Thursday, March 31, 2011

Interlok: Cosmetic changes unacceptable -

COMMENT Like a recurring malignancy, the Interlok issue just won't go away.

deputy prime minister muhyiddin yassin at sekolah menengah sains hulu selangor 020410 02
Last week Deputy Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin thought that he had succeeded in consigning it to a backburner by assuring that the novel would be purged of terms deemed offensive to Indian Malaysians and thereby retained as a text for study in schools.

By dint of cosmetic amendments, he felt he could muzzle BN's in-house critics - like the MIC - of the choice of the novel as a literary text for Form Five students.

This week he discovers that Chinese NGOs have banded together to demand the novel's retraction because of elements seen as scurrilous to Chinese Malaysians.

Tardily awakened to the presence of stuff considered offensive to them, the Chinese NGOs now view the novel within a larger context: the attempt by elements in the Education Ministry to rewrite Malaysian history and mythology such that the contributions of non-Malays are scanted.

It is said that history books, written under the imprimatur of the ministry, unduly credit Islamic currents and downplay the role of other factors in the evolution of Malaysian story.

Revisionist history is as old as history itself. The attempt emanating from the Education Ministry, which is occupied by the deputy prime minister, is being interpreted by critics as an effort to delegitimise the thrust for a new political order in Malaysia.

Interlok's naysayers

Thus the chorus of Interlok's naysayers, initially confined to Indian Malaysians, has now spread to include Chinese Malaysians.

Inevitably, this has drawn the attention of political parties vying for the allegiance of voters across ethnic lines.

It came as no surprise that PAS vice-president Salahuddin Ayub (left), MP for Kubang Kerian, decried the choice of the novel in Parliament earlier this week. He queried the wisdom of the choice of reading matter for the edification of young Malaysians.

At the Pakatan Rakyat Leadership Council meeting held earlier this week, PAS president Abdul Hadi Awang bestirred himself to pronounce as not Islamic any denigration of a people's race or beliefs.

Suddenly, Interlok's defenders find themselves under attack from multiple corners. The assault from the Indian Malaysian quarter, taken singly, would have been easy to parry, though if one of the critics had been S Samy Vellu, in his previous, famously feisty, incarnation as MIC president, the protest would have been hard to pare down.

But MIC under new president G Palanivel is a pallid force and as a miscellany of critics gathers to pound Interlok, the party's acquiescence in the slightly purged version of the novel seems like ingratiation after the initial make-believe of formal protest.

Now, with critics of the novel drawn from more than one race, the MIC is left with more reason to reconsider its relevance to Malaysian politics.

Making it a cause celebre

It is expected that a gathering of Indian Malaysian leaders from Pakatan in Penang this weekend is almost certain to take up the Interlok issue with renewed intensity, especially after they know that PAS has taken the stance that denigration of a people's race and beliefs is unIslamic.

DAP MP for Ipoh Barat, M Kulasegaran, is expected make the case at the meeting that the novel is an affront not just Indian Malaysians but other ethnic groups as well, and therefore the issue should be made a cause celebre.

"Retention of the novel is an issue that is akin to the destruction of the Hindu temple in Shah Alam in July 2007," said Kulasegaran in remarks to Malaysiakini earlier this week.

The videotape of the temple's destruction was circulated widely among Hindu Malaysians and is now credited with being the spark that ignited the community's withdrawal of support for the BN in the general election of March 2008.

An offending literary text is not nearly as potent a prod as the filmed sight of bulldozers demolishing a house of worship, especially when so few Malaysians are known to read at all.

Still, the latest swell in the fluctuating controversy over Interlok has the potential of being an unquenchable ember in the swarm of resentments assailing the BN.

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