45 or 51?

AUG 28 — Before you get excited and think this has something to do with the voting pattern in the recent Pemantang Pauh by-election, let me assure you it is something more serious.

"51" here refers to the coming 51st Merdeka celebrations. As we all know, Malaya achieved self government in 1957 under the leadership of the Alliance — Umno, MCA and MIC. The rest is blah, blah, blah (refer to Form Four history textbook) until the Alliance became the Barisan Nasional in 1974. We all know the story from then onwards. No wonder people outside Malaysia call this country a "one-party state" since the government has not changed for half a century.

So, what then is the "45"? Actually, 45 is the "correct" number of years that Malaysia has been independent. If you read your history carefully, the Federation of Malaysia came into being only in 1963.

So for our five million-plus East Malaysian brothers and sisters across the South China Sea, it's only 45 years. They don't really understand how you can miscalculate or misinterpret a historical date. 2008 minus 1963 is 45. There is no other answer.

Look South. Singapore just celebrated its 43rd anniversary. It was kicked out of the Malaysian Federation in 1965. It did not celebrate 45 and count 1963 as its birth year. Singapore could have easily used several other dates as its "independence" day.

Similarly, why are we choosing 51 instead of the accurate historical date of 45? Is it because we wanted to look "older" as a nation-state? Does an extra six years of independence make a difference?

Some of you will think, so what? Who cares if it's 45 or 51? We should care because in this country, history is constantly being manipulated to suit political ends. If a sovereign state cannot even use an accurate date for its independence, you really have to wonder what else we can change in our history.

Right now there are disputes over the portrayal of the social and political history of Malaysia. There are allegations that some "political" historians are rewriting history to downplay the contributions of certain ethnic groups in the historical development of this country. Names of roads are being changed to wipe out their history.

Others not only re-write, but simply, make up history to justify racism and other discriminatory policies. In most countries, these "historians" would be exposed as fakes but in this country, they are celebrated and some of this revisionist view of history actually makes it to the history textbooks.

Some of these "facts" are then passed on to the younger generation who are then conditioned to think in a certain way. You can't blame them as they were fed with distorted history in the first place.

Truth be told, some of what is written as Malaysian history is, at best, political propaganda.

China, Taiwan and South Korea have protested for years against the Japanese for distorting the war years in their history textbooks. People have died fighting for an accurate version of history and what the Japanese did during the war.

Right now there is a worldwide movement by some prominent historians to debunk the book "1421", and its latest offering "1434". Many real historians think the arguments presented by Gavin Menzies is pure rubbish. I wish there was a similar site run by real Malaysian historians to debunk some of the historical "facts" about Malaysia.

In sum, all I am saying is: let's keep politics out of history. And make sure the rakyat have access to and be taught a true version of our past. A nation with a fake or distorted history cannot take its place as a great country.

James Chin teaches at Monash University's Malaysia campus in Bandar Sunway. He can be contacted at Jameschin1@gmail.com


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