Gauging from the unabated vigor and passion demonstrated by protesters against the controversial novel Interlok, it looks like the time has come for Deputy Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin to learn that respect is earned and not given freely - even to the No. 2 man in the country.
Muhyddin, who is also Education minister, may think he has solved the problem by laying down the law that the Interlok matter was "closed" and the government would not bow to further pressure. But hard as his words were, it has done liitle to stop Indian groups from continuing to hold demonstrations against the government.
On Sunday, police moved to stop a protest at Batu Caves although the gathering was not out of control, arresting several people including MP for Teluk Intan M Manogaran.
"Interlok is not an Indian issue. We all are affected and implicated. Muhyidin has taken a very simple approach in assuming the matter has been settled. Is that his denial syndrome?" asked former Perak Mentri Besar Nizar Jamaluddin on his Twitter site.
Playing up Malay sentiments
The Interlok row has indeed gotten out of hand as Umno politicians such as Muhyiddin played up Malay sentiments to the hilt in a bid to win over right-wing support at the expense of the other ethnic groups. Interlok contains a reference to the Indians as "pariah" and also portrays the Chinese in early Malaya-times negatively as forms of migrant flotsam and jetsam.
Yet, Muhyddin allowed the book to be made compulsory reading for fifth formers at all schools. He has never given a satisfactory explanation on why, spurring talk that he had ulterior motives. Educational experts have pointed out that there were other and more worthy literary choices to be selected. "We have never asked for the book to be banned but we want the book to be dropped from the schools' syllabus.
That action itself is extremely meaningful to us but Muhyiddin has refused to do so," Ipoh Barat MP M Kulasegaran had told Malaysia Chronicle. "Instead, the DPM prefers to 'amend' the words here and there when it is so much simpler to just remove the book from the schools' reading list. There is obviously a political agenda and a polical message he wants to send, especally to the Malay community, but it is at the expense of our dignity and self-respect."
Indeed, Muhyiddin has not only ignored the feedback from both the Indian and Chinese community but he has even issued a blunt warning - further angering the minorities with his perceived arrogance. "The government, however, will not compromise as this involves national security.
I know their ulterior motive and I wish to stress here that we will not bow to their demand. The lesson will go on an usual and we will improve on it," Bernama reported Muhyddin as saying on Thursday.
The DPM did not give details on how dropping a novel written some 40 years ago by a Malay author from the schools' syllabus could become a matter of "national security". Meanwhile, apart from Manogaran, MS Arjunan from the Malaysian Tamil Students Progressive Associations was also arrested around noon. "We demand MP Teluk Intan and the Tamil students must be released unconditionally. Hidup rakyat!" said Nizar.
- Malaysia Chronicle