Responding to the ban of Amir Muhammad's latest film 'Apa Khabar Orang Kampung', Dr Toh Kin Woon commented:
Healthy debate should be encouraged over different interpretations of history. Contradictions with the official version should not lead to films being banned, he said. "Banning would mean dissenting views and differing interpretations cannot be tolerated and only official interpretations can be disseminated," he added in a statement. "This is clearly contrary to promoting a healthy and mature democracy."
The filmmaker, whose earlier movie Lelaki Komunis Terakhir was also banned last year.
My earlier take on the interpretation of history:
Social contracts must adjust to developments
Khoo Kay Peng
Jun 10, 05 2:38pm
The process of history is central to the understanding of social construction and development of a society. As a student, I was keenly interested in the study of history. Reading about the sacrifices made by our forefathers during the formation an independent Malaysia gave me a sense of duty to continue striving for the growth and success of my motherland.
While appreciating importance of history, I am also aware of the tendency to distort the facts and process of history. It is a well-known fact that the process of documenting history is never apolitical.
The (mis)interpretation of history is a viable tool to promote and pursue political and ideological domination or colonisation. We have heard arguments that the mainstream version of history should be adopted and accepted in toto, without question. In contemporary term, this practice is known as ‘absolutism’ – which is unfortunately a distortion and manipulation in itself.
Post-modernist thinkers posited that there are ‘truths within truth’ and ‘histories within history’. The most dominant version of history may not necessary represent absolute truth but it is merely a viewpoint or an opinion presented by the majority.
In this regard, I find that is it necessary to debate and debunk some of these arguments which try to use the process of history as a convenient tool to disrupt and distort our efforts of nation building.
Firstly, let us examine the historical process leading to the formation of an independent Malaysia. This milestone is critical to the understanding of the social contract purportedly made between the three main communities in Malaya at that time.
A version of history promoted as a dominant viewpoint argues that the contract was primarily about the exchange of Malaysian citizenship for the two immigrant (Chinese and Indian) communities and in return they recognise the rights of the Malays as the natives and the masters of the land.
Hence, proponents of this viewpoint argue that other communities, especially the present generation particularly those of Chinese descent, must accept these rights – both political and socio-economic - unquestionably.
A journalist from Bernama even quoted the first prime minister Tunku Abdul Rahman who told Lee Kuan Yew that ‘... if you refuse to accept that, then we will no longer accept Malaysia’. Obviously, we are aware of Lee’s reaction and the unavoidable historical outcome.
Seeing history through this lens has one problem. The function of history is to record events and not to interpret the future. A political outburst is not a decree. Any social contracts or agreements made between communities in a particular time period cannot continue to bind generations to come without adjusting to the transformations and developments of a society.
Proponents of the dominant viewpoint have some serious questions to answer. Are those who are born and bred in Malaysia, especially non-Malays, still considered as immigrants? Since they are born as Malaysians, the social contract is not relevant to them.
Furthermore, Malaysians of all races, post-independence, have contributed significantly albeit through their own ways and means to the country’s progress and development. All races have had a hand in the making of a modern and developed Malaysia. Surely this means more than a mere exchange of citizenship. What is the worth of a citizenship if it does not come with equal rights?
Second, how does one to reconcile the ‘masters of the land’ perspective with the so-called national unity policy which is being promoted by the Malay-led government? The creation of a truly Bangsa Malaysia (Malaysian race) cannot be achieved through a master-servant relationship model. What is obviously needed is a condition where a shared common identity can be fostered through the existence of socio-political equality and justice.
Third, the hollow definition of democracy a la Malaysia which invites more problems than solutions to the management of a multi-ethnic society ought to be reconstructed to ensure that if justice exists, it must be a justice for all regardless of race, religion, gender or class.
Our doggedly communitarian democracy model, which promotes the might of the majority over the interests of the minority, only seeks to enhance the power of dominant ruling class to the extend that it breeds power corruption and abuse.
In a thriving democracy, even a single voice must be given a right to be heard if it is meant to seek justice and fairness. Communitarianism habitually turns a deaf ear to the weak voices of the society, often in the name of the majority interest.
In a global village, all communities in Malaysia are minorities. Our experiences in facing the forces of globalisation or in trying to make ourselves heard on international platforms where our presence is dwarfed by much bigger and dominant countries should have taught us well that the above concepts or misconceptions are not suitable for us.
We need to adopt a new paradigm. We need to promote a new and all-inclusive national agenda to foster greater unity and to capitalise on our rich diversity in order to stand up to the challenges of globalisation. This can only materialise if we can discard our old mindset and destroy these dormant perceptions of majority might and master-servant relationship.
While an unscrupulous interpretation and adaptation of history is dangerous, taking a stubborn and dogmatic position on the process of history may turn us into a historical artefact.