Remembering May 13


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.

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6 thoughts on “Remembering May 13

  1. May their souls rest in peace.

    You have the nerve to write a piece on this sensitive topic. Anyway, I it should be remembered lest we forget and never learn.

  2. Dear daily nibbler,

    Even a bloody carnage like that offers some lessons that we all can learn from. Being paternalistic to the point of denying the people information within the right context will leave the people ignorant.

    An ignorant populace may be good for certain governments to remain in power, but in the end, the country itself suffers as we continue to elect reps who have more regard for filling their own coffers than to represent the wishes of the electorate.

  3. Dear AR,

    I’m waiting with baited breath for your update. I hope you went to to the Suaram event yesterday. Please post it quick for the benefit of swamp dwellers like me. . .

  4. Hi danse,

    The question is will they ever learn? There is a book published on “May 13” that I have not picked up. How many will?

    Different races pull in different direction. We need a captain or leader to pull in one. I have not seen that leader yet. Maybe it takes time but time is not on our side.

    Many issues left unresolved but every other day more crop up. It is never easy to be that leader. Past leader died in office, current one “feeling the heat” and previous one just warded, again, in ICU.

    I just hope and pray we have all learned from the past, that May 13 will never be repeated at all cost.

  5. Dear Mat Salo,

    Alas, I was busy with class project, no time to get out of the house, let alone go for book launch.

    But I believe you can find out more at Jeff Ooi’s blog. He blogged abt the event and quoted the writer Dr Kua Kia Soong.

    Dr Kua’s name must be familiar to u rite?

    Dear Nibbler,

    We have been nicely divided along racial lines for decades now. The power-sharing status quo remains. There is no concrete steps taken to arrest polarisation at the formative levels i.e educational institutions.

    Things will be kinda ok for now. We’ll plod along cos we Malaysians are essentially nice people.

    But when the economy starts slowing down, angst, insecurity, jealousy and plain fear of the unknown will form ingredients that ultimately foment ugly episodes.

    We need to reach out and know our fellow Malaysians better, so that questions like race, religion, skin, creed, political belief will all pale in comparison to peace, harmony, mutual understanding and that beautiful word… silaturrahim, among us.

  6. What is Dr Kua Kia Soong trying to achieve with the book? Open up old wounds and pour salt over it again. Or pour gasoline on the old wound and light it up????

    Everyone, should move on and learn what we achieved from the bloody incident. What transpired and developed from the ashes.

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