I’ll flesh out my position on the matter of Interlok that I gave to Yeah.
Despite not having read the book in full, I am currently opposed to Interlok because I perceive it as being too racially sensitive. This perception has been formed by various comments on the book, especially by HartalMSM’s coverage which includes excerpts and scans of the most objectionable parts.
However, I am completely open to changing my mind. All it will take is for a supporter of the book to cite excerpts which argue the case for its suitability for racial harmony – basically, the exact opposite of what HartalMSM is doing. Yeah did indeed post one comment citing several plot instances that fit the bill.
Unfortunately, the vast majority of arguments for Interlok I have seen run along the lines of ‘It’s by a Sasterawan Negara’, ‘This and that authority has reviewed and approved it’, and ‘You are idiots who have not read the book so shut up’.
Is it unfair for laypeople to pass judgment on a book they haven’t read? Admittedly so, but let’s be practical here – they don’t owe it to anyone to be sold on an idea (e.g. that Interlok is suitable for school studies). It is the responsibility of Interlok’s supporters to convince the populace on the merits of the book.
Heck, how many PSAs and ads do we see out there imploring the populace to do things such as stop smoking, drive sober, and not play with fire? Honestly it should be common sense and their own responsibility for their own benefit, yet the govertment and NGOs have accepted that people need to be sold on even the most basic of good practices.
Similarly, we both have blogs where we continually defend the good name of our respective beliefs. Sure, we could complain that polemics are unfairly smearing our beliefs with all sorts of lies. But as a practical matter, we accept that they aren’t going to stop, and thus we actively post material as counters to their accusations.
In short, if you all are really so supportive of Interlok, isn’t it the least you could do to give a strong effort to convince the masses? That is what HartalMSM is tirelessly doing for their point of view.
I’ll be straight up on this, trying to get people on your side by telling them how stupid they must be if they don’t join you does not work.
– Me, summarizing my position in a comment
“Have you forgotten what a typical high school is like? I bet you that in no time, students will be calling one another penipu Cina Panjang or si pariah tak guna or bodoh macam Pak Musa as insults.” - Me, in reply to a comment
“Why is hartalmsm silent about Rama or Yew Seng? Why is hartalmsm silent about Maniam who helped Seman. Why is the part on Malini speaking up to the white tuan not highlighted? Didn’t Cing Huat tried to befriend Seman too in the end? Didn’t Rama tried to free Mak Limah? Didn’t Lazim regret supporting the Japanese? Didn’t Yew Seng let him go to avoid death in the hands of KMT? Didn’t Poh Eng saved Maniam? Kim Hock took whatever honest jobs he can to support his family, is that disgraceful?” - Yeah on why when taken as a whole, Interlok is a commendable effort at building racial unity
Abdullah Hussain’s credo is simple: A character one like Maniam who loves the Malay is a good guy. All the Chinese are bad guys and villains except Yew Seng who, but what else, loves the Malay and in order to integrate with the Malays, is willing to turn his back on his own father (who scolds the prodigal son ‘sui tu’).
If you’re willing to follow in Yew Seng’s footsteps, and quarrel and break with your dad, and leave your family home (because you sympathize with the Malays and despise your dad’s prejudice that Malays are lazy), then you can also be a Cina Baik in the World of Interlok. So who says all the Chinese are portrayed negatively in the novel? - Second of two of hartalmsm‘s responses
Okay, at first I was of the opinion that both sides of the Interlok debate were being stubborn.
On one side, just strike out the word pariah and use one of many synonyms instead of arguing how vital it is to use that exact word. Or use another book – there are plenty other local offerings.
On the other side, the p-word isn’t being used specifically in reference to social castes. Just accept that it’s a common usage word in today’s world.
Now my opinion has been totally changed.
Spotted at Malaysia Today, from Hartal MSM‘s coverage of the book, here’s some combined excerpts of what you find in Interlok’s unabridged version:
If you thought ‘pariah’ was the worst insult there is in the novel ‘Interlok’, you’re mistaken.
It is filled with every conceivable racial stereotype of Indians and Chinese that you can think of, applied hodge-podge but in over-abundance to the main characters.
Page 151: Kim Lock is tempted by the bad guy Paman Kok Leng to sell Cing Huat. Because Cing Huat is a boy, the father has qualms. However, he would consider the proposition if the child was a girl.
Cing Huat, now a father himself, is portrayed by Abdullah as someone who is in turn prepared to trade his daughters (for boys) without second thought.
‘Interlok’ is filled with the same characterizations of Chinese — prostitutes, womanisers, gamblers, cheats, scumbags, opium addicts, and more.
Page 119: Kita minta sedekah. Kita curi. Kita tak punya anak perempuan. Kalau ada anak perempuan kita boleh jual.”
Page 177: Dia hanya fikirkan bagaimana dia dapat mencari wang dan menjadi kaya lekas.
Kim Lock’s mistress Mei Hua has been selling her body since young. – the Chinese characters are indeed portrayed in the most unedifying terms by Abdullah Hussain.
