Harmony or Controversy?

In the first place, why was Interlok selected for the literature component of the Bahasa Malaysia subject for Form Five? WHY NOW? Race relations is at its lowest ebb in our country so why give it more fodder NOW?

I have refrained from commenting on the Interlok issue, preferring to watch from the sidelines to see how the hoo-ha will unfold. To understand the chronology of events, you can CLICK HERE.

Many people have written on various aspects of the issues and defended their cases. I do not wish to repeat any of those arguments. However, I wish to touch on a different aspect of Interlok.

In the first place, why was Interlok selected for the literature component of the Bahasa Malaysia subject for Form Five? WHY NOW? Race relations is at its lowest ebb in our country so why give it more fodder NOW?

a) Given the level of relationships and sensitive issues pertaining to the different races that make up part and parcel of our nation, the advisers should have anticipated that many would take umbrage to some of the issues/terms/situations portrayed. Did any in the Selection Committee voice their objections and if they did, what happened?

b) What is the objective of selecting that Interlok as a literature textbook for 16/17 year olds ? I believe the Education Ministry should speak up to defend their case. At such an impressionable age, it is highly probable that many may not be able to look logically and rationally at the issues raised or style of writing/themes.

c) Was there a pilot test done on a sample of students and teachers BEFORE such a major decision was made? If there was, what were the findings? Did they go ahead with the recommendation of the book in tandem with the findings or against the grain of the results? This has to be disclosed to the rakyat. The situation is being exacerbated now by the lack of information and something has to be done to diffuse the situation.

Previously, students studied “Julia” and another book (the title slips my mind) and it was a very good novel, to the extent that I have two copies – one for my son and one for myself!

Why was it changed?

d) Has anyone given any thought to the fifth formers who have to study this book? Have they thought of how it can affect their perception of the book and whether they will enjoy learning it or develop a negative stand towards the book that may undermine their performance in the SPM?

To digress a bit, the new syllabus for English Literature for both PMR and SPM is a far cry from the previous ones where they studied poems such as Lake Isle of Innisfree, Life’s Brief Candle, The Dead Crow for PMR and “The Road Not Taken”, “If” etc for SPM – beautiful works of poetic excellence. Just take a look at the new syllabus and you will faint at the drop in the standards!!!

e) That aside, why was there a need to change? Surely there are other works of literary excellence such as Shahnon Ahmad’s Ranjau Sepanjang Jalan (which is one of my favorite Malay books), or his Mahabbah or Srengenge or the poems of Usman Awang and other works which would surely have gone down well with students, teachers and the community at large. It is not as though we are sorely lacking in literary resources that they had to select this book and insisting on going ahead with the decision despite the vehement reactions to this development? Is there more that meets the eye?

“Interlok” has been nationally recognised as a masterpiece by national laureate Abdullah Hussein and it reflects the social reality during the period depicted in the novel. I am quite sure that he did not write it as a form of insult to any community and that it is worthy of being read and appreciated at literary level provided the audience is mature and can differentiate between fact and fiction.

Frankly, we are not at the same level as American literary enthusiasts who love Toni Morrison’s “The Bluest Eye” or Harper Lee’s “To Kill A Mockingbird” and have no issue with the controversial themes in the book.

As such, to select the book as a national text for senior students in secondary school on the official seems to endorse the ideas as projected in the book.

To have selected the book as a text without considering the feelings and possible issues that may have arisen from it is foolish and naive to say the least. The damage has been done and I can understand the logistical issues involved in withdrawing the book from the syllabus.

It would surely cause a lot of $$$ losses not only to the government but also to other book publishers who have released workbooks and study guides on the book.

Bernama said HERE that the independent panel seeking to amend the novel Interlok expects to make recommendations to the government in one month. Chairman Prof Datuk Dr Shamsul Amri Baharuddin said it would hold one or two more meetings before getting consensus from the eight members.

Subashini Navaratnam wrote a very interesting response to the controversy (I surmise her post is easily one of the best articles on this issue) and you can read it HERE. At the same time, Hartal MSM raised another controversy over the book HERE. So now it has been pointed out that there are innuendos that affect Indians and Chinese.

If the government tells us to be sensitive to the feelings of others, why then are such slugs being thrown at us in this way?

Read more at: Harmony or Controversy?