Friday, February 25, 2011

‘Interlok a classic work of Malaysian racism’

Centre for Policy Initiatives (CPI) director Lim Teck Ghee has added his voice to calls for the novel Interlok to be removed from the Form Five Malay literature syllabus due to its perpetuation of “offensive stereotyping” of minorities.

dap economy forum 260906 lim teck gheeThis, while the controversial novel celebrates the virtues of the Malay race, culture and value system. 

As such, Lim noted, it has led some quarters to see the novel as “the classic Malaysian racist book”. 

In remarks e-mailed to Malaysiakinitoday, the former academician-turned-social activist said some may be tempted to invoke freedom of expression to justify maintaining the book as required reading in secondary schools.

That same “freedom to offend” would not, however, be granted if the offence were against Malays, he noted.

There is concern, furthermore, with the prospect of predominantly Malay literature teachers teaching students the novel and its racially-slanted messages. 

azlanWhile anger has been expressed mainly by Indian groups and politicians against the negative portrayal of the community in the novel – including the use of the term ‘pariah’ – ire has also been raised on the perpetuation of stereotypes relating to ethnic Chinese.

Stressing against the call for the book to be banned “in the same way in which the government has banned so many other books”, Lim said Interlok should not be in the prescribed literature curriculum and “certainly not let loose on young and impressionistic minds”.

It should be not made an exam text, furthermore, whereby students are liable to be coerced into giving the “officially correct” reading of the novel in their answer papers, and whose correctness is determined by the authorities marking the exam papers.

interlok gapena crowd“This will poison young minds and bring unintended harmful consequences to race relations in the country,” he said.

Lim also questioned why the novel was now being made compulsory and enjoying “political patronage” when it had failed to impress the literati when it was first published in 1971 – four years after the manuscript had languished in obscurity, claimed Lim. 

“It is not unreasonable to deduce that the book’s publication in 1971 was agenda-driven. The political scenario at that time, that is, the 1969 race riots and the introduction of the NEP in the following year, was rapidly evolving and veering to outright Malay nationalism.

NONE“The decision – made only last year – to include Interlok in the reading list, is equally suspect as the 40-year-old book had in the past not got any rave reviews from either the reading public or the writing fraternity,” he added.

Expressing surprise that members of the government panel tasked with reviewing the book for its “offensive bits” had agreed to working under such a limited scope, Lim said the transparency of the exercise was suspect, given that the government had reportedly succumbed to Malay pressure groups in other issues.
“It was not paragraphs or sections of the book that were in question, although there were innumerable instances of racial stereotyping, historical errors and misrepresentation of Chinese and Indian culture and society.

“Instead, it is the sum total of the book that needs to be rejected,” he added.

Although the rejection of the book on grounds of its unsuitability as a school textbook is not part of the terms of reference, he hoped the review panel would have the courage to arrive at this decision in view of the overwhelming evidence presented on the racially offensive overall thrust of the book. 

Whatever the outcome of the review process, Lim challenged cabinet members to read the book – or the translation of the book – and “decide for themselves whether they would permit their own children to be exposed to it.”