When American teen sensation Miley Cyrus (who gained celebrity for playing Disney’s Hannah Montana) parodied the slit-eyed Chinese, there were howls of protest. She apologized.
‘Sepet’ is scattered throughout Interlok like birdshot but its author Abdullah Hussain remains unapologetic. Yet writing in The Malaysian Insider, Sen Tyng Chai bemoaned the widespread “wave of blind criticism” against Interlok.
Mr/Ms Chai in his/her an article titled ‘Justice for Interlok’ disagrees ‘gemuk’, ‘sepet’, etc should be “perceived as derogatory, pejorative and insulting”. In our humble opinion, Chai is a spiritual cousin of Mohd Ridhuan Tee bin Abdullah, who’s quite the self-flagellating Chinese (think the equivalent concept of ‘self-hating Jew’).
Columnist Ridhuan coined the term ‘ultra kiasu’ to describe Chinese people. His description has been formalised through constant use in Utusan, and popularized among the Malay masses.
By defending the contentious novel, Chai is by extension allowing for ‘pariah’ in a classroom setting that will validate its use, if not increase the chances of Indian students getting bullied.
Blogger Scott Thong turned the tables: “Why don’t you try it the other way around and see if you still find it so acceptable”, what if school students were forced to read a book where the majority of Malay characters were portrayed as lazy, ignorant, arrogant and prone to violent and hateful rhetoric? Think Ridhuan Tee would be defending the book then?”
Just as Ridhuan reinforced the Chinese bogeyman as a demagogue speaking from the inside (i.e. posturing as someone who himself belongs to the said community), Chai’s shameless apologia for Ketuanan Melayu casts him/her in the same mould of scapegoating the non-Malays.
These writers are secure in the comfort that the majority population as well as the brute force of authority will back them up.
Expressing his/her anguish with regard to the emotional public “outbursts” against Abdullah, Chai countered that Interlok is, on the contrary, a text indeed suitable for schools. He/she recommends Interlok “because it is historical fiction with strong messages of inter-racial unity”.
Not content with the overblown cliché, Chai piled on more praise, saying the novel “spoke of people helping one another regardless of creed and colour, and how humanity triumphs in the face of adversity”. It boggles the mind how Interlok can be hailed as promoting a “central message of unity”.
On the contrary, conflict resolution in Interlok is achieved when Chinese children repudiate their fathers and are in turn disowned by their fathers. The Interlok formulation is that we’ll have one ethnically harmonious, racism-free Malaya when Chinese families are broken up and the next generation are ready to shed their Chinese-born traits (sarc.) of parsimony, cheating, swindling and conniving.
Instead of being about “the intertwined fate of Malayans from different communities who helped one another…” as so deceptively put by Chai, Interlok could well pass off for a BTN module in ‘Demonizing Immigrants 101’.
It’s to be expected that Ridhuan Tee would give stamp of approval to Interlok as an educational book. But here’s another fella/gal – this Chai Sen Tyng in such rhapsody over Interlok’s “literary and educational merits”.
These tiresome acolytes of Ridhuan in their tiresome writing and blog comments copy his template to a ‘tee’. What is it with these academics in local public universities? Something in the air they breathe?
Malaysian education is thoroughly politicized. Where else in the world do you have a country’s biggest university shutting its doors to minority students on the basis of skin colour?
In which other multiracial country do you have every single one of the public university Vice Chancellors belonging to only one race? (But we’re waiting for Ridhuan Tee to break the glass ceiling).
Don’t you suspect that the selection of Interlok as a compulsory text was a politicized decision as well?