Memories of the Malayan Emergency

5 July 1998
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Police could impose curfews (which they often did), close roads (road blocks were common), requisition vehicles or boats and seize seditious documents. The Emergency later covered the whole of Malaya including Singapore. This was the genesis of the Internal Security Act (ISA). Once the British (General Sir Gerald Templer) even closed a town - Tanjong Malim.

I did not know what the Emergency was all about until that evening before lights out (bedtime:9pm). The prefect in charge of "B" dormitory at the prep school of MCKK, Raja Azman bin Raja Ahmad (then in form three of form four), to about 24 10-year old pupils under his charge that a communist revolt against the government has started in Sungai Siput, some distance from out school and, as a result, we might have to face a rough time ahead (we did not, except that we were made to register ourselves and given identity cards).

Like most of my contemporaries, we did not lose much sleep over the announcement simply because none of us, I am sure, knew the significance of what was said until months later nor do I recall any one who knew who or what were communists and what they stood for.

Raja Azman was our ambassador in the Soviet Union in the seventies and retired as High Commissioner in London in the early eighties. He now lives quietly with his wife and a devoted daughter in Petaling Jaya. Who would have thought then that my prefect would be the Malaysian ambassador to the Soviet Union and I to be falsely accused of being a communist and detained for five years?

Indeed, then, even merdeka had rarely crossed the mind of our fathers and grandfathers.

The insurrection - "the Emergency"- the British euphemism for guerrilla war fare was a protracted three phase campaign by the Chinese-led and Chinese-majority Malayan Communist Party (MCP) which lasted 12 years. The three phases, following Mao Zedong's successful patterns, were a terror campaign, raiding and killing European planters, tin miners and police officers; destablizing the government by depriving it of effective control thus losing the confidence of the rakyat and faith in their colonial rulers; seizing control of villages and towns and turning them "into liberated areas" in order 'to encircle bigger towns leaving the federal capital, Kuala Lumpur, for the final assault.

The communists, whom the British usually described as bandits, always claimed they were fighting "to rid the British imperialists and their lackeys, especially the group of feudalist and other running dogs headed by the Malay Sultans" and replace them With a Malayan People's (Chinese) republic in which, I suppose, every one became inferior except for the communists.

In the communist scheme of things the "backward Malays" played little role, after all the MCP was, as is, a Chinese outfit. As the Emergency progressed, the MCP's influence grew and the Malays whom the MCP was supposed to win over became progressively nationalistic when they realised that if the MCP won, their country would become no more and no less than a Chinese satellite state.

The 10,000 to 12,000 strong MCP guerrilla force often attacked the civilians and towns indiscriminately and at random with a view to making the rakyat lose faith in the government's ability to maintain law and order.

The British who had been very dismissive and callous towards the Malays were forced to get Malay cooperation to combat the menace posed by the MCP and the Malays, not unsurprisingly, rallied behind them not so much because they condoned the British policy, rather that they saw, like the Japanese occupation, 1hat the Emergency would hasten independence in which they would play a major role.

Dato' Abdullah Ahmad is Malaysia's Special Envoy to the United Nations

(This article has been reproduced with the kind permission of Sun )