Saturday, January 22, 2011

Interlocked In Interlok

Keepers of knowledge, the papers were torn, and ravaged; thrown and spit on; burnt to a crisp until the pages were no more. They were deemed seditious, malicious, ideologically and politically incorrect, and thus they had to be destroyed as an act of defiance.

This was not Shi Huangdi, burning books so no scholars would become more intelligent than him.

This was not Adolf Hitler, monarch of the Third Reich, burning all books that were deemed un-German.

Neither was this the Communist Party, burning all texts written by "capitalist pigs".

This was Malaysia, nine years from 2020, and these were books burnt by angry citizens.

The book? Interlok.

 Interlok, a book written by Abdullah Hussain, has recently come under fire for its "racist" and "discriminatory" content, with characters in the story calling another Indian character a "pariah" and a "keling". Politicians from the opposition have been quick to capitalize on this, stoking the flames of discontent, using it to fire up unrest, instead of steering the rakyat to a more progressive, and practical way of solving this. Instead, community leaders have shown themselves to be of the same political genius of the likes of Adolf Hitler and Shi Huangdi.

Firstly, as a fellow Malaysian, I can understand their rage, but what I cannot, and never will condone is their manner of handling the issue at hand. Burning books? Barbarians, Nazis, Communists and terrorists burn books, not civilized, educated people! By committing this atrocity, these angry citizens have not only further stoked racial unrest, they have also destroyed the sanctity of books. They have only further validated, and proven that Malaysia is far from an open minded, tolerant society.

When someone disagrees with you, one does not kill the person, or shut them up with duct tape. One endeavors with logic and reason, to debunk their arguments, to prove that they are wrong. It is the most effective, most practical way of handling an issue like this. If one is unhappy, one should complain to the press, go through the legitimate procedures, and tell the world about it. Burning and other acts of destruction only paint a radical, extremist light on the activists, however noble their intentions may be. 

Secondly, I am of the opinion that Abdullah Hussain's novel is exactly what it is meant to be, a NOVEL. It is a story meant to entertain, educate, and raise awareness. The whole reason of the writing about the ill treatment given to the Indian character, is to raise awareness about it, so that readers know that it is wrong. The caste system, keling, pariah, these things have in fact happened in the past. In some ways, these things still remain at large in society. Some say it is unreasonable to comment on the caste system. However, the caste system, though officially abolished, still survives in a form, because in India there is still prejudice against the untouchables, and there is still a great divide between the rich and the poor.The racial injustices mentioned in the book are still happening today. The problem is, that people take literature too literally. The caste system is a symbol of the injustice that happens all over the world simply because of one's background; the racial injustices are reflective of the very things we must avoid. So what if things are not 100% factually correct? Nobody said Interlok was a factual historical commentary, in fact, Interlok is a work of FICTION. 

At the very same time, the incidences in Interlok do not glorify and condone the acts of racial discrimination mentioned. They simply reflect what society was at the time. Mark Twain's Huckleberry Finn, has characters calling African Americans 'negroes'. These characters act the way they do simply because that was how things were in that era. Khaled Hoesseni's Kite Runner describes a child being sodomised. Does writing about it indicate that the author condones it? No! It is in fact, the opposite; the author wishes to fight it, and instead of ignoring the problem, chooses to acknowledge it, and tackle it head on. In George Orwell's 1984, he describes an authoritarian society, with a Big Brother watching over all. Had he been published in Malaysia, his book probably would have been burnt, as a text that spreads communist ideals. This could not be further from the truth, he is in fact fighting the evils of communism by raising awareness about it, by shocking the reader, so that the reader can understand how terrible communism can be. Likewise, Abdullah Hussain fights racism, by showing us how things should NOT be.

In essence, Interlok retains its integrity as a piece of literary fiction. On the other hand, its validity as a textbook is not as sound. Not because of its content, but because of the teachers teaching the subject matter. The teachers using Interlok as studying material must be able to handle the racial issues raised in the book maturely and reasonably. Students must be educated so that they know the characters' ill treatment of Indians is wrong, and of the social context of the novel. And so, the real question is not whether Interlok is a good textbook, but rather, can our Malaysian teachers handle it sensitively and responsibly? With no offence meant to those truly Malaysian educators, it might be wise to point out all the controversy surrounding the principal who asked racial minorities to go back to China and India. With such educators in charge of schools, how can we expect students to emerge with progressive, tolerant mindsets?

The Education Ministry has been placed between a rock and a hard place. If they choose to withdraw, they will be acceding to the demands of political and narrow minded bickering, as well as damning Abdullah Hussain's work of literature. Should they choose to do otherwise and retain the book, they might be causing untold damage at the hands of some racist and equally narrow minded educators. Once again, it seems like the Malaysian government has got itself INTERLOCKED in a bad situation. Surprise, surprise.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011


A while back, I met my friend's father, who is a staunch MCA supporter. Upon finding out I was interested in politics, he asked me whether I supported DAP or MCA. I told him that I would support whoever served the rakyat's interests. He gave me an incredulous look, laughed, and said it was utter bullshit.

So this is what it has come to. Our politicians have used the term "For the rakyat" this, "For the rakyat that" to the point it has become a byword for nonsense, and the calling of politics known as craptology. It saddens me when I hear these comments, because it reminds me of the sad state of affairs our Malaysian politics is in. Our politicians, from being called champions of the people, are now in the eyes of people bloodsucking leeches, liars, rapists, cheaters, fraudsters, crooks, thieves and worst still, assassins or C4 bombers. 

People chide me for being saddened. They say I should get used to things, that I should be less idealistic, less optimistic, care less. And I thought to myself sometimes, "It's true. What can we do against such reckless bigotry? Such blatant crime? Better to resign one self to one's fate, and be satisfied with what we have. At least we're not as bad as the Philippines where in Maguindanao they butcher people, or like Iraq where bombers ( not just the mongol-philia type) are aplenty. That's why I should give up.

I tried. But I cannot.

The moment we stop caring, the instant we stop striving to become better, we die. Not outside, but inside. The second we give up, that is when everything is truly lost. Edmund Burke once said that all that is necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing. And dammit it's true.That's why we must not give up. 

We as the people of Malaysia cannot give up. We cannot simply migrate and pretend, and forget our country. A fool, an idiot and a bloody deluded man I may be, but a faithful and honest fool I remain. I know I am doing this for the people. People who have suffered much in the prisons under the ISA are certainly doing it for the people. It's simply not worth it for money, fame or power. It's a reason, a calling greater than individual needs or wants, a desire to serve that overcomes the seduction of being served. That is why I am doing this.

Care more. Do more. And be the change you wish to see in the world. Because we should. Because we must. Because we can. Because we are Malaysians. And that, is why.

Monday, January 3, 2011

The 1Malaysia Ban

You know, Malaysians ( politicians in particular) seem to have a string of bad habits. Besides our previously discussed preoccupation with leaks, we also seem to ban everything not to our liking. A few years back yoga was banned by the syura council ( apparently because the 'om' sound yoga practitioners recite in the beginning means 'God' in Sanskrit or what not); soon afterwards tomboys were banned, and now.... even the 1Malaysia slogan is going to be banned?!

The Selangor government under the helm of Pakatan Rakyat has been embroiled in controversy over the issue of OneMalaysia. They say that it is a political slogan, and are moving to ban the slogan on all billboards within the state of Selangor.

Now let me get this straight. Banning yoga ... okay, perhaps because of the Hindu elements in some forms of it... Banning tomboys... fine, we're a pretty conservative country... but banning 1Malaysia?! It's an act that far surpasses my lowly level of understanding. I would much rather they ban smoking, chow tau fu ( that vile smelling evil mess), or those horrendously ugly and ridiculously expensive roadside ornaments ( like a giant corn cob, or a giant pitcher plant in the middle of a roundabout. Hurts my eyes every single time.) than ban 1Malaysia.

Let us think of why would anyone ban the logo or the slogan. Hmm. Can't really think of anything reasonable. Give me ONE, just ONE good reason why the Selangor government should ban the slogan on all billboards. Let me think ... alright it's a political slogan. Really now? Didn't see anyone banning Bersih, Cekap dan Amanah or Cemerlang, Gemilang & Terbilang. Even if it was politically motivated, and is indeed aimed at "cheating the rakyat", Selangor is only proving that the slogan is effective and something to fear by moving against it. Alright then, so there goes one reason crashing down. How about the allegations that 1Malaysia was an expensive waste of the rakyat's money, hiring a foreign company to design the concept? And that it is connected to 1Israel? Alright, assuming these allegations are true, banning the billboards is still no way to confront the issue. Investigate the matter! If the Parliament will not approve a committee to investigate the matter, do it privately, and publish the findings. Banning the slogan from being displayed is like covering a mole hill. You will only cover the surface, and the mole will eventually dig its way out. Its a pointless exercise that brings only frustration and a damaged reputation to the PR led Selangor government.

On the other hand, there are plenty of reasons NOT to ban the 1Malaysia slogan. Firstly, whatever the slogan's hidden political machinations are, what I see, what the rakyat sees is an effort towards national integration. Of being recognised as Malaysian instead of Chinese, Malay, or Indian. By banning it, and not giving any further explanation other than it being 'political', PR is seen to be going against all that it has worked for. Less discrimination towards race and religion. More equal rights. A Malaysia that finds unity and diversity. And by doing this, they are betraying their very own principles in the eyes of the rakyat.

At the same time, how many anti-ISA rallies have PR parties taken part in? How many times have they called the government a draconian, authoritarian regime that takes away freedom of speech? And now, they are imposing those very same restrictive measures on BN. Seeing their actions, I cannot help but wonder if they would be as against the ISA as they are now if roles were reversed. Would they still abolish the ISA if they were the ones who stood to gain from wielding its power? From the events that have thus far occurred, the implications are at best gloomy.

There's an verse in the Bible that goes, " If a man slaps you on the right cheek, offer him the left." Foolish perhaps. But if we slap back, we are proving ourselves no better than the offender. By offering them the left, we are showing our kindness and greatness.The Pakatan Rakyat should withdraw the ban on the 1Malaysia slogan, and truly practice what they preach. Rather than banning 1Malaysia, PR should be clever enough to twist the slogan to their advantage, lending its advertising power to their cause. By conducting themselves in a manner beyond reproach, and embodying the principles that they stand for, then, and only then will a good and incorruptible government prevail.