This is a reposting of the essay The Lost Generation: Chin Peng, Vohrah and the Muhyiddins that was first published here in 2009, Nov 30.
The continuing fight for what is it to be Malaysian:
from the jungles to the courtrooms.
Updating for the record, Dec 1:
Malaysian out-migrants totalled 304,358 between Mar 2008 and Aug 2009, that is, a period immediately after the March general elections. The number averages 16,000 a month compared with 11,000 monthly in all of 2007, a 45 percent rise. A migrant, typically of voting age, does not equal forsaking citizenship but merely to change physical residence, for whatever reason. Inferences from the rate jump:
- Migrants are more likely to vote Pakatan Rakyat (PR) than Barisan but left after the vote.
- They are unlikely to be present to vote PR again, suggesting individual/personal concerns supersede the prospect of a Pakatan in Putrajaya, a prospect they might have given up.
- Either one of the trio or all, PKR, PAS and DAP, don’t inspire confidence (in spite of Malaysiakini). Or worse, Lim Kit Siang’s “tsunami” was a freak, so many PR ADUNs will have to soon find a real job … or, if they have no scruples, get rich quick. But Sassy has two seats, one an insurance; poor Eli, she almost lost hers, prematurely; and Jeff? Sigh … back to no-money blogging.
Writing in the Nut Graph about the court’s refusal to permit Chin Peng back to Sitiawan in Perak, Koh Lay Chin was right in saying that all the arguments over the latter’s return were pure emotional claptrap. There is worse. Some, like Ahirudin Attan (Rocky’s Bru) calling Chin Peng the “butcher of Malaya”, were calculated to be false, malicious and vicious. Take out any of the emotions, and Rocky’s snake tooth, Koh’s only plank to support Chin Peng’s return rests purely on the 1989 Hatyai peace treaty, that “a deal is a deal is a deal”. But that, too, is what the government in deputy prime minister Muhyiddin Yassin is saying: Chin Peng couldn’t prove he is the Malaysian part of the deal. “Sorry Chinaman, you are not yet Malaysian.”
In the message of the duo, Ahiruddin and Muhyiddin, they carry the same ultimate purpose: one group decides the fate in another, only the excuses are different. Indeed, the Hatyai deal, granting the return of all former communists, says it is applicable to Malaysians and Malaysians only.
Chin Peng: the Confucian son who must be worthy as a Malaysian subject, pleading to a stone-deaf ruler in heaven.
However, Chin Peng in the courts without a birth certificate to prove nationality is easily remedied, if proof is indeed needed. A search of NRD will do the job, for example (but the government is not interested to search). Furthermore, the government has tacitly recognised Chin Peng as Malaysian by signing the Hatyai treaty and Baling before that; all deals were with the Malayan Communist Party, not the Russian Bolsheviks.
The courts, being “technical” in dwelling on a birth certificate, had acted purely to neutralise the justification of jus soli (right by birth of soil). This is also to say that the courts dismissed the claim of jus soli once Chin Peng could not prove Sitiawan birth – and not the only way around, that is, Chin Peng was born in Sitiawan and was therefore entitled to jus soli treatment.
Chin Peng’s case is illustrative in the nature of being Malaysian. In him is an entire racial agenda written of, and going back, to Malaysia’s birth, creation, and its constitutional roots. More than that, it speaks of a clear cultural disconnect between Malays and Chinese, with the British wedged between and widening the differences.
Begin with the idea of jus soli and its alternative known in Latin as jus sanguinis, which is right of blood. Spain carries an extreme of the latter principle: a person born in Peru to a parent whose ancestors arriving 500 years earlier from Spain to plunder and conquer, to get rich, is entitled to Spanish nationality. No distinction is placed on birthplace or how far removed is ancestry. Many Caucasian countries, Germany and Turkey for example, introduced such jus sanguinis immigration laws purely on this basis of biological lineage after empire building placed many other ethnic groups within their sovereignty but some of their kin outside the empire’s boundaries. America, Australia, Canada, all lands of immigrants, could not, naturally enough, use jus sanguinis; hence jus soli for these countries.
