Chin Peng’s ashes and the Hitler salute

One would have thought that the return of Chin Peng’s ashes to his homeland would have led to a sigh of relief that there is finally closure to our turbulent anti-colonial history and perhaps some reflection leading to reconciliation for all who have suffered tragically during the “troubles”.

Instead, Bukit Aman Criminal Investigation Department (CID) director Huzir Mohamed has said that the police are investigating the group which had reportedly brought in the remains of former Communist Party of Malaya (CPM) secretary-general Chin Peng from Thailand to Malaysia.

Huzir said investigations were being carried out to determine the exact method used to bring in Chin Peng’s ashes which were reportedly scattered in Perak. The incident is being investigated under Section 504 and 505b of the Penal Code (dealing with insults intended to provoke a breach of peace and statements likely to cause public fear), as well as Section 233 of the Multimedia and Communications Act which deals with improper use of network facilities.

So, it looks as though Chin Peng’s ashes are being treated like contraband drugs, the possession of which could make the possessors liable to terrifying penalties! Meanwhile, Home Minister Muhyiddin Yassin said the government had not allowed the ashes of the former CPM leader to be brought home to Malaysia.

The only voice of reason is that of former inspector-genral of police Abdul Rahim Noor who defended the return of Chin Peng’s ashes, by arguing that there is no issue given that the CPM which Chin Peng once led is no longer a threat.

The CPM’s struggle was over in December 1989 when they signed the Hatyai Peace Accord with the government, ending its 21 years of armed struggle. “The peace agreement itself showed that the country wanted to let bygones be bygones and move forward after peace was achieved,” Rahim Noor added.

While this recent “storm in an urn” has been going on in West Malaysia, we read of a graduating student giving a “Heil Hitler” salute during the convocation ceremony of Universiti Malaysia Sabah (UMS). Despite such a blatant salute to fascism it appears that this student received none of the reprimands accorded the University of Malaya graduate who had carried a placard calling for the vice-chancellor to resign for racism.

The graduate at UMS, known only as Ibn Ruru, had uploaded the photo of his salute on Facebook with an accompanying caption praising the former dictator and German chancellor for the Holocaust during the Second World War, which exterminated up to six million European Jews. Ibn Ruru justified the salute by claiming solidarity with the plight of the Palestinians against the Israeli establishment, and venting his anger, hatred and vengeance towards the Jewish people.

It is interesting that these two news items should appear in the same week given that Chin Peng was centrally involved with the anti-fascist and anti-colonial struggles that led to our Independence in 1957. Did we not fight the Japanese fascists who were in the Axis with Hitler’s Germany? One wonders what Malaysian students are taught today in schools and universities about fascism, Nazism and the Second World War that cost so many lives and resources. Who among our past leaders can we say sacrificed more in the struggle against Japanese fascism and British colonialism?

Today, we have forgiven the Japanese and our prime minister is the main proponent of the “Look East Policy”. The leaders of post-colonial Malaysia never had any problems with the British anyway – Independence was handed to the Alliance on a plate even though the British colonial power had sapped our workers and resources dry by then.

Selective forgiveness

Forgiveness is indeed taught in all religions but our nation’s leaders maintain that Chin Peng and the CPM cannot be forgiven for their past actions during the Emergency. It is clear, however, that these leaders are certainly capable of selective forgiveness. Let us put all this into perspective.

During the 12-year “Emergency” when the CPM was waging a war against British colonialism, a total of 3,945 security forces, 2,473 civilians and 6,697 insurgents were killed. Because of this record, it is argued, Chin Peng and the CPM he led cannot be forgiven. Now, how does this compare with the casualties of the Japanese occupation?

During the Japanese Occupation of Malaya, more than 100,000 Malayans (mainly Chinese) were killed in the three years between 1942 and 1945. The Japanese killed 5,000 Chinese in an operation called “Sook Qing” in just one month in February 1942 in Singapore. During the three years of occupation, 66,000 people were killed in Singapore.

The atrocities committed in the name of Japanese fascism during the Occupation left an indelible mark on those Malayans who suffered the terror of those dark years. And yet we are, quite rightly, prepared to forgive and reconcile with the Japanese even though their authorities have not formally recanted for their fascist and imperialist actions as the Germans have.

Patriots and pretenders

Do our history books extol the patriotic role of Chin Peng and the CPM during the struggle against Japanese expansionist aggression during the Second World War? The CPM-organised Malayan Peoples’ Anti-Japanese Army was decorated by the British queen in London after the war, but their contributions have not been acknowledged in our own country. How’s that? And how do our school textbooks portray this part of our history?

All over the world, the progressive democratic alliances were the true patriots who fought against German and Japanese fascism during the Second World War. Can we name any of our Independence leaders who distinguished themselves during that effort to liberate our country from Japanese occupation?

Our nation’s leaders say that the CPM’s insurrection against British colonialism was wrong but what alternative strategy did the Alliance have to liberate the country from colonial exploitation? Do they believe that Independence could have been won without the insurrection against the British colonial power?

My research at the British archives shows that the Malayan Emergency was essential for securing western economic, political and military-strategic interests. With this aim in mind, it was the British High Commissioner who had initiated an “Alliance” formula between the Malay aristocracy and Non-Malay capitalist interests which led to the post-colonial status quo.

The colonial strategy against the CPM and the workers’ movement can be seen in the fact that the Emergency was declared by the British colonial power in June 1948, while the CPM only launched their armed struggle in December 1948. Against 10,000 Malayan National Liberation Army regulars, the colonial power arraigned 40,000 British Commonwealth troops; 70,000 armed police; 300,000 Home guards, “including aircraft, artillery and naval support…perhaps the largest armed force in proportion to population ever used in a colonial war”.

Anthony Short (UM lecturer, later Aberdeen University) was commissioned to write the official history of the Emergency but his work was rejected by the Malayan government. Why?

“Bukit Kepong” was screened by the BN government at every election before 2018, but where is Mat Indera in the film when he was the Malay CPM leader who led the assault on the police station at Bukit Kepong? This telling fact was exposed by none other than the present Defence Minister Mohamad Sabu when he was in the opposition previously.

The rest, as they say, is history. The task for us reflective Malaysians is to painstakingly record the contributions of all true, progressive Malaysians who have contributed to our blessed homeland. Let Chin Peng rest in peace while we continue our struggle against racism and fascism in the world today. As the British Poet Laureate John Betjeman put it so wittily:

“History must not be written with bias,

Both sides should be given,

Even if there is only one side…”

Kua Kia Soong is the adviser to Suaram.

The views expressed are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.