When people discover that I’d published an encyclopedia on Malaysian history, one question I often get is Which side of history are you on?
I was taken aback by this question.
I realised I’d been sitting in my ivory tower for too long. Writing and thinking and trying to finish the encyclopedia in isolation. I had not been talking to people on the street.
Isn’t there only one side? I ask myself. It’s the side of truth, as far as we can tell, hundreds if not thousands of years later from the actual events. It’s history that’s unbiased and accepted by academics and scholars everywhere.
But it’s not that simple.
“Which side of history are you on?” is a leading, if not loaded question.
For history in Malaysia has become politicised.
For example, some sections in the community have chosen to downplay the contribution of the non-Malays in the development of the nation. For example, stating that Yap Ah Loy was not in fact the founder of Kuala Lumpur but, rather, it was a Malay that founded our capital. On the other hand, others in the country have tried to undermine the position of the Malays in history. For example, claiming that Hang Tuah was not Malay but, in fact, Chinese.
This is a pity.
History is being used to bolster entrenched positions. Two sides appear to be doing battle. Those in the middle are caught in cannon fire and are left bewildered and confused.
History should be used to educate ourselves. So that we can learn about the past. I’ve always said:
If you don’t know where you’ve come from, then how do you know where you’re going to?