On 18th September 2015, the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences at the National University of Singapore hosted a discussion session relating to my recent book entitled Radicals: Resistance and Protest in Colonial Malaya. There were close to thirty attendees consisting of students, lecturers and members of the public.
I was fortunate to have had Associate Professor, Timothy P. Barnard from the History Department to give his insightful reflections on my book. Tim is an expert on the history of the Malay World, whose writings span across topics such as the social history of the Bugis, Malay films or more specifically, P. Ramlee films and the environmental history of Singapore. An award winning teacher and a gentle soul, Tim has been supportive of my own work since I was just an undergrad. He was my supervisor, seeing through my Honours and Masters theses, and patiently listening to my sharing with him about family life and juggling with many children. Tim wrote a number of letters of recommendation for my applications to scholarships and fellowships. I guess it is every student’s dream to have a supervisor in the likes of Tim who is, at once, a good friend and a source of motivation.
Tim’s reflections began not with my book but with the works that preceded it. He stressed to the audience that no one could truly appreciate Radicals without taking stock of what I have written since my postgraduate years. “Khairudin”, according to Tim, “has always been interested in topics that are unconventional.” He went on to explain about my published Master thesis on the iconic figure, Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles and his biases towards Islam in the Malay World. This fresh take on a major figure in Southeast Asian history, Tim explained, is further expanded in my already published PhD thesis on the Maria Hertogh riots. “Rather than being overly concerned with the riots or with Maria Hertogh”, Tim stressed, “Khairudin showed how the riots had triggered far-reaching resistance by the Muslim society and how the colonial state responded to the local and global implications of the Hertogh riots.”
The Radicals book, Tim’s perspective, is but a culmination of my long interest in the history of Muslims in the Malay world and their struggles under the ambit of colonialism. Rather than going through each and every chapter of the book, Tim flashed out a number of distinctive aspects:
- Perspective: Radicals offer a unique perspective of the coming into being and evolution of the radicalist movement in Malay
a. Tim stressed that previous scholarship on the topic argued that the ideologies and movements that developed in Indonesia largely influenced the Malay radicals. My book departs from that viewpoint by showing that the Malay radicals drew inspiration from Indonesia in as much as they were adapting ideas from other places such as South Asia, Turkey and even Europe. It is this innovative take to the factors that gave birth to Malay radicalism that makes the book so fascinating to read.
- Sources: Rather than relying on colonial sources, Tim highlighted my nuanced use of memoirs to reconstruct the story of the Malay radicals. The use of memoirs, according to Tim, permits the readers to gain insights into the feelings and anxieties of historical actors that are so often elided in colonial sources.
- Historical Judgment: Tim held that the book provides an objective analysis of the deeds, discourses, failures and successes of the Malay radicals. The author does not regard the radicals as heroes or villains, losers or winners in the unfolding of history. Instead, Tim underlined the book’s main thrust that the purpose of the study was to show how a group of idealistic men and women sought to transform their societies with ideas and programmes that were not readily appreciated by the society of their time and age.
Tim ended his reflections with the hope that Radicals would encourage more studies on the topic. He ended with a humorous note: “You know, I seldom read such stuff these days but I certainly enjoyed reading this book!”
PS: Keen to know more about the Radicals? Get the book here. 🙂