Saturday, April 9, 2011

Islamic-Malay bias in history text books

(Malaysiakini) Historian and writer Ranjit Singh Malhi contended that in his expert opinion, there is an Islamic-Malay centric bias in Malaysian history text books and will not stay silent about it.

"So what, I lose a few million(in book contracts). I will be unpopular. It's all right. Don't sell your soul... Speak the truth and shame the devil," said the historian at a forum organised by the Catholic Teacher's Asociation in Petaling Jaya.

NONEBemoaning the "lopsided" and "biased" crop of local history textbooks, he lamented some historians do not admit that such things occurred in our history text books.

He quoted a local historian whose statement was published in the Malay Mail on Dec 17 last year dismissing bias in the writing of history text books.

As proof of his claim, Ranjit submitted his own research which has shown that references to other religions were reduced significantly while those to Islam have bloated from 17 percent in the previous form four history text book, to 41 percent in the current one.

Proving perhaps that you can read the book by its cover, Ranjit held up successive versions of history textbooks and how significantly they differed from the early ones compared with the current crop. 

He argued that previous covers included representations of non-Malays as well as civilisations other then Islam, but noted that in the current versions, only Malay leaders and depictions of Islamic civilisation are included.

NONERanjit (left) who has written numerous history textbooks for the Malaysian education system said that he had stopped doing so being unable stand the shenanigans he had observed in the way history was selectively written.

"History was distorted. It all started in 1996. Prior to that there no value judgements in history text books. But the form four history text books for example are full of value judgements,"he said.
Value judgements mar text books

He was commenting on recent addendums to such text books which he indicated has prescribed morale judgements on historical events biased in favour of one race and one religion in particular.

At the time when Ranjit said that these "distortions" began, current Premier Najib Razak was the education minister, serving from 1995 to 1996 prior to taking on the mantle of defence minister.

Such practices as putting in value judgements in historical texts said Ranjit go against the principles of good history text.

Good history text books, he said, must be;
  • Factually accurate,
  • Generally objective,
  • Well balanced, and,
  • Devoid of value judgements.

However ,he argued that he can prove that history text books nowadays are totally the opposite of such values.

Ranjit listed four faults of our current history textbooks after poring over them word by word. In his expert opinion, the current crop exhibit;
  • Islamic-Malay centric bias,
  • Some half truths,
  • Numerous factual errors and contradictions, and,
  • Politically motivated orientation.

'Historical death'

One 'crime' observed the veteran writer, is the intentional 'killing off' of certain important non-Malay historical figures from the pages of official history.

"I call it historical death, you won't find it in books, because it is a term I invented,"he explained in relation to non-Malays and their contributions to Malaysian history he claimed were edited out.

He listed several key figures, crucial to Malaysian history who have NONEbeen left out of in the modern official re-telling;
  • Yap Ah Loy responsible for building early Kuala Lumpur, well acknowledge by world historians, have been reduced to one sentence in Malaysian historical text books,
  • Gurchan Singh, the 'Lion of Malaya' who published and distributed an underground newspaper during the Japanese occupation, and,
  • Sybil Karthigesu, the nurse who helped treat MPAJA soldiers and did not desist even after the Japanese tortured her.

As for factual errors and half-truths, Ranjit pointed out a few of the more glaring ones, including the omission of the fact that Parameswara was Hindu and died a Hindu and the glossing over and belittling of the contribution of non-Malay troops in the defence, of then Malaya, against the Japanese onslaught.

"This is bulls***t!" he jokingly exclaimed, quickly apologising for swearing in a holy place of worship.

He also pointed out the miraculous appearance of references to Ketuanan Melayu which was not found anywhere in history text books prior to recent events.

The historian also recommended several steps which he believes will help to resolve the matter;
  • A review of all history text books to ensure factual accuracy, consistency, objectivity and a balanced account,
  • History text writers must have content mastery, good track record and are meticulous,
  • History text books must be devoid of value judgements,
  • Emphasis on critical thinking and learning as opposed to rote learning and memorisation, and,
  • More involving and inclusive history lessons as opposed to traditional lectures.

However, Ranjit clarified that he has no problem with the Malays or Islam in general, but his problem lies with the lopsided depiction of history alone.

The forum about the biased depiction of history in school text books was held at the Assumption Church in Petaling Jaya and was well attended by NGO representatives, parishioners and members of the media.

It also featured a commentary on the same issue by SUN editor Terence Fernendez and was moderated by Father Micheal Chua.