Thursday, January 20, 2011

The Patriot Game ~ by Kua Kia Soong

Come all you young rebels
And list while I sing

For love of one's country is a terrible thing

It banishes fear with the speed of a flame
And makes us all part of the patriot game.

These plaintive yet stirring lines from an old Irish republican song also inspired Bob Dylan's "With God on our side." As we hear of more Malaysians emigrating (300,000 in the last eighteen months?) and their reasons for doing so, allow me to write about my own part in the patriot game.

When I was a young rebel in the Seventies, I received the news that my brother-in-law and eldest sister were emigrating to Australia with pious indignation. I felt that despite the injustices, Malaysians should stay and fight for our rights while helping to build the country.

It was easy for me to say as a propertyless and angry young man. But could I honestly feel how my brother-in-law felt as a Professor of Medicine in the University of Malaya , watching the compromises to academic excellence in the name of bumiputeraism and suffering the indignity of being systematically bypassed in his career advancement? His warning of the possible de-recognition of MU's MBBS degree by the British Medical Council was not heeded and this became a reality in the Eighties. The rest is history...

Today, I am not as sanguine as I was in my youth except to feel a sadness that talented Malaysians are forced to leave the land where they were born in order to pursue their careers in other countries.

Has the government cared to record how many Malaysian talents have been lost to other countries since 1969 and how much this translates into economic terms?

In my family alone, our country has lost not only a Professor of Radiology (my brother-in-law), but also a Professor of Psychological Medicine (my brother at NUS). His daughter is an A&E specialist in Singapore and we have three other psychiatrists abroad (a cousin in Ottawa, my nephew in Newcastle and another cousin in Singapore).

Two other young cousins are doctors in Singapore, while two more nieces have just graduated as doctors from Imperial College. I doubt they will be coming to practice in Malaysia . Our own daughter will be graduating as a doctor next year and we have to keep our fingers crossed whether she will return to practice here.

A colleague of mine in the Eighties had four children who were all accomplished academics at MIT, UCLA, Oxford and Cambridge. In the housing estate we live in, practically every household has children studying or working abroad and some of them have truly illustrious careers, all lost to other countries. Apart from our medical professionals, many talented professionals in LLN, JKR, KTM, RRI have been forced to seek employment overseas ever since the "bumiputera policy" came into being.

Barry Wain has counted the glaring costs of Mahathir's rule. He puts it at RM100 billion! Maybe someone should count the collateral damage of the bumiputera policy since 1969.

Has any UMNO leader expressed regret or remorse over this brain drain? No! These "drained brains" have been greeted with "good riddance" at UMNO general assemblies through the years since all the Umnoputras are more concerned about the dubious figures proclaiming a higher proportion of bumiputera representation in the professions.

No doubt the recent torching of churches has sickened many Malaysians and will prompt more to emigrate.

Our so-called "nation builders" and "outside-the-box" thinkers seem incapable of producing a "win-win" situation that can prevent this brain drain while building national unity. Wasn't it Robert Frost who said "Originality and initiative are what I ask for my country"?

My First Stirrings of Patriotism

Patriotism is indeed a "terrible" thing - when the Irish use the adjective "terrible" they mean something equivalent to "awesome" rather than "contemptible."

The pogrom of May 13, 1969 had left me and many other Malaysians with a nasty taste. I had just completed my Higher School Certificate (A levels). Soon after, I saved up enough to buy a ticket to London and borrowed a month's living expences from my sister.

During those early years of sojourn in London, my first instinctive "patriotic" feelings were kindled whenever I met British people who would ask me where I was from. After I had told them I was from Malaysia, they would invariably add: "I suppose you won't be going back there no more then?"

Without a moment's hesitation and recognizing the pre-supposition behind that statement, I always replied: "Yes, I am. I'm certainly going back to my country when I've finished my studies!"

I've kept true to that undertaking I made to myself even though these British people I met were just strangers in the pub or in the street. That's not just patriotism, that's integrity to myself.

