Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it, so said American philospher George Santayana.
When the horrible incidents on May 13, 1969 happened, I wasn’t even born yet. The first time I heard about it was at school, from my math teacher on a particularly friendly day. He came and sat among us while we were waiting for afternoon class and started talking about how important tolerance was to community harmony.
I started reading and asking about it since that day. Dad gave one-sentence reply, mom didn’t know much more. I was 11 then. Since then I’ve read a lot and heard some chilling accounts from those who were in Kuala Lumpur during the worst peacetime bloodbath in Malaysia’s short history.
Some of these oral accounts were decidedly partisan. Others were blatantly racist. The neutral accounts largely came from some older people who lived through the communal riots. These were sobering accounts of how the murderous mob mentality can wreak so much terror and grief. There were also stories of hope, where racial differences did not compromise humanity.
Official statistics say 196 people died, though many say the real death toll was higher. I don’t know. I wasn’t there. I just hope that 38 years down the line, we as a nation and a community has learnt our lessons. That this harmony and tolerance were just surface values, was a fact that came horribly alive during the Kampung Medan episode.
Our country turns 50 this year. Maybe it is time to explore politics and governance away from communal divides, maybe it is time to say goodbye to race-based parties, maybe it is time for a change. Maybe it is time we as Malaysians reject the politics of fear.
May the victims of the senseless May 13 carnage rest in peace.
P.S SUARAM apparently has published a book on May 13. I gotta go find it.