Hishammuddin needs a history lesson

Umno’s newly-minted vice-president and Education Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein was unhappy with the contents of history books and wanted “better” history lessons.

Hishammuddin kicked up the fuss during his winding-up speech at the Umno general assembly when he said the party and the Malay Rulers were the only parties who fought for Malaysia’s independence.

Obviously it wasn’t a brilliant statement. It got Umno’s ally MCA and other groups riled up, naturally. This also doesn’t augur well for Hishammuddin who by now should be a wiser person upon his graduation from the adolescent Umno Youth wing.

Hishammuddin is the one who needs history lessons. Being the son of Tun Hussein Onn and grandson of Datuk Onn Jaafar, Hishammuddin should have known better than to make ridiculous and unsubstantiated remarks.

What more when his grandfather Onn was the among the first patriots to fight for a multiracial and democratic government in this country; or should that fact be hidden from our history books now?

Onn founded Umno in 1946 during the campaign against the formation of the Malayan Union. Among a rather conservative Malay population, Onn promoted a view which was already popular at the time — “Raja itu Rakyat, Rakyat itu Raja” (The king is a citizen, and the citizens are king). It was a social contract of sorts upon which Umno was formed.

Together with his son Hussein, who was then Umno’s secretary-general, Onn quit Umno in August 1951 due to irreconcilable differences with others in the leadership. Onn’s idea was ahead of his time — he wanted Umno to open its membership to non-Malays in an attempt to turn Umno into a multiracial organisation.

Onn went on to establish the multiracial Independent Malayan Party (IMP), and subsequently Malay-majority Parti Negara. Both parties failed to win majority support. Communal politics was strong then, as it is still prevalent now.

Perhaps Hishammuddin has forgotten that his grandfather Onn was not a member of Umno at the time Malaya achieved independence in 1957. The true Malayan patriot died a sad man in 1962.

One of the staunchest supporters of Onn was the then mentri besar of Perak, the Datuk Panglima Bukit Gantang Abdul Wahab Toh Muda Abdul Aziz. Perhaps the spirit of Bukit Gantang will remind certain people that history should never be re-written.

Hussein re-entered politics in 1968 at the invitation of his brother-in-law Tun Abdul Razak Hussein. He contested the 1969 election and won, subsequently being appointed the minister of education.

In August 1973, Hussein filled the post of deputy prime minister upon the demise of Tun Dr Ismail Abdul Rahman. He was minister of finance between 1974 and 1976, tearfully sworn in as prime minister when Razak died in office in January 1976.

The crux of the problem with the learning of history in this country is partisanship. Hishammuddin’s latest view is just another sad addition to the problem, at the expense of a genuine understanding of the contribution of his father and grandfather to the nation, outside of Umno.

A case in point is the Tun Hussein Onn Memorial. Opened in February 2006 after a RM30 million makeover of the old Prime Minister’s Department building in Kuala Lumpur, the memorial failed to deal with the period of Hussein’s life when he fought against Umno.

There was no mention of Hussein’s departure from Umno in 1951 or Hussein’s role in helping the opposition, especially Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah’s Semangat 46, against Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s Umno Baru in the late 1980s in the aftermath of Umno’s deregistration.

When Hussein died in May 1990, he was not a member of Umno. Significantly, all Umno presidents — Tunku Abdul Rahman, Hussein and Dr Mahathir — quit the party in retirement; although the latter is expected to rejoin the party.

For Hishammuddin and his supporters, they should remember that a nation is only mature when history is studied in a less partisan way.

The Malaysian Insider

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