A Choice in the Seventies

Then when I was at university in 1975, I suddenly got a letter from the British Home Office asking me to send them my passport since they suspected that my leave of stay in the UK had expired. Weeks later, I got my passport back with a letter saying:

I am writing to say that the time limit and conditions attached to your leave to enter the United Kingdom have been removed. You are now free to remain permanently in the United Kingdom. You do not require permission from a Government Department to take or change employment in England , Wales or Scotland and you may engage in business or a profession (The Under Secretary of State, 6 March 1975).

Until today, some people I meet still ask if I'll be emigrating to the UK since my kids are studying in the UK and I have a British wife. My answer is always: "If I had wanted to emigrate, I would have done so in the Seventies!"

When I finally finished my PhD, I returned to "build my homeland" in the early Eighties. I could have stayed and enjoyed a good bourgeois existence in Britain enjoying the English countryside, good ale and the arts but my social conscience would have got the better of me ere too long...

Back in Malaysia at the end of 1982, apart from working I wrote profusely in response to many issues confronting our society during that time. It was a period when the press was relatively freer and while it was "owned by the MCA," it was "edited by the MIC for the DAP", as we used to say. It turned out to be a false spring. The Eighties were the heyday of activism in the country which culminated in the "Operation Lalang" crackdown. The BN government showed its appreciation of my nation building efforts by arresting and detaining me without trial during 'Operation Lalang' in October 1987.

ISA "Rehabilitation"

Detention without trial under the ISA is a good test of one's patriotism. During the first sixty days of solitary confinement when the Special Branch was trying to "rehabilitate" me, I remember they had a three-pronged approach to my rehabilitation programme (sic), viz.:

(i) Why don't you emigrate since you have a British wife rather than "cause trouble" here?

(ii) Why don't you join the Barisan Nasional instead of always siding with the Opposition?

(iii) Why can't you be like Khoo Khay Kim instead of speaking for those Chinese educationists?

To the first question, I told them I was a Malaysian who had come home to serve the country. To the second, I said it was against my principles to join racist political parties. To the third, I said, "You've already got one Khoo Khay Kim, why do you want another one?"

During those weeks of harrowing interrogation, they also wanted to know about my activities when I was in the UK . At one stage, they asked me if I had ever written to the British press. When I couldn't recall what they were getting at, they produced a news cutting of an article I had written to The Guardian in the Seventies. It was a critique of an article in the paper by the famous writer Anthony Burgess in which he had written patronisingly about the old colonial stereotypes of Malaysian society.

"There," I pointed out, "there you have perfect evidence of my multi-ethnic perspective and my defence of our country, the opposite of what you are making me out to be!"

Of course they knew what I was made of but still, they sent me to Kamunting Rehabilitation Camp on a two-year detention order for being "a threat to national security."

At Kamunting, the so-called "rehabilitation" programme included a weekly "assembly" during which we were supposed to sing the national anthem as if we were back at school and to make a pledge (Ikrar) of allegiance to the king, country and the Rukunegara. Many of us "hardcore" did not participate in this vacuous token of "patriotism." It brought home the scathing quote by Samuel Johnson that, "Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel."

The American humorist Kin Hubbard adds: "The less a politician amounts to, the more he loves the flag."

While in detention, my wife and I made the decision to change our six-year-old son's British passport to a Malaysian one since otherwise, he would have to leave the country with his mother every two months to have it stamped. When some of my Camp inmates heard about this they exclaimed:

"What! You mad ah? As soon as we're released, we'll be leaving this country! You crazy lah, giving up his British passport for a Malaysian one!"

Several of these Operation Lalang jail birds have flown and good luck to them. Patriotism is not something that you can foist on people. People make choices according to what they have experienced, especially in today's globalised world. They certainly love the country where they were born and grew up but alas, the country does not seem to love them in return but instead robbed them of their precious freedom.

Would you defend your country with your life?

In recent years, there has been plenty of breast beating among the Umnoputras, with flag waving, keris kissing and singing of patriotic songs. But how many of these Umnoputras can proudly stand up and say that they patriotically took part in the liberation war against the British colonialists and the Japanese fascists?

Hardly any!

Yet, how many Malayan patriots have given their lives in these two campaigns? Have they ever been honoured by the country they defended? They were honoured by the Allies for their valour during the anti-Japanese resistance after the Second World War in London . Have our historians exposed those who collaborated with the Japanese fascists during the Second World War - the "quislings who sold out the patriot game?"

At least one man, Chin Peng can claim that he achieved this and today he merely wants the opportunity to visit his homeland that he defended against British colonialism and Japanese fascism but he is unable to do this! If he were an Irish republican, Chin Peng might be inspired to sing this other republican song I have adapted:

Show me the man

Where is the man who does not love
The land where he was born

Who does not speak of it with pride

No matter how forlorn
I only know that I love mine
And long again to see
Oppression banished from our land
And ( Malaysia ) truly free!

Let friends all turn against me

Let foes say what they will

For my heart is in my country

And I love our people still

There is not a (Malaysian) today

Who'd ever wish to roam

Into a foreign land to toil

If he could stay at home
So give to us our liberty

Let our banners be unfurled

Then (Malaysians) will prove to be

A credit to the world!

11 January 2011

[Kua Kia Soong and I come from the same small town, Batu Pahat. In fact, we sat next to each other right from primary through secondary school. I saw Kua shortly after his release from Kamunting and was greatly heartened to see the saintly glow around him. He had become more introspective - less cocky, more of a Gandhi-like figure. Since then Kua has worked tirelessly and consistently for environmental and human rights causes and for his community. He has written several books on issues of massive importance, the latest being a study of gross abuses of the defence budget, especially under Najib Razak's tenure. I am indeed proud to call Kua Kia Soong my friend.]


KoSong Cafe said...

Antares, you should be able to confirm what I have been trying to find out: Is Dr. Kua related to Micky Kua, a former lecturer in TAR College?

Anyway, the first time I came across Dr. Kua was at a forum (1980s) at MTUC building in Jalan Barat, PJ. I happened to be sitting next to Dr. Tan Chee Khoon. I was impressed with him then; was glad he joined DAP and became an MP; was terribly disappointed when he was disqualified from contesting because of some form filling during nomination.

Batu Pahat seems to produce many luminaries, besides millionaires and billionaires, and biscuits!

Anonymous said...

Hi Antares

I note that Dr Kua used the word
"pogrom" to describe May 13.

Upon further reflection, yes, this is the correct word to use!

We should be more optimistic, with a regime change, many Malaysians and ex-Malaysians will return to rebuild the country (compare with Tunisia currently). Also, under a new, more progressive federal govt, we need to push for the granting of dual citizenship and for making it easier for ex-Malaysians to become permanent residents.

Phua Kai Lit

semuanya OK kot said...

The fascists have succeeded because few Malaysians will read and understand this warning. The country is held up by a few giants like Kua, who are constantly harrased and tortured by petty, bigoted and avaricious Lilliputs.

Starmandala said...

KoSong Cafe - Micky Kua is Kia Soong's cousin, if I'm not mistaken. Two Kua brothers lived in what we called Kampong Kua (on Jalan Tanjong Laboh) and both had quite a few children - so it was always confusing to others which one was a sibling and which a cousin. The pro-BN Election Commission had every reason to disqualify Kia Soong on whatever petty technicality they could pounce on. With his professorial charisma, articulateness, intelligence, and dedication to democratic ideals, they saw him as a massive threat to the old-school, you-help-me-I-help-you low-grade type of BN politician. Kua's no-nonsense, head-on approach to problems also made him a threat to the Lim dynasty in DAP. Personally, I feel Kua Kia Soong is an important player in Malaysian politics and deserves to be minister of education, at least. Perhaps the MCLM will persuade Kua to field himself as a pro-Pakatan candidate in GE13?

Phua - Agree with you that there's a great deal of hope yet. It's because BN controls the mass media that divisive psychic toxins designed to instil fear and mistrust continue to be pumped into rural homes on a daily and nightly basis.

Semuanya OK kot - Yup, mental Liliputians can be amusingly cute but very dangerous!

Anonymous said...

another sinocentric shit

Starmandala said...

Anonymous @ 7:52PM - Interesting that you view Kua's piece as "sinocentric." I guess it speaks truth to every non-Bumoid in Malaysia since 1970 - whether Chinese, Indian, Eurasian, Iban, Kadazan, or naturalized Mat Salleh - who is utterly bored with Ibrahim Ali's brand of Ketuanan Melayu rhetoric. Perhaps once BN is booted out the only "centric" anyone of us would opt to be is "ec."

