Tuesday, 8 October 2013

History is not Black and White

Sin Chew Jit Poh
30 September 2013
Nothing is black and white; except maybe the colours black and white. Even then you have all sorts of variations. Black is not just black; there is midnight black, satin black and all sorts of other blacks. Just as you have orchid white, apple white and other variations that get interior designers excited.
History too is not black and white. There are always shades of grey and even when something is clear and undisputed, there could still be subtle differences in interpretation. If this is the case, then why is it that in this country, history is viewed in such a simplistic manner?
I am thinking about all this palaver regarding Chin Peng’s ashes. The government is portraying him as a villain and nothing else. And this world view means that he has absolutely no claim for compassion, even in death.
Now, a cursory look at history will show that things are surely not that simple. It cannot be denied that the Malayan Communist Party (MCP) and the Malayan Peoples Anti- Japanese (MPAJA) were the two main indigenous armed resistance to the Japanese. In that sense they fought, risked life and limb to defend this land (we were not really a united “nation” at the time) from an occupying force. Chin Peng belonged to both these bodies and later was to head the MCP.
And when the war was over the MCP turned its sights on the British. Meaning that they were then an anti-colonial movement. And this during a time when the elite of the nation had not yet to begin their push for independence.
If we draw the line of history up to this point, then one could very well say that the MCP were freedom fighters. However, as any school child could tell you, once independence was granted, the MCP kept on fighting and they without a doubt were the killers of many Malayan and later Malaysian civilians and members of the armed forces.
This of course makes their claim to be freedom fighters ring rather hollow. Yet, even here there are grey areas. I do not for one second condone the acts of the MCP, especially in the post-independence period, but let us not forget that the ruling elite may also have had a role to play in this.
The famous point in history here are the Baling talks between the then indigenous leaders of Malaya (the talks were held when we were still under British rule) led by Tunku Abdul Rahman and the MCP, headed by Chin Peng.
The talks were little more than an ultimatum on the part of the Malayan government in waiting. They were not interested in listening to the propositions put forward by the communists; it was their way or no way. And their way, fundamentally did not allow for the MCP to be a legitimate political entity that could take part in the democratic process. In other words the road with which the MCP could lay down their arms and then go ahead to push their ideology via peaceful means was shut on them.
Again, I do not wish to make judgement on the rights and wrongs of this decision made by Tunku and company. It could be that they felt that the MCP had done so much damage that it was impossible to give them any sort of legal recognition. The best they could offer was an amnesty and a period of controlled movement for members of the MCP.
But then on the other hand, could not history have been very different if the MCP were allowed to participate in the democratic process of a free Malaya? It could very well have been that they would have faded into obscurity as the Malayan peoples decided that their communist ideology was not for them.
But, it is pointless playing guessing games with what has happened in the past. What should be done however is to study history with a dispassionate eye. Only in this way can we ever come close to that elusive and subjective thing known as the truth.
Conversely what we should not do is justify decisions made today based on a very poor and blinkered view of the past.

No comments: