Saturday, March 26, 2011

The Maulid Riots*

“Some day, Malaysia” (Eduardo L. Martelino)
The main part of the house was bare except for a couple of hideous green vinyl arm chairs and a round wooden table with a glass top on the far right and a couple of pandan mats on the far left of the spacious living room.  In the two bedrooms, there were bug-infested kapok mattresses, faded mosquito nets and rickety closets to put our clothes in.  I usually slept in the main bedroom with Mak, my sisters in the smaller bedroom and my brothers in the living room. 
Spartan as it was, the living room had welcomed many interesting guests, from endearing male cousins - Abang Aim (Rahim), Abang Razak, Abang Omar - to Kak Eka’s gallery of suitors – Ariff, Hamdan, Yusuf - and Bapak’s rowdy Indonesian hantus (informants).  I used to gape at the sleek scooters and shiny metal contraptions that they parked in front of our compound. 
Fair-skinned, well-built and dashing, Abang Aim normally turned up grinning in his gleaming Triumph Trophy, either to drop off or pick Abang Hatta up.  Even though he was a second cousin, Abang Aim and Abang Hatta were the best of buddies, serenading innocent love songs like ‘Jeanie Come Lately’ to Kak Eka’s friend Jenny (Zainab) from the veranda, or gallivanting at Central (the closest commercial area with several rows of pre-war shops, restaurants, photo studios and a cinema) or picnic-ing at Ponggol, Katong or the many beautiful beaches on their off days.  Abang Razak (Wak Som’s second son) was tall, lanky and funny.  He usually arrived on foot but would entertain us for hours with his hilarious gags about family scandals and skeletons in the closets.  Abang Omar (Wak Enah’s youngest son) was medium built and subdued, and usually arrived on a modest Vespa, to match his amiable personality.  He was close to both Abang Hatta and Kak Eka and, once in a while, would even show up with Kak Pet (Wak Nyok’s daughter) riding pillion. 
Ariff, Kak Eka’s ardent admirer, was lean, tall and sweet in both demeanour and character, like most decent Javanese boys.  He used to pick up and drop Kak Eka off in a Norton motorbike until his marriage proposal was flatly turned down.  Heartbroken, he confided to Mak what Bapak had told him: 
“Kalau kail panjang sejengkal, lautan dalam jangan diduga.”
(If the hook is short, don’t try the deep sea) 
Hamdan, the son of the shop owner of a textile shop on Arab Street where Kak Eka worked, was of Yemeni Arab descent, dark-skinned and small frame with bushy hair and thick moustache like a Mexican character in a Western movie.  Kak Eka was smitten by his flamboyant style and marketing savvy, and regarded him as her knight in shining armour on his modish Vespa.  Aware of his father’s disapproval of his relationship with an employee, he dared not arrange for an entourage to ask for Kak Eka’s hand.  About mid 1964, they decided to elope but were intercepted by a cousin’s husband, who worked for the Central Intelligence Unit (CID).  Kak Eka was directly despatched to a ‘Girls’ Home’, operated by the Young Women Muslim Association (YWMA)* and located in one of the streets near Central.  It was after she was admitted there that Hamdan sent a school teacher as a family representative to our house.  Bapak took that as an insult and rejected his marriage proposal.  Kak Eka spent several months at the Home, where she was made to undergo courses in sewing, cooking and floral arrangements.  But whenever Mak and I visted, she would be sitting on the iron swing, looking miserable. 
A few of Bapak’s hantus too tried to attract Kak Eka’s attention by revving up the engines of their sleek Triumphs and Nortons but they knew that they would never fit into Bapak’s notion of a suitable son-in-law.  Kak Eka's childhood sweetheart, Yusuf, used to spend his term holidays from his residential college in the northern part of the peninsula at our house but he had left for further studies in the United Kingdom in September 1961.  They met when Kak Eka stayed with our grandparents in Klang when Bapak was detained in 1956.  Yusuf’s father worked in the same Religious Department as our grandfather, so they were neighbours.  Kak Eka’s budding beauty had caught his eye and he started sending love notes through his sister to her.  Their romance blossomed and continued even after she escaped to Singapore from the daily bullying of one of our aunts.  Mak wondered aloud who these louts were:
“Who are these characters littering our compound and lying around in our living area?”
Bapak bragged: 
“They’re my hantus!  They provide me with the latest information on the ground.  They told me that Sukarno will fight the British imperialist til the end.  They said Macapagal has also initiated a summit in Manila this coming June to get Malaya to agree on this matter!” 
Mak agreed that nationalist leaders who have struggled for their countries’ independence would have the region’s best interest at heart.  As a third generation Javanese-Bugis in Singapore, Mak thought that it was only natural for the Malay Archipelago to return to its pre-colonial state.  Besides, she was simply thankful whenever Bapak focused his energy on this nebulous concept or some other business venture, instead of channelling his frustrations towards his family. 
[This concept of Maphilindo (an acronym for Malaya-Philippines-Indonesia) was supposed to be a regional association which would broach on “issues of common concern in the spirit of consensus”.* This notion of non-political confederation of Malay nations and Malay race had been envisioned by early Filipino revolutionary leaders such as Jose Rizal, Apolinario Mabini, Wenceslao Vinzons and Manuel L. Quezon.  As early as the 1890s, Rizal and Mabini had raised the issue of liberation and unification of the Malays, whom they believed had been divided by artificial colonial boundaries.  In the 1930s, during the Commonwealth government, Vinzons promoted the ideal of Malaya Irrendenta - the notion of a United Malay race.  And in 1959, Eduardo L. Martelino cited Quezon’s vision of an integrated Malay nationhood in the region in Someday, Malaysia.  In Indonesia and Malaya, Muhammad Yamin and Ibrahim Haji Yaakob (IBHY) had talked about the concept of Indonesia Raya and Melayu Raya since the 1930s.  The early nationalist leaders had planned for simultaneous declaration of Indonesian and Malayan Independence in 1945 but the Malayan leaders’ plan was foiled when they were incarcerated and their political parties were banned.  In the 1960s, Alliance leaders perceived the concept of Maphilindo as a tactic on the parts of Jakarta and Manila to delay, or even prevent, the formation of the Federation of Malaysia.  Manila had its claim on Sabah (formerly British North Borneo) and Jakarta might have disguised interests in Borneo as legitimate protests against the formation of Malaysia as a British imperialist plot.* For Sukarno, the establishment of Malaysia would be an act of betrayal to this ideal of united Malay nations.  He then launched an anti-colonialist campaign known as Konfrontasi (Confrontation) and “Ganyang Malaysia” (Crush Malaysia) in 1962.  On July 31, 1963, the leaders of the Philippines, Federation of Malaya and Indonesia signed the Manila Accord, the Manila Declaration and a Joint Statement, agreeing to the wishes of the people of Sabah (North Borneo) and Sarawak to self-determination.  The Accord listed a series of Manila Declaration (August 5, 1963) between Federation of Malaya, the Republic of Indonesia and the Republic of the Philippines and Joint Statement (August 5, 1963) by Federation of Malaya, the Republic of Indonesia and the Republic of the Philippines.* Inspite of the Accord, Malaysia was established through the amalgamation of the Federation of Malaya, Singapore and the states of Sabah and Sarawak, on September 16 1963.  Meanwhile, internally in Indonesia, Sukarno was accused of being an instrument of Partai Komunis Indonesia (PKI) and implicated in their campaigns by pro-Suharto military faction, who overthrew him in 1965.  In the Philippines, Macapagal had promised not to seek a second term and had thrown his support for Ferdinand Marcos, who became the Liberal Presidency candidate but won the Presidency on the Nationalist platform in 1965.  The signing of the ASEAN Declaration on August 8 1967 by the five founding members nailed the final coffin to any effort at reviving the Maphilindo project].
Meanwhile Singapore’s entry into Malaysia turned out to be ‘thorn in the flesh’ for the Alliance leaders of the federal government.  There were mutual distrust and ideological differences which resulted in frequent disagreements in political, economic, financial and social policies.  In the 1950s and 1960s, Lee Kuan Yew, or Harry Lee as he was known then, was a Fabian Socialist who believed in incremental social transformation, instead of a revolution.  His rallying cries of “Malayan race”, multiculturalism and meritocracy, advocated a unitary Malayan national consciousness, a sense of belonging which transcends race and religion and an equal opportunity program regardless of race.  According to Lee Kuan Yew, it was not Communism but communalism which “makes a direct primitive appeal to emotional loyalties whose response can be immediate and spontaneous”.*  
Since 1958, PAP led by Lee Kuan Yew had objected to the proposed merger with the Federation of Malaya.  The PAP Constitution had upheld the end of colonialism and the construction of an independent, national Malayan state comprised of the Federation of Malay States and the colony of Singapore.  Since its inception in 1954, PAP had envisioned Malaya and Singapura as a single, interdependent entity, in spite of being divided into two political formations.  However, Singapore had to agree to the merger with Malaysia in order to be granted Independence from the British.  UMNO had initially objected to the inclusion of Singapore into the Federation of Malaya on account of the numerical majority of the Chinese (70 percent) and the Communist stranglehold over the Chinese-educated in the island.  However, in May 1962, Tunku Abdul Rahman had a change of heart when he began to speak on the establishment of Malaysia which not only included Singapore but also Sabah, Sarawak dan Brunei.  Tunku’s announcement was said to be an outcome of a meeting with Lord Selkirk (the Governor-General of Borneo) in 1960 (Ramlah Adam).* The Brits had to protect their economic interests in North Borneo by countering the Indonesian offer for Sabah and Sarawak to merge with the Republic. 
 Singapore’s merger with Malaysia (1963-1965) was seen as the first serious challenge to the Alliance’s “historic bargain” (Cheah Boon Kheng).  PAP’s challenge of the Social Contract (the respect for the Malay’s Special Position within the Constitution in exchange for automatic citizenship for the Chinese and Indians who were British-protected subjects, not the subjects of the Malay Rulers) was evident in the 1964 Malaysian General Elections.  Although Lee Kuan Yew did not openly attack the Special Malay Rights in terms of Bahasa Melayu as the national language, but he questioned the basis of Malay governance or “Ketuanan Melayu”.  He had fought for the equal status of Malays and non-Malays via his slogan, “Malaysian Malaysia”.  Lee Kuan Yew had unequivocally rejected the “historic agreement” which placed Malay leadership in the government and administration as a counterpoint to Chinese dominance in economy and business.
To him, the Malays were not the natives of the land, thus they were not eligible for special positions.   He said, “Malays began to migrate to Malaysia in noticeable numbers only about 700 years ago. Of the 39 per cent Malays in Malaysia today, about one third are comparatively new immigrants like the secretary-general of UMNO, Dato’ Syed Ja’afar Albar, who come to Malay from Indonesia just before the war at the age of more than 30. Therefore it is wrong and illogical for the particular racial group to think that they are more justified to be called Malaysian and the others can become Malaysian only through their favour”*.  Lee Kuan Yew also demonstrated that the non-Malays had outnumbered the Malays in Malaysia.  Although PAP had fielded only 11 candidates to contest the parliamentary seats in the 1964 General Elections, he boasted that “we want to show the MCA that even if the PAP keeps out of the elections on the mainland, the MCA will still lose”.  PAP’s involvement in the 1964 General Elections was at the request of Lee Kuan Yew and agreed by Tunku although it was against Lee’s statement in 1963 not to contest in elections in the Federation (D.K. Mauzy).  PAP’s participation had caused problems not only to MCA, but also to UMNO.  PAP had criticized MCA’s leadership which was described as corrupt and championed only the interests of the urban Chinese.  PAP claimed that MCA had lost the support of the Chinese community and tried to persuade Tunku and UMNO to accept PAP as the alternative to MCA in the Alliance.
The ‘ultra Malays’ in UMNO realised the PAP threat and launched a propaganda campaign to oppose PAP’s concept of “Malaysian Malaysia”.  This campaign was seen by certain quarters as the main factor that caused the riots in July 1964, which was known as either 1964 Racial Riots, 1964 Maulidur Rasul Procession Riots, or 1964 Chinese-Malay Riots.  Lee Kuan Yew and several foreign observers had blamed UMNO as the main culprit that had incited the riots.  According to them, racial sentiments which were sparked by the Conference which was attended by representatives from about 150 Malay associations in Singapore on July 12 1964 had caused the riots.  The Conference was chaired by Syed Ja’afar Albar, the Secretary-General of UMNO.  He concluded that the Malays in Singapore had not received equal treatment by PAP and urged them to unite against the discrimination.  On July 19 1964, more than 1000 leaders of non-governmental Malay associations had a meeting with Lee Kuan Yew to get an explanation from Lee about the Special Malay Rights which were denied.  In that meeting, although Lee Kuan Yew promised that the Singapore government had taken efforts at training Malays to be appointed as senior government officers, but the government will not allow a quota system to be implemented in employment, conferment of business licences and Malay Reserve Land.   He asserted that all Singapore citizens have equal rights, regardless of race.  Discontent over the denial of Malay Special Rights by the Lee’s administration had strained the relationship which was further exerbated on July 21 1964.  The conflict started during the procession celebrating the birthday of Prophet Muhammad which was attended by about 25,000 Muslims.  When the procession passed by Lorong 12, Geylang (some sources stated that it was in front of the Kallang Gasworks Building), an unidentified agent provocateur had hurled a bottle which hit the Silat afficianados who were on the front row.  It was taken as a challenge by the Silat disciples who took it as an affront to their faith.  Tempers flared, disorder and fighting broke out among the Malays and the Chinese which lasted for five days, with 22 deaths and 461 injured.
During the duration of the riots, several families in our neighbourhood had gathered in selected homes, with their womenfolk and children huddled and shuddered in communal living rooms for days and nights while the men prepared for any eventuality amidst the not-too-distant sounds of war drums from the neighbouring village of Chai Chee.  We heard that Silat experts from as far as Batu Pahat had prepared to be deployed as reinforcement in the event of armed clashes.  Even after the tensions had subsided and the curfew hours reduced, there was a general feeling of unease between the Malays and the Chinese in Singapore. 

* Another revised version

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