Malaysia, the Peninsula in particular, is also a land of immigrants but why had it not adopt the jus soli principle? The British had much to answer for this anomaly, but it owes to the reality that White rulers were talking largely to their coterie of Malay chiefs who have no inclination to recognise right of soil and, also because jus soli might give many brown and yellow skins access to British nationality. On the other hand, few Chinese or Indians understood issues of sovereignty in those days – most have no land to fight over – much less are they interested in politics or governance. In practice, though, present-day Malaysian citizenship policy appears to lie somewhere between jus soli and jus sanguinis. Choosing from either and granting it to a citizenship applicant depends, of course, on the skin colour that stands before the immigration officer.
Note that Chin Peng’s court appeals did not rest on the jus sanguinis principle. If he did, then the birth certificate would be of minor importance because the proof is in blood relationships not in a physical place of residence. This raises the question, why didn’t he? That question has no answer for the obvious reason there is also no definitive answer to the question: what makes a Malaysian? Under the light of this question, being Chinese or Indian is even more disadvantageous because of skin colour, lineage, parentage and because of culture. Unlike the term ‘Malay’ (recall that Indonesians don’t call themselves Malays), Chinese and Indians are not even named in the Constitution, therefore outside of the formal and official recognition that go with legal status and citizenship, which is given today with almost no questions asked to Indonesians and to Filipino Malays from the Muslim south.
Given the legalism, Chin Peng is therefore reduced to only one critical point of argument: jus soli.
But to grant Chin Peng the jus soli right – even without invoking a birth certificate – is to open the flood gates to immigrants: imagine a million male immigrants, Burmese, Pakistanis, Bangladeshis, Indonesian Christian Malays, Melanesians, Polynesians, (not to mention all the loinclothed tribal Kalimantan people so reviled by PAS and Hadi Awang) adding a million women more to their ranks and then three million babies after that. And a generation later, what if they were to negate local-born Malays as the sole dominant political power? How will Umno members permit Malaysia to be turned into a mini USA and thereafter permit an immigrant half-black Barack Obama to be prime minister? Or worse, in their imaginations, Ketuanan Melayu diluted by Bangladeshis and Pakistanis? (In this regard, present-day ethnic Chinese, especially from Taiwan and mainland China, hardly find Malaysia an attractive place to immigrate – hot, sticky, and Third World. This is in spite of Umno politicians, those BTN propagandists, as well as the Anglophile and Malay media making a big deal of the land, erroneously, as if every Chinese covets their mosquito-infested jungle property.)
The deep-rooted problem in Chin Peng’s case isn’t only because he is Chinese but because, underlying the political ramifications of his trial claim, is an existential one: when is a Malaysian a Malaysian? When he stops calling himself Chinese? Or Malay or Indian? (This is also to explain why the Bangsa Malaysia mob, their noble intentions notwithstanding, doesn’t ever seem to get it: equal right citizenship does not define Malaysian identity, and so the problem is fundamental in ways that a label does not solve.)
Answers to existential, or philosophical, questions are never found in law. For this reason alone, Chin Peng should not have gone to the courts. His purpose for returning (read his interview in the translated Sin Chew article) was purely cultural and personal: he wanted in the remaining months or years of his life to do his “duty” as a son; note, not as father (his son and daughter had visited him in Bangkok) or as a communist. This is to say he wanted some time to be in the presence of his dead parents in Sitiawan and to visit their graves. In satisfying this duty, which is wholly Confucian, he must appeal to a ruler that, paradoxically, understands no, absolutely no, Confucianism.
To the Malay bureaucracy and to the Anglophile Press, both completely deaf and ignorant to a fellow culture, the idea of filial duty would seem pedestrian, an old man’s hang-up. But coming from Chin Peng, a Chinese, it is steeped in ethics. His parents would have died without him present, or at the wake. He must now remedy the failure. From this point of view, the government’s answer to his dilemma is to grant him a temporary, say, year-long residence permit and to hell with the contradiction that you don’t grant residency rights to your own citizens.
