Friday, May 13, 2011
A Day to Forget
Exactly 42 years ago today Malaysia recorded her first race riot that transformed the social and political landscape of the nation. I was in my 2nd year at the University of Malaya ragging a new batch of students who just joined the new semester. I was in a residential college with some friends collectively teasing some freshies. It was fun to be in control when just a year earlier I was in their shoes. However, being a non-hostelite, meaning a non-residential college student, I escaped the brunt of the seniors. On that fateful night I found myself under curfew in a safe place of the college for the following week or so until the curfew was lifted and I was able to return to my rented room outside.
May 13 is remembered as an evil day like September 11. It is the day many of us Malaysians above the age of 50 would like to forget but still a lesson must be learned especially by the generation who were not there to watch or hear it happen. May 13 is ugly although it was well confined but it can be repeated if the government does not handle the race relationship well. Each year we remember this ignominious event we are ashamed to have happened in our colorful and multi-racial society. We are forgiven if we explain it took place just 12 years after our independence. We can forgive the government for being ill-prepared to handle the riots. But having 42 years of resolving the grave issue of inequality among the various racial components and finding ourselves today actually worse off is a sign of gross failure of the government that has ruled the country since independence. Today we read and hear extremist comments and incendiary remarks made by one race against another, by one religion against another, by one political coalition against another. Polarization has reached breaking point and it is because of the very tolerant nature of the majority of Malaysians that we have survived. But there are hotspots ready to break out much like 42 years ago. We surely cannot risk another repeat.