Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Mat Sabu and The Rubric of Umno’s Hilarity. Who is Traitor?

It’s been somewhat of a Thrilla in Malaysia what followed Mat Sabu’s loose canonization of the “Muslim-Communist” leader, Mat Indera, into a folk hero. What hatched as a reaction is still cackling. That has become standard reaction of Umno and the Barisan Nasional. .

Mat Sabu, the new deputy president of Pas, had anticipated the ritual TV airing of Jin Samsuddin’s movie, Bukit Kepong, a film shown every year since it was made more than a decade before. It was to glorify the police force and condemn the Communist Party of Malaya (CPM), its 4th Regiment led by the Malay-Muslim of Siak origin, Ahmad Indera.

Umno Press Corp moved into action immediately after Mat Sabu said what he said on August 27. It caused the polemical blitz and soon the polemics turned into a pugilistic stretch of relentless hounding of Mat Sabu.

He had poked his head into the hornets’ nest and the extraordinary transformation of the hornets into a cackling school of crows will not stop.

Umno and the government have been viewed as paranoid.

A group of six leaders of the Parti Sosialis Malaysia (PSM) with 25 people, mostly from the estates, were recently detained under the Emergency Ordinance (EO), the six for 28 days before popular protests loosened the grip of the paranoia and they were charged in open court.

The reason for the amazingly zealous reaction was ostensibly the T-shirts the six had brought with them which had the portraits of Che Guevara and former CPM leaders printed on them. No weapons were found.

For the speech of Mat Sabu even former IGP, Tun Haniff Omar, was roped in from his perch at Genting Highlands Casino to draft Mat Sabu into a dangerous renegade who should be “investigated” for possible undesired connections.

It seemed, Mat Sabu is possibly guilty of “incitement”, and therefore, of sedition as well.

It is indeed surprising for Tun Haniff to have forgotten Lai Tak, the CPM Secretary-General at that time. He was a Police Special Branch implant!

Haniff Omar had been a meticulous person in his tenure as IGP. Has he forgotten too about who, or which forces, had been behind the Communists or PKI in Indonesia after the Second World War? Is he getting old?

Mat Sabu, often a loose cannon, had said Mat Indera was the “real hero” of the ill-fated Bukit Kepong police station the communist attacked and razed to the ground on 23 February 1950.

Did Mat Sabu know the police have reasons to worry over the possibility the CPM had insurrected not once but twice before and may rise again to destabilize the country for another shot for power?

He later placed Mat Indera, who was a hafiz, as equal in stature and in meaning with the popular folk heroes such as Tok Janggut of Kelantan, Mat Salleh of Sabah and Rosli Dobi of Sarawak.

They were fighters who were willing to die for the masses against the appetites and the tyranny of the colonialist and of the native elites in some cases.

After the Bukit Kepong Incident Mat Indera was betrayed by two or three of his comrades, drugged and dragged to the Balai Polis (police station), taken from prison to prison until finally he was hanged in Taiping Prison in 1953.

Then, in the hilarious polemics which Umno launched a scholar declared the British had never colonized Malaya and hence, it was futile to regard Mat Indera as an anti-colonial freedom fighter.

Who hanged Mat Indera then? Who had the power to execute? The Malay sultans?

That swung the debate away from Mat Sabu to Occidental diplomacy and imperialism, leaving the question gaping as to why we celebrate 31 August as Independence Day if Malaya had never been colonized. Had it all been a great hoax?

Why was the pre-independence generation made to listen to the British anthem and to stand and sing it in school and even in the cinemas? It was God Save The King, and later, the Queen.

Colony or Protectorate?

The truth can often become a divine comedy in the ensuing obscurantism of a Malaysia that has become Independent without ever having been subdued as a colony.

Former Prime Minister, Dr. Mahathir, also said Malaya was not colonized. Said he, the Malay sultans appealed to the British to become their advisors, which is not particularly correct nor is it absolutely untrue, a clever misuse of semantics Mahathir had mastered and successfully used to confuse both his supporters and his enemies.

It’s something like someone who dances on both sides of the street and gets himself hit by a truck in the middle.

Truth is, the Malays were no longer powerful by the time the Brits came.

Under Islamic rule the Malay Hindu-Buddhist empires had broken into petty states.

Once Malacca had fallen to the Portuguese the Malays had to rely on Aceh to regain the great port.

There were only about 200 Muslims in the court of Malacca when the Portuguese gained control over it, according to Portuguese sources. When Raja Melewar of Pagar Ruyong arrived in Rembau about 200 years after the fall of Malacca, there were only two Muslim families in Rembau according to records.

Islam had been an imperial religion and in the Malay world, after the Muslims had taken Majapahit, they divided the great empire. A similar dismemberment of Malacca had left the Malays belonging to petty kingdoms. .

An army of 10,000 Malays had been defeated by less than 400 Portuguese Sepoys in the attempt to retake Malacca. Later, in Kota Tinggi, Johor, 12,000 Malay fighters were defeated by about 400 Portuguese Sepoys.

