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The May 13 incident has never been understood

CC Pung’s dose of philosophical musings.
The writer is a Sabah Justice of Peace and Tokoh Wartawan Sabah & Labuan

On this day (May 13) in 1969, Malaysia showed the unleashing of suspicion and fear between its main races.

The now infamous ‘May 13 Incident’ has never been, to my knowledge) properly understood.

I was a teenager in Sabah, an ocean away from where the bloodshed took place in a number of places in Malaya.

There were vague reports than and sporadic politically-motivated recap as to what happened and how many people died, but what could be surmised is that the riots and brutal killings were mainly between Chinese and Malay groups.

Some claimed that the Malay-dominated police and armed forces were involved.

Others blamed gangsters were the trouble makers.

Until today, accurate accounts of the riots and sasualty numbers are hard to come by.

I believe in the maxim that ‘were bound to repeat history if we refused to learn from it’.

Well, have Malaysia learnt from May 13?

Yes, we have not had anything like it since.

But the recent rise in the so-called “3R” issues ( a moniker for the issues of race, religion and royalty) is, to me, a reminder that we may have learnt, but we’ve forgotten.

Our school history books are full of questionable contents but hardly a mention about a tragedy so revealing and vital for our young to understand.

I was 17. I read and have shelves of books that, unfortunately, do not have much on May 13.

In my years as a journalist, I frequently got nudges to keep away from raising, writing or entertaining anything on May 13.

Some people in authority wanted to, like the Japanese about WW2, erase May 13 from history.

In 1970, the Malay-controlled Malaysian government introduced the New Economic Police, NEP., mainly to restructure society and eradicate the identity of race by economic function.

I was later to learn that NEP was frayed with some American expertise on ‘affirmative action’.

The US has, to me, never been a more white-diminated  hypocrisy that, in some ways, resembled the NEP and all the mutated policies that followed.

Some mathematical genius that for NEP to reach its goals, the Malays must, by 1990, control 30% of the Malaysian economic pie.

It’s now 2024, and the genius have calculated that we are not even half way there.

You read that against another story that said that, with the exception of just one malay, all the other top rich men of Malaysia are Chinese.


Chinese make up about 20% of the population.

Malays dominate politics, civil service, armed forces, police and every conceivable corridors or subterranean layers of power and policy control.

The numbers are suspicious, to say the least.

With such control over the country, the Malay rhetoric to this day is always about how their privileges and religion and position is threatened, how they’re bring marginalised and how they’re surrounded by ‘enemies’.

They convinced themselves that they are surrounded by manufactured ‘foes’.

They claimed ‘victimhood’ and that’s an unhealthy state of mind.

At least one report had claimed that the may 13 riots were sparked by the results of an election near Kuala lumpur won by a non Malay whose supporters went in a rambuntious celebratory rally.

If this claim is credible, it reveals buried, unwxplainable resentment.

This reminds me of a scholar who, in trying to get behind the seemingly widespread global dislike of anything Jewish, blamed it on centuries of  unfounded allegations.

He likened it to someone being confronted by his haters ‘you killed my grandmother!’

It’s irrational, ludicrous, absurd … I wasnt born yet in your grandmother’s time.

Typically, a narrative no matter how baseless becomes an unchallenged ‘truth’ as it is repeated.

Therefore, the Jews are universal enemy number one.

In Malaysia, the Chinese are enemies of the malays though we live side by side, work side by side.

We are more the same than are different. But  because some genius think that learning about May 13 will not help, some of us will always live with the nightmate that our grandmother was murdered.

God bless the souls of those who perished on may 13, 1969.

Their lives would have been lost in vain if we refused to learn the lessons.

The views expressed here are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of

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