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Syed Husin Ali: Memoirs of a Political Struggle reviewed in Kajian Malaysia


In the latest volume of Kajian Malaysia Viswanathan Selvaratnam reviews Syed Husin Ali’s memoirs “Syed Husin Ali: Memoirs of a Political Struggle published by SIRD in 2012. 

Selvaratnam argues that Syed Husin Ali’s memoirs offer an important alternative perspective on the development of post-Colonial Malaysia than that typically given in elite versions of  Malaysian history and thus charts charts the trajectory of radical politics in Malaysia through his life story.

The life story of Syed Husin Ali is intertwined with the country’s changing and varied political, economic and social structure. It stretched from the race-class dominated British colonial era to the 1941 Japanese defeat of the British. Japanese imperial occupation for more than three years was brutal and distressing. The combination of British defeat and Japanese imperial ambitions touted with their pan-Asian solidarity façade further strengthened the populations’ anti-western and anti-colonial sentiments. With the return of colonial rule, the country moved to a tumultuous British Military Administration (BMA) that was quickly replaced by a centralised and directly administered Malayan Union civil government.


Syed Husin Ali from a young age found himself embroiled in anti-colonial struggles and in political movements against racism and communalism and the exploitation of the poor, being from early on a firm believer in social justice and egalitarianism. Beginning as a student activist Syed Husin went onto become a reknowned academic and a political and social activist later becoming leader of PRM. What marked his career more than anything argues Selvaratnam was an opposition to the politics of UMNO who have dominated Malaysian politics from independence. For Selvaratnam then “Memoirs of a Political Struggle” is vital insofar as it is

an alternative perspective of the country’s highly contested political landscape which had been dominated by United Malays National Organisation (UMNO).

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As he then concludes

Syed Husin Ali’s memoirs are relevant for today’s social and political activists as well as for researchers alike. It is a clear and readable account of not only his life but also of the political and intellectual leaders who have contributed or marred the evolution or creation of a progressive, peaceful and united Malaysia. This is an essential read for those seeking to understand the debate and policies of Malaysia, which by their very nature are daunting and challenging. Hence, Syed Husin Ali’s Memoirs are a lively thought provoking and occasionally a controversial account of Malaysian’s struggle towards attaining a full egalitarian, just and free society for the benefit of its citizens. It must also be noted that this narrative is pleasingly enhanced by many photographs revealing important signposts of Syed Husin Ali’s life.


Access the full review here.

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