Where went the Malay forces that defeated Kublai Khan's invasion of Singhasari in 1293? To a Hindu-Buddhist heaven and thence into voluntary oblivion? Kublai's forces were more than 12,000.

The serial defeat of the Johor Malay forces was in the early 16th century. There had been no recovery upto the British Intervention of 1874. There were the Bugis and Raja Kechik of Minangkabau but that was a different story. They did not engage the English or the Dutch.

The greatness of the Malays had been with Srivijaya and Majapahit.

In Malacca the greatness belonged to Tun Perak and to Hang Tuah.

Were they Muslims. How deeply were they Muslims? Did not Hang Tuah and his comrades enjoy their drink? Wasn’t his martial teacher an Asli (Aborigine) and so was his fiancé?

When in the 19th century the Malay sultans and nobles suddenly found themselves facing organized Chinese miners and the agents of British trade and government, they were warped in power struggles.

It was resource contests, Chinese and Malay miners fighting on both sides of the conflicts in Perak, Selangor and Sungai Ujung, with Malay royalties involved.

Hence, even if the Europeans were kafirs (infidels) and viewed by some as crusaders, the sultans were glad to enter into power-sharing with them and to enjoy the great wealth now available because of the demands of industrial Europe.

It did not work for everyone. Some fought after discovering the sultans had signed away their rights to impose and to collect taxes.

In the case of J.W.W. Birch who was killed in Pasir Salak in Perak in 1875, he also banned slavery, which was allowed by Islamic Law, the slave-trade a source of income in the Malay archipelago too.

The European colonization was not as simple as it could have been. The sultans and the nobility living in opulence under British or Dutch rule couldn’t be properly regarded as colonized, of course. They were paid pensions, rent and some owned estates, plantations and mines run by English or Dutch companies.

But for the masses, and the few who lost their rights to impose and to collect taxes, the Residential System was de facto colonization and for the masses it was oppressive.

The EIC and VOC

British and Dutch imperialism had come as mega corporations, the EIC and the VOC being the largest joint-stock corporations of the time.

These corporations were given royal charters enabling them to declare war, take captives and to execute them, meaning they represented the English and Dutch Crowns. "Protectorates" were relationships or occupations of native states conducted through the chartered companies.

Later, when they became defunct (1800 in the case of the VOC and the EIC in 1874), the “Interventions” and the “Protectorates” were directly or indirectly run by the respective colonial offices and their agents.

Native rulers were paid pensions and/or rent. Sometimes they sold parts of their territories, like in the case of Singapore.

They gave the powers to the Residents to administer their states, collect taxes and determine policies, ‘except in matters relating to Islam and Malay customs’.

That is a neat surrender to colonization, surely.

As for the ‘matters relating to Islam and Malay customs,’ the Selangor Religious Department (JAIS) exercised that power several weeks ago to charge two senior members of Pas for teaching or speaking on Islam without the letter of authority issued by it.

It means senior members of the Islamic party cannot freely speak on Islam.

It’s poetic justice, of course. It is the Islamic State acting against the advocates of the Islamic State. What better means is at the disposal of the divine jester to deal with these? It's like the duo were hit by boomerangs they had thrown themselves many years before. These swung around and.....Bingo!

That law the JAIS used is an Islamic law, making the statecraft complicated and confusing.


In Sumatra in 1946, the same cultural and power complications led the people to rise against the sultans and they culled the royal families who did not support Indonesian Independence Sukarno and Hatta had declared on 17 August 1945.

Mat Indera was from Siak Sultanate in Sumatra. The Siak Sultanate supported the Republic of Indonesia under Sukarno and Hatta.

Top CPM leader, Abdullah C.D. was also from Siak. There the Muslims and the Nationalists had risen together with the Communist and Socialists in the Social Revolution.

Mat Sabu

The times have changed and Mat Sabu failed to respect the need for caution.

Communism has decayed but the CPM may rise again in insurrection as a proxy belligerent.

As for Mat Indera, history must insist his case be reviewed in the context of its ideological hinterland and of the times.

A lot of Malays had wanted Independence together with Indonesia following the Japanese Surrender in 1945.

After Sukarno and Hatta declared the independence of Indonesia on 17 August of that year without including Malaya, Malay nationalists were laden with a very serious choice to make.

The choice in Sumatra was simple – either join the Republik Indonesia that Sukarno had proclaimed or welcome back the Dutch.

It was this ideological contrast that determined the political behavior of the Malays across the Straits of Malacca at that time.

So where do we go from here with the Islamic laws, the ISA, the EO, the Printing Presses Act, the Sedition Act, the OSA, Police Act and so on and so forth? To prison?

Who are our heroes and who are the villains?

As for the votes in the general elections, this writer does not expect the issue to affect more than 0.2 percent either way. But the trophy belongs to Mat Sabu who has become immensely famous in a matter of three weeks. He may do it again if he wants to. ---a. ghani ismail, 13 September, 2011


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