KoSong Cafe said...

Thanks Antares, for your info on Dr. Kua and Micky.

Unknown said...

Love this book and all this writings, dear Antares. I did a review of the book last year too...and have recommended it to many people. Great review!


Third Eye said...

Kua Kia Soong has been a tireless activist but what has become of Antares, more into supernaturalism than activism?

dukuhead said...

it's heartening that people like Kua Kia Soong still deign fit to remain in Malaysia after all the horrific abuse that they have received from the powers-that-be. And sad that moderates like Dr Kua are callously labeled as "extremists/chauvinists" and marginalised while extremists are now re-labelled/re-packaged as "moderates" and take the centrestage.

gram.kong said...

Phua Kai Li,

Get your English right, mate! "Pogrom" is not the right word to use for the May 13 riot.

"Pogrom" is an organised massacre of a particular ethnic group like what happened to the Jews in Russia and other parts of Europe even before the 'Holocaust' which was even more systematically organised.

May 13 was triggered by spontaneous combustion of racial sentiments, politically motivated by both sides.

There was no organised and prolonged massacre of any ethnic group by the government or by another ethnic group.

It's a complete fallacy to equate it as pogrom.

Chin Peng was not a liberator by any stretch of the imagination, he was a rebel with a cause, to bring communism to Malaya, an agent of communist China.

The writer wrote out of anger,frustrations and hatred.

Starmandala said...

Hantu Laut - You're the Official Version of history according to Razak, Syed Jaafar Albar, Harun Idris, Ghazali Shafie and Mahathir, I suppose? Ironic, isn't it? The more Ketuanan Melayu Melayu rant and rave against Zionists and Jews, the more they reesmble them. I doubt any Jewish banker, investor or media owner would ever dispute the Official Version of 9/11 either.

Perhaps "pogrom" is technically inaccurate since the killing spree was allowed to continiue only for a couple of weeks or so (when it could easily have been contained within 48 hours if there was the political will to restore public order). The word "program" fits much better, since May 13 was essentially a program by which the Umno old guard could be replaced by the voracious new guard - and a new era of kakistocratic kleptomania inaugurated under the Melayu version of Zionism.

As for Chin Peng, I don't think it's relevant what ideals or agenda drove him and his compatriots into the jungles for 44 years, but they must have been very strong ones. I view him as a human being, irrespective of his political ideology or spiritual beliefs. A warrior now poised on the threshold of death, with only memories of gore and glory, and all he asks is the honor to be buried in the land of his birth. He doesn't give a shit anymore about communism, capitalism or any other ism you can concoct to reduce and compress reality into dogma and rhetoric.

Anonymous said...

Antares,you may be colour blind. But at the end of the day,your response sound like another typically chinese who backs another chinese with his condescending tone.

The chinese education movement group is filled with racist/supremacy people,a well known fact .You should hear their real opinions behind closed doors.They are just more sophisticated than mr nutter@ali ibrahim in the open.The truth has no friends.

Starmandala said...

Anonymous @ 3:35PM - Wonder why you seem to have a big chip on your shoulder about Chinese people. I admit I never really liked being in a Chinese body during my early years - I'd tell people I was one-quarter Tibetan, one-quarter Irish, one-quarter Jewish and one-quarter African. But, having understood the basis of my prejudice, I now appreciate them quite a lot, they're incredibly resourceful and competent... just as I appreciate all humans, no matter what size their noses or shape their eyes. I suspect you may have Javanese genes. There's still a lot of antagonism within the Javanese psyche towards the Chinese, whom they perceive as Yellow Jews (I guess because the Chinese own all the successful businesses and tend to be culturally stand-offish).

Obviously, in a multiracial community, it's very useful to let those who are good at something do most of it. This is where everyone has to make a quantum jump beyond fear, suspicion, mistrust and hate - and learn to cooperate synergetically. Otherwise, we are all fucked, regardless of ethnic origin.

norick said...

thanks antares ... ur entries along with haris, rpk, kua, patrick, penang CM...had always give me the hope of a better malaysia is possible.. a big salute to all of u including chin peng...