Historian says citing historical facts, unaware of race-themed forum

KUALA LUMPUR, Sept 30 — Under the spotlight for a presentation on a “southbound invasion” from China, a historian insists she was only referencing historical data and was unaware of the race-based theme of the conference where it was delivered.

Writer and historian Zaharah Sulaiman was one of the speakers in the Facing Foreign Agenda (MEGA) symposium on Saturday organised by Muslim groups Ikatan Muslimin Malaysia (ISMA) and Pembina, which was themed “Malays in Leadership Crisis”.

According to her, she only decided to highlight the “Nam tien” event as she sympathised with the untold plight of the Malay stock, such as the Cham people who were the victims of ethnic cleansing by the Khmer Rouge.

“I did not really present about ‘Nam tien’ ... I took it as universal,” Zaharah told The Malay Mail Online in an interview here.

“There was no defence for the Cham people, no defence against the Khmer Rouge for 30 years, there was no defence at all.

“The world could not be bothered with these deaths. Unfortunately, the dead are Malays, of Malay stock,” the Malaysian Archaeology Association writer added.

Zaharah’s presentation in the MEGA symposium was titled “Memahami Maksud Nam Tien Menjajah Terselindung dan Direstui Dunia” (“Understanding the meaning of Nam Tien, a hidden invasion sanctioned by the world”).

The historian said she had left the event early, and was not aware that she had been part of a dialogue session that discussed other “foreign threats” towards Muslim Malays, including Shiah teaching, free trade agreements and the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA), Americanisation, and Christianisation.

Zaharah Sulaiman at the forum: Left early. — Picture by Choo Choy May
Zaharah Sulaiman at the forum: Left early. — Picture by Choo Choy May
Zaharah said she had no racial agenda, and was only presenting historical facts in her allotted time.

“Nam tien”, a Vietnamese term literally meaning “South march”, generally refers to a southward expansion of Vietnamese territory from its original heartland in the Red River Delta between the 11th and 18th century.

The Cham are remnants of the ancient kingdom of Champa of people who now live in parts of Cambodia and Vietnam, and are related to the Malays through a common lineage.

Hundreds of thousands of them were reportedly killed during the genocidal rule of the Khmer Rouge in the late 1970s.

Zaharah had mentioned Khmer Rouge as one of the transgressors of the so-called “southern invasion” against the Malay stock, which also included the earlier Dai Viet, a Vietnamese dynasty which came from South China.

Other groups involved in the “invasion” and mentioned by her were the Tai people against the Funan Kingdom, and the Thai people towards the Malay peninsula.

Zaharah said the portions of her presentation on “Nam tien” were based on a paper by a Professor Yang Baoyun from Peking University, called “Contribution à l’histoire de la principauté des Nguyên au Vietnam méridional, 1600-1775” (Contribution to the history of Nguyen Principality in Southern Vietnam, 1600-1775).

She said other parts of her presentation were derived from scholarly works of authors such as British navy officer Sherard Osborn, and Yale University history professor Ben Kiernan.

Last year, Zaharah had been part of a conference on the origin of the Malay race, where she presented findings from an archaeological and genome study showing that ancient Proto-Malays who lived in the Sunda Shelf were the ancestors of the human race.

A book on the topic, co-written by several historians including Zaharah, is expected to be published by Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka (DBP) by the end of this year.