Muhyiddin: Chin Peng to him was deeply coloured in red, but he couldn’t tell what kind of a red.
Worse than breaking its word on the Hatyai treaty, the government is actually reneging on the Constitution that automatically grants to all residents, local or foreign born prior to 1957, an open and through road to claim citizenship. Muhyiddin, and Umno by extension, could readily win the hearts of every Chinese if he were to address Chin Peng’s public plea and offered him a way out, even if the right is his to claim, constitutionally; rather, it is in cognizance of his filial obligation, that is, in recognition of his identity, his culture. (Sin Chew uses the English word “humanitarianism”, but this misses the Confucian nuances in the deep and mutual obligations between ruler and subject). In this way the government would be seen not only as a benevolent ruler but also the act would help it score political points, possibly win elections, without having to spend a cent, or promise another PKFZ project to MCA, or worry over future birthright and citizenship claims. It is, truly, that simple.
But, for Umno politicians expending their entire careers on fictitiously defending Malay rights, what do they understand of Confucian culture? Here, then, a supposedly multiracial government who does not know its own people, or an inherited culture. This is unbelievable, akin to saying that the Greek government does not know Socrates of Plato. Instead, like Ahirudin frothing from both sides of the mouth, they yell at shadows in the cave, on the one side demanding Chinese allegiance to Malaysia while in another tongue shouting ‘no’ and ‘balik Cina’ to the Chinese in Chin Peng to be Malaysian. This is Bangsa Malaysia forked-tongue speech in the extreme that treats, unquestioningly, loyalty by Indonesian Malays (Ahirudin) or quasi-Malays (Mahathir Mohamad) as automatic.
All that is to be expected, of course: Malaysia’s fundamental problem, today transplanted into Chin Peng’s legal battles, public pleas, and Ahirudin’s venomous spit, is not the lack of democracy, nor the failure to stick to the Constitution, and so there’s deprivation to say anything you like – freedom. It is not even in the race and religious barriers (whatever they are) that KC Vohrah, the former judge, said were divisively constructed “wittingly or unwittingly … in the last 20 to 30 years”.
Vohrah: How would he judge Chin Peng? Jus soli or jus sanguinis, both or neither?
Such kind of talk may be well-meaning criticisms but they are wrong from the first letter on. Suppose those barriers were torn down by the next generation, what then? Removing such social divisions, the NEP for example, treat the outward symptoms of a moribund, dysfunctional society that had allowed them to be constructed in the first place. This construction can only mean that the roots of a divided polity were there, in existence, fomenting, spreading and gathering pace until the likes of one Mahathir comes along to whip it out – the so-called “Merdeka contract” for example – in order to put Chinese and Indians in their places.
The mistakes in seeing the past for what it represents, or misrepresents, today are everywhere. Thus, Vohrah spoke romantically about the past and that there was “no issue of being treated differently because we were of different races”. Really?
Both in the eighties, Vohrah and Chin Peng belong to the same generation, the exact same age group. If the sun had shone so brightly in their days, and all were happy and contented, how did one end up in the jungles, live now in exile, and reviled as a “butcher” while the other is praised as a “respected” judge, evidently contented in his retirement? If Vohrah is sitting as judge, how would he rule on Chin Peng? Malaysians, especially the pre-Merdeka ruling class, are wont to speak, self-servingly, of the glorious past and so perpetuate the fiction that in it are the secrets to a happy future when, to the contrary, past events must actually have a bearing on the ugly present.
Malaysia turned in on the wrong page of history, stepping out on the wrong foot, so that the remedy must start with the past, the Constitution in particular. The reasons to a divided Malaysia is fundamentally philosophical in origins, not political and certainly not economic nor ideological. Until this is recognised, all the romanticism won’t change a thing. Chin Peng will die alone in Bangkok while the moneyed and the ruling elites, the urban chattering class, the Anglophiles, the Ahirudin apologists will quietly dispatch emails to family and kin in Australia: we lost your birth certificate, we’ve no proof, don’t come back, you can’t die in Malaysia, we are not yet a Malaysia.