Dr Ismail Aby Jamal

Dr Ismail Aby Jamal
Born in Batu 10, Kg Lubok Bandan, Jementah, Segamat, Johor

Saturday, September 10, 2011

The preoccupations of the Malays during the immediate post-Pacific War period was nationalism and the concomitant effort to gain independence for Malaya from Britain.......

Written by Abdul Rahman Ismail, CPI

This paper is a preliminary report of an ongoing research on the reactions of the Malays in Malaya to the coming of the Cold War to the region, with particular reference to the importance of the year 1948. For the majority of the Malays, the Cold War was most popularly associated with the Emergency, which British authorities had declared in the effort to quell the armed uprising mounted by the MCP. The vast majority of Malays in Malaya were not interested in the on-going Cold War between the Western bloc led by the United States on the side the Eastern bloc led by the Soviet Union on the other.

The preoccupations of the Malays during the immediate post-Pacific War period was nationalism and the concomitant effort to gain independence for Malaya from Britain. In particular, they had been rather anxious that the Malays, who were the native of the land, were not robbed of the custodianship over Malaya and political privileges of the Malays in independent Malaya. Consumed with these issues, the Malays had little interests in external affairs. It was perhaps the lack of Malay support that foredoomed the fate of communism in Malaya.

The year 1948

In the political history of Malaysia, and particularly Malaya, the year 1948 is significant in a number of ways:

To the administrators and the Malays, it marked the official formation of the Federation of Malaya beginning in February, which partly fulfilled the British scheme of a better coordinated and more uniform administration for the whole of Malaya (excluding Singapore), though not as centralised as envisaged under the Malayan Union (MU) scheme introduced immediately after the Pacific War.

It also signified the official annulment of the MU and Britain’s failure to recolonise the “protected” Malay States and the whole of Malaya as planned during the War. Although starkly incongruent with the spirit of the Atlantic Charter of 1941 and in order to camouflage their imperialistic design to exercise complete control over Malaya (and Singapore), the British embellished the MU with the anomalous pronouncement of preparing the peoples of the colony for self-rule in the near future.1

Conceived some time in 1943, the MU was officially inaugurated on 1 April 1946 amidst non-violent but intense and thunderous protest by the Malays throughout the Peninsula. In fact, all of the Sultans and Malay members of the Councils boycotted the inauguration ceremony. Politically, the introduction of the MU had, in a way, momentarily stalled the split between the Malays into the “Left” and the “Right”, the “Upper Stream” and the “Lower Stream” in Malay leadership2, and between the Rakyat and the Raja.

Faced with the threatening fate of being relinquished of their role and status as the determinant people in the new “political nation” (bangsa politik) imposed by the British, for the first time the Malays of all walks of life and shades of political inclinations throughout Malaya came together as a unified force to reject the MU.

But as was to be proven later, Malay “unity”, as manifested during the early phase of the pan-Malaya Malay congresses from March to May 1946, was not to last very long. In June, Parti Kebangsaan Melayu Malaya (PKMM / Malay Nationalist Party of Malaysia) and two other organisations left the United Malays National Organisation (Umno), which they had helped to officially set up in May. As claimed by leaders of PKMM, the basic difference that set them apart was Umno’s unwillingness to gear the struggle towards independence from the British.

To many, in the context of the Cold War, 1948 is usually associated with the “Emergency” declared by the British Malayan authorities of the Malayan Union in June in their efforts to confront and quell what they claimed was an armed uprising led by the Communist Party of Malaya (MCP). Paradoxically, it was the Japanese invasion and British collaboration and assistance on the eve of the Pacific War and during the Japanese Occupation that had contributed to the burgeoning of MCP military strength, which was seen as the security threat that led to the declaration of the Emergency.

Another significant aspect of 1948 that is generally neglected in previous studies is the growing and increasingly forceful involvement and radicalisation of the Malay (and non-Malay groups, especially the Chinese) masses (rakyat) in political movements in Malaya during the few years prior to the declaration of the “Emergency”.

Malay political leadership, which had generally been the preserve of the upper echelon of a community that consisted of aristocrats and emerging English-educated bureaucrats, had, since the period of the Japanese Occupation, been rivalled, if not challenged, by a new breed of “leadership from below”.

This new leadership was composed of Malay-educated and moderately English-educated youth as well as religiously inclined intellectuals. The beginnings of this phenomenon are traceable to the formation and activities of Kesatuan Malaya Merdeka, KMM (more popularly known as Kesatuan Melayu Muda) before and on the eve of the war, Pembela Tanah air and Kesatuan Rakyat Istimewa Semenanjung (KRIS) during the war, and Parti Kebangsaan Melayu Malaya in 1945, and it reached its climax with frequent gatherings and seminars on serious issues pertaining to the Malays, especially centring around the madrasah Ihya-As-Syarif, Gunung Semanggol, Perak in 1947 and 1948.

These rakyat-initiated gatherings involved peoples from all walks of life and political orientations from all over Malaya, including some members of UMNO who attended as individuals.3

Leftists and even communists, such as Rashid Maidin, Abdullah Cek Dat and Musa Ahmad, and occasionally even non-Malay members of the Malayan Democratic Union (MDU), such as Gerald de Cruz and John Eber, attended the gatherings together with respected Islamic religious personalities, such as Fadhlullah Suhaimi, Abdullah Fahim, and Burhanuddin Al-Helmi.

The dynamic Islamic scholar (ulama) and principal of Il-Ihya, Abu Bakar Al-Bakir (also al-Baqir), who hosted the gatherings was no doubt among the busiest and most active catalysts.

It was from these gatherings that various working committees such as Lembaga Pendidikan Rakyat/Council for the People’s Education (LEPIR), Pusat Perekonomian Melayu Se-Malaya/ Pan-Malaya Malay Economic Centre (PERMAS), and Majlis Agama Tertinggi Se-Malaya/Pan-Malaya Supreme Religious Council (MATA), etc., were formed to enhance efforts towards uplifting the Malays in all aspects of life. The gatherings even proposed the establishment of a Malay Bank and Malay University and, on 14 March 1948, established the first Islamic-based political party, the Hizbul Muslimim (Party of Muslims), which vowed to struggle for independence and turn Malaya into Darul-Islam (Islamic state).

No comments: