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Thursday, May 13, 2010

Reimagineering May 13

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Well, it’s that time of year again, sports fans – May 13th, one of the blackest of days in our nation's history. Today marks the 41st anniversary of the tragedy, which happened a long time ago in 1969, when Walski was but a wee tot.

Speaking of sports, Malaysia beat Denmark 3-2 in the Thomas Cup 2010 quarter-finals last night. And what Walski witnessed during the tournament broadcast, and on Twitter, has some bearing on what this post is about. But more on that later on in the post.

So yeah, back to May 13th. And when this date approaches, without fail, there will be those who will habitually raise its specter, hinting in some ways that if certain status quos are not maintained, the tragedy just might re-occur. Usually in a “don’t provoke the hornet’s nest” kind of rhetoric.

Image taken from Malaysia Today, hosting by PhotobucketBanner for the now-aborted gathering (from Malaysia Today)

This year is no exception – the now indefinitely postponed gathering organized by an NGO who call themselves Gerakan Kebangkitan Rakyat, or GERTAK (which means “threaten” in Bahasa Malaysia), which was supposed to take place today in Terengganu, came under intense criticism for scheduling the gathering today. Of all days. And having a name like GERTAK doesn’t help a bit.

In all fairness, the NGO wasn’t formed specifically for the event today, and as indicated in their blog, was actually formed earlier this year on January 3rd. But going by the shenanigans that similar Malay-rights groups, like Perkasa, have pulled thus far, picking May 13 for their "Melayu Bangkit” (“Malays Arise”) event could be construed as provocative. No matter how innocuous the program was claimed to have been (emphasis by myAsylum).

“We are not threatening anyone. It’s just an event to remind the Malays of what had happened on that fateful day so it won’t happen again in the future.

“The Malays were united in the fight for independence but after that, at that point on May 13, the Malays were weak, divided. Our economic status was low,” said Razali in his own interpretation of the race riots during which hundreds were killed.

(source: The Malaysian Insider)

But herein lies the irony – anyone who was between, say 18 and 45, the likely age demographic of political activity in 1969, would today be between 59 and 86. Not exactly spring chickens, so to speak, nor likely to be at a very economically active age.

So, whom exactly are these painful memories, dredged up year after year, meant to be a reminder for? It’s as if this constant reminder is for no other purpose but to keep May 13 as a perpetual bogeyman, whose memory gets annually resurrected for reasons other than just remembrance.

And even if you weren’t even yet a glimmer in your parent’s eyes 41 years ago, you had damned well better “remember” this tragic event.

But just in case it escaped anyone, allow Walski to remind you that we’re no longer living in 1969. And neither is today’s socio-economic environment anywhere close to what it was 41 years ago.
(three initiatives towards reimagineering, and more, in the full post)

So anyways, fast forward to last night, during the Thomas Cup 2010 quarter-finals, where in the last game to settle the then 2-2 game score, Muhd Hafiz Hashim was up against Joachim Persson. Both in the indoor stadium, and on Twitter, Malaysians were cheering Hafiz on. Not as Malay Malaysians, Chinese Malaysians, Indian Malaysians or Dan-Lain-Lain Malaysians. But as Malaysians.

Not that Walski wishes to state the obvious, but sports is indeed a unifier. And it was a unified Malaysia that was cheering Hafiz on. And if there were in the audience (or on Twitter) any members of Perkasa, Gertak, or any of the Malay-only champions of whatever, they were there as Malaysians cheering the national team on.

Isn’t it time that we moved forward that way, as a truly united citizenry? Last night showed that it’s not something impossible to wish for.

41 years is long enough – nay, too damned long – to harbor and nurture a stigma that should have been put behind us long ago. It’s time we moved on

Malaysians will live through today, the 41st anniversary of a dark blotch on our nation’s history, doing many things. Being a week day, most of us will be at work, or fighting traffic to get to work, during most of the daylight hours.

Without a doubt, at least a handful of politicians will go to press with his or her thoughts about today’s. Some of them might be insightful, and as history has shown, some of them will undoubtedly be entertainingly asinine. And become fodder for hilarious Twitter hash tags that will last the remainder of the day, or even longer.

But there are three “events” happening today that Walski would especially like to highlight.

The first, and the only organized single event out of the three, is a talk series presented by Starbucks – Live & Inspire, which will be held tonight at 8pm at Level 2, Bangsar Village 2, Kuala Lumpur.

What makes it extra special is that this time around, Anas Zubedy will be the featured speaker. Anas has been a very active proponent of national unity, and through his company, Zubedy (M) Sdn Bhd, has been putting up unity full-page ads in The Star on key celebratory dates throughout the year. You will find one of those ads in The Star today.

This time around, in addition, he has started a campaign called Recolor May 13. The purpose is best explained in a posting Anas did on his blog this past Sunday.

Image hosting by Photobucket When reflecting on May 13, 1969, we can blame others for what happened, blame the situation, or we can choose to transform things for the better, to be change agents and constructively fill our hearts and minds with what needs to be done so May 13 does not ever happen again, and that no one uses the day to bring about fear and negativity.

What thoughts can we cultivate to make a difference to how May 13th is viewed? What actions can we take to shine a light on this day so it will forever be a day we learn from mistakes, a day we strengthen unity in our diversity and recommit to respecting one another and working together?

At zubedy we believe in re-coloring May 13 with all our brilliant hues, the many diverse peoples that we are, under this one great nation called Malaysia. We believe it is a day to reaffirm our shared values and traditions and rejoice in what unites us. A day for young and old to constructively talk about what makes us one people and how we can remain strong together.

(source: Anas Zubedy)

In conjunction with this campaign, two books will also be released, one by Anas himself, and the other by Dr. Chandra Muzaffar, of the International Movement for a Just World (JUST). Both of these books, plus the Recolor May 13 initiative, were highlighted in an article published last Tuesday in The Sun (on page 4, shown on the right – download a PDF copy), and today in The Star. Both publications are part of the Zubedy Unity Series.

The book by Dr. Chandra Muzaffar is entitled “A Plea for Empathy – The Quest for Malaysian Unity”, a collections of articles written by Dr. Chandra over a period of 34 years.

Anas’ book, “The Quran and I” chronicles his growing up as a Muslim in Malaysia, at the same time highlighting how universal values found in the Quran can be found through daily life experiences, and how a multi-cultural Malaysia is actually a fertile ground for personal growth.

Walski can personally attest to the fact that Anas, as a person, is one of the nicest people you could meet, and that his outlook in life is definitely inclusive – that each one of us has that unique something, which cumulatively as a whole is what makes Malaysia such a wonderfully unique place. And it’s exactly that diversity that we should celebrate and hold dear.

Which segue ways into the other two “events” for today. Both of which have to do with diversity, and incidentally, have both relied on a very important aspect of our 21st century lives to disseminate – social media. Now, you may have your dissenting opinions about social media prevalence in our day and age, and Walski has no intention to debate it here, but if you’re honest about it, you can’t dispute its potentials. One of which is to bring people together.

The first of the two, is May 13 – Malaysian Interracial Hook-up Day (via Facebook), organized by a group of young Malaysians who feel today shouldn’t be about dredging up painful memories and fear-mongering. In fact, quite on the contrary.

Image taken from the event's Facebook page, hosting by Photobucket It's about time that we reclaim May 13 for ourselves and tell people who want to divide us Malaysians to keep their mouth shut because WE ARE MOVING ON. We are moving on from racist ideologies and we are moving into a Malaysian ideology, one that respects and celebrates diversity and equality.

Come this May 13, 2010, throw away hatred and prejudice and hook-up with someone from a different race or religion or culture or colour! Wherever you are whether if you're in Malaysia or not, ajaklah your friend(s) out... Go for a movie or a nice dinner or to a nice beach or to a nice hotel (to errr... listen to err... music). Have twosomes, threesomes, foursomes, or x-somes anyway you like it! The more the merrier!

Interracial FTW!! \^.^/

(source: Facebook)

And unlike the Gertak event, which is targeting God-knows which age demographic, May 13 – Malaysian Interracial Hook-up Day is targeted at the young – and young at heart. It’s been often said that youth is wasted on the young – in this instance that precept is utterly WRONG, because it’s the young who seem to know better, want to move on, and are leading the way. By example.

The beauty about this initiative is that it’s not something big scale, everybody-in-one-designated-location old school kind of event thingy – it’s up to you to create a mini-gathering of your own, and to do your own thing. The importance of this initiative is not in the size of the event, but in the spirit of it – that we are, at the end of the day, in the same boat, sink or swim, through thick or thin. For Walski, that’s the real take-away.

The second via-social media initiative is something called May 13 Blogswarm (via Facebook. Again) - and guess what? If you’ve gotten this far, you’re in fact reading a participating entry! The origins of this initiative, before it landed on Facebook, can be found on this LiveJournal page.

I am proposing a blogswarm on May 13, about, well, May 13 1969! We know how it's been a bugbear for us since forever ago - on the one hand it's a reminder about what racial disunity is like, but on the other hand, politicians use it as a threat so we don't talk about racism in Malaysia. It means many different things to different people.

So on, or for May 13, we can all blog about whatever comes to mind when we think about May 13. For example:

- A history of what happened on May 13 as you understand it (use your own words, not Wikipedia's). How were you taught about May 13? Did you learn more later on that changed how you thought about it?
- If you have any relatives who was there and participating, or if YOU were there and participating, share your stories!
- How has Malaysia changed since 1969? How has it not changed?
- Since May 13 was caused by racial polarization, what do you think of race relations today?
- Do you think we're still divided? What examples of racism have you seen that tells us we're not past May 13 yet?
- Tell us how you really feel about the NEP!
- Talk about generational gaps in viewing May 13, or the absence thereof of remembering this date.
- How do you feel about the way government is being run right now? Do you have any recommendations on what really should happen?
- How do specific race-based government policies affect you and/or your loved ones?
- Poems, stories, essays about, on, set during, themed, around May 13.
- anything else you can think of to remember May 13.

Write in English, or Malay, or Chinese, or Tamil, or Malaysian-English, or bahasa pasar, or whatever you feel like writing in. I'll make a post so people can copy-paste their URLs and we can see what everyone else has written. If you want to write something but don't want to be linked, that's cool too! The point of the blogswarm is to encourage expression of our thoughts, not to get into internet arguments.

(source: LiveJournal)

And as what usually happens to great viral ideas, it caught on.

Image taken from May 13 Blogswarm page on Facebook, hosting by PhotobucketAs seen on the Malaysians LJ community, I'm inviting everyone to join in the May 13 Blogswarm. For too long, the spectre of May 13 has haunted us. So here's a challenge for May 13. Instead of burying it and pretending everything's hunky dory, let's talk about it.

What does May 13 mean to you? What do you know about May 13? Have we moved on since then? Have we stayed stuck in the past?

Tell us. Tell everyone. Do it in a Facebook note. Do it in your blog. Write a poem. Shoot a video. Joke about it. Cry about it.

Let's make May 13 a day to talk. And listen.

(source: Facebook)

So today, if you own a blog, blog about how you feel – it can touch on any of the ideas above, or just about how you feel May 13 should be regarded. And don’t forget to leave a link to your post in the comments here (or alternatively, leave a link at the May 13 Blogwarm Facebook page). If you have a Facebook account, write there. If you’re on Twitter, be sure to include the #swarm13may hashtag in your tweets.

Trust Walski on this one – there will be a whole lot of folks who will want to listen to your thoughts. And hopefully, learn and reflect.

Three great initiatives, all of them, each in its own way. But the underlying themes of all three – moving on, and unity, as a people.

Perhaps one day, May 13th will become Malaysia’s Unity & Reconciliation Day. And if Walski had his way, that’s what he would do. But until that happens officially, it really is up to us.

Some of us will probably continue to resurrect the ghosts of May 13, as organizations like Perkasa, Gertak, and what have you, have been doing, and in all likelihood, will continue doing for years to come. Well, let them – it’s their right, and if they choose to live in an anachronism, well let them be.

Walski, and he believes, a vast majority of other Malaysians, would prefer to move on in a manner more productive, reconciliatory, and unified. We are diverse in many ways, but lets make that diversity work for us, and not divide us.

It’s time for some serious reimagineering of that too-often evoked tragedy that was May 13, 1969. It happened, it’s history, and it’s time to move on.

And that time, sports fans, is now

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