Rewriting history

Should we be rewriting history just to make people feel good? That’s not history, that’s psychiatry.

– Edward Koch, former New York mayor

If political psychiatry means anything, rewriting history is outright deception that offers the fraudster a sadistically satisfying sense of feeling good simply because nobody could stop the putrid process. These charlatans lack a fully developed conscience as their nature is unable to accommodate such a gift.

It’s not unusual for vested interests to commission a hustle of historians to cast doubts concerning, for example, the role played by the Brookes of Sarawak. If some world-renowned historians write trash for pecuniary benefit, most people would go into temporary shock only to ultimately accept the lie for the genuine article.

The Asian empires of Chola, Maurya, Sri Vijaya, Langkasuka and Majapahit existed for hundreds of years and could not be buried or rewritten. The Sultanate of Sulu has existed since the 1440’s according to Admiral Zheng Ho’s seafaring chronicles. Ignoring history is one thing, but attempting to rewrite it is another kettle of fish.

“History is the torch that is meant to illuminate the past, to guard us against the repetition of our mistakes of other days. We cannot join in the rewriting of history to make it conform to our comfort and convenience,” warned Claude Bowers. Selfishness is the coin of the realm in these theatres of activity. Police power is always available to muzzle the dissidents, anarchists and activists.

Rewriting history is passionately pursued when territorial expansion is being planned by a stronger nation to acquire a weaker and less-informed citizenry. The fragmentation of the USSR was history, but today Vladimir Putin has decided to rewrite it. NATO is helpless as is Uncle Sam. “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall…” is now geography, not history.

Malaysia is grappling with the recent French tribunal arbitration award of RM62.6 billion to the heirs and claimants of the Sulu Sultanate. The present government inherited the unresolved issue way before MA63 when uncaring politicians ruled the roost. All excuses, reasons and purposes dissipate into thin air. A former attorney-general is spewing forth spurious opinions while the chickens come home to roost.

Finger-pointing has begun. There are many to be blamed just as there are many who must take responsibility for the wanton past mistakes. Most assuredly, everyone in government has inherited the Sulu inconvenience to satisfy past political urges to rewrite history and write off the Sulu Sultanate as a non-entity. There’s always a hefty price causing great discomfort and sweaty embarrassment.

International agencies and tribunals are watching Malaysia’s next few moves. Patriotism and nationalism alone will not untie this Gordian knot. The laws of land acquisition, assets seizures, broken agreements and treaties, rude and incorrect interpretations of international covenants will emerge to show the trees for the forest.

Another gnawing and annoying pain in rewriting history is to be found in Malaysia’s jurisprudence where the festering conflict between constitutional supremacy and parliamentary supremacy is enjoying an open season. Selfless judges are braving the storms.

Rewriting history is allegedly found in the Quirino-Recto Colonisation of Mindanao Act of February 12 1935 and the Dansalan Declaration that followed as a petition to the US government lamenting the fact that the Sulu archipelago was not part of the government of the Republic of the Philippines. Deaf ears went brutally ballistic.

George Orwell totally grasped it: “Who controls the past controls the future. Who controls the present controls the past.” We see this truth being incessantly played out like it is the God-given right of the armed to have it their way. And when the armed are threatened by another armed entity they are quickly labelled as terrorists.

All said, done and dusted, the descendants of old kingdoms should not be made to look like people with their hats in their hands. De jure rights, privileges, obligations, duties and claims do not translate to an abrogation, denial and rejection of the de facto first-in-point-of-time owners of land and soil who enjoyed lengthened possession and occupancy (usucapion).

Political maturity is the preferred coin of the realm, not political psychiatry. Mature democracies must rethink before giving in to the incessant urge to rewrite history, and if they must give in to this urge they should do so for the betterment, benefit and advantage of their people. After all, it is still not trite to say that the power of the people is more potent than the people in power.

The views expressed here are those of the columnist and do not necessarily represent the views of New Sarawak Tribune.

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