurned the knighthood offered to him before Merdeka, saying: "I will only kowtow to the sovereign King of an Independent Malaya, not a foreign Queen."

Leong became the Minister for Health and Social Welfare when his former buddy at the Inner Temple, London, Tunku Abdul Rahman, formed his pre-Independence cabinet.

After Independence, Leong was made the first Governor of Malacca (1957-1959) and subsequently Minister of Justice.
However, long before he made inroads in Malaya's political front he was a roving diplomat on the international arena.

His role as emissary for the Chinese Government has earned him the rank of "Colonel" and spanned many countries including Burma, India, South Africa, Philippines, Holland and the Dutch East Indies (Indonesia).
Born in Salak North in 1888, Leong hailed from a generation of wealthy tin mine owners who were largely responsible for the growth and development of Perak's northern region.

A former student of the Ipoh Anglo Chinese School, Leong pursued political science and economics as well as law at the University College and Inner Temple in London.

He was called to the Bar in 1920 and served as an advocate and solicitor in the Federated Malay States (FMS) and was also a member of the FMS Bar Committee.

Kok Loon, the second among Leong's seven children, remembers her father as the warm family man but a no-nonsense hard-liner who will not tolerate a breach in discipline, especially in academic performance and religious obligations.

A devout Catholic and a very prayerful man Leong extended his sense of religiosity even to his Malay driver.

"On Friday, afternoons when he was travelling he will tell his driver to stop at the nearest mosque and to participate in the Muslim congregational worship, while he sat in his car and prayed the rosary," Kok Loon recalls.
Two of Leong's daughters are retired nuns with the Franciscan Missionaries of the Divine Motherhood and are respectively based in Penang and Singapore.

If a biographer had trailed after Leong, his life, times and adventures could have been woven into a fascinating historiographical cocktail.
And if there had been a Who's Who publication in postwar Malaya - the name of Leong Yew Koh may have been radiantly registered with a legend attesting to his nationalist spirit and imperial patriotism as well.
An avid hunter, Leong who is known to have brought down the ferocious Tiger of Yunan with just one bullet from his rifle has three roads in the country named after him.

So the next time when Malaysians come across "Jalan Leong Yew Koh" in Ipoh, Malacca or in Taman Tun Dr Ismail, Kuala Lumpur - perhaps it may not be too late to raise a silent salute to the man - the little known first governor of Malacca.


3:03 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Of course, Khoon Lun as a daughter idolized her father Yew Koh. And his father had never told her that he was a traitor of his people and his community if any. I seemed to remember I read in some other books that Leong Yew Koh was an opportunist political and a "running dog". He vigorously seek political wealth in power and fame. He fled China when Japanese invaded China. As far as we know, Leong was branded as "big tail snake" who did nothing but to please Tengku Abdul Rahman and the Umno leaders. Tengku Abdul Rahman was a real and genuine Bapa Malaysia.

6:10 am  

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