51. Dipandangnya muka Yew Hock, dilihatnya matanya yang sepet itu merenung tepat ke matanya
61.Tetapi dia tidak tahu kepada siapa dia mesti marah, kepada bapanya atau kepada Cina Panjang yang gemuk, buncit perut, bermata sepet itukah
134. Matanya yang kecil sepet, liar dengan liciknya.
229. [Cing Huat’s children] Rambutnya kejur, matanya sepet, hidungnya pesek, kulit mereka putih kuning.
The scenario of the cruel and cunning Chinese man cheating the naïve Malay is paraphrased in proper BM on Page 92: “Waktu bapanya masih hidup, kita semua tahu, bapanya tu ada banyak membeli tanah. Tanah sawah, tanah kampung dan tanah kebun dekat kuala dialah yang beli. Tetapi alih-alih waktu dia mati kata Seman tanah itu semua sudah digadai pada Cina Panjang tu, dan orang Cina tu pun dah suruh Seman ini keluar dari kampung tersebut. Seman ini buta huruf, tuk penghulu, alif sebesar batang kelapa pun dia tak kenal, mata tongkang, jadi saya tak berapa pasti apakah betul atau tidak, ataupun orang Cina itu mau perdaya dia saja.”
How would you feel when you’re forced to digest the ‘lu’, ‘gua’ Cina Pek mimicry, and mockery of stereotypical Chinese pronunciation, e.g. “Gua mau kasi olang lain mikin kalija.”
The Chinese character painted above by Interlok author Abdullah Hussain is the ‘bad’ Chinese. Abdullah’s ‘good’ Chinese is the one who sides with the Malay and turns his back on his own [Chinese] people.
As we know from previous excerpts from the novel, the Chinese have been portrayed as the scums of the earth. The Malays on the other hand have been portrayed as most kind and noble.
Page 95: Through this way, our [reserve Malay] land that is protected by law is mortgaged to a foreign race. We are unable to do anything.
Page 101: “Titak apa,” ujar Cina itu kemudian. “Kalau lu titak mau keluar pun titak apa. Tapi lu mesti bayar sewa sama gua.” [Wow, that’s a really super Cinapek accent the writer slaps on there!- Scott]
Abang mereka Yew Hock hampir serupa sahaja dengan bapanya, tidak mahu tahu tentang keadaan di sekelilingnya, mereka hanya mahu mencari wang …
Ah, but not all of the negative portrayals are aimed at Chinese. To be fair, see what torridly negative things Interlok has to say about Malays:
Huan na (Malays). Malas, tak tahu cari duit. Gua tak mau lu jadi macam mereka
Oops, actually that’s what a horrid, intolerant Chinese person thinks of Malays! So it’s actually another jab at the Chinese who are so bigoted that they stereotype Malays as lazy and financially inept.
Darn those uppity Chinese! Darn them I say! With hardcore racists like these buck toothed, slant eyed Chinks infesting the nation, how can tolerant and loving UMNO bring about 1 Malaysia harmony? /sarc
And not overtly racist, but still highly unsavoury material totally unsuitable for school students:
“Dan, alangkah terperanjatnya lagi demi dia melihat orang tergantung dalamnya dengan lidah terjelir keluar” [describing a suicide scene]
On pages 337-8, there is the scene of the bad guy Suppiah raping Malini, wife of the main Indian character Maniam. She struggles, her sari is torn. Her coli is torn. His hands grope her breasts.
“By then, Malini could not resist any longer. It has been three years since Maniam (her husband) left her. She was still young and when the secret places were aroused, she no longer possessed the willpower to fight (her body’s urges) anymore. She knew it was wrong, but how could she summon the strength to fight. Suppiah’s solid body was not only a weapon to defeat her resistance but also the tool to weaken her will.”
Malini hangs herself from a belimbing tree in shame when she becomes pregnant as a result of the rape. In the student edition, Malini dies in bed from fever.
On pages 457-8, a lecherous old communist guerrilla Teck Hock attempts to rape P0h Eng, Cing Huat’s daughter. It’s described how he pins her down and embraces her. “Teck Hock was on top of her body.” “Are you mad? screamed Poh Eng. “Gua anggap lu seperti gua punya bapa.” “I’m not your father,” he replied. “I’m just an ordinary man …”. Both rape scenes have been taken out from the student edition.
Oh, so the rape scenes are out then? Phew, now Interlok is totally suitable for secondary school boys and girls! /sarc
Scanned pages at Hartal MSM, which promises more revelations to come.
Okay, so it’s a fictional story reflecting past times that’s trying to be gritty and realistic, sure.
But as per my usual methodology of “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?
Besides, there’s already plenty of racist hatemongering in the school library’s daily subscription to Spew-tusan. Can’t students be indoctrinated in modern, up to date bile and venom instead of outdated, old-fashioned 40-year old slurs? Interlok is so passe, just slap together a compilation of
hypocritical yet self-righteous diatribes thinly-veiled, vicious hate-mongering openly and shamelessly seditious incitements to racial strife insightfully delightful short stories from Spew-tusan’s thick cache laaaa!
Innocent young students not yet acquainted with the weekly, real-life demonstration of the worst stereotypes imaginable by certain parties (ummmmmmmm noooooooo… I won’t say which parties, sorry) would read Interlok, and come away with the ingrained perception that Chinese are generally greedy, sexist, ethicless and (hypocritically coming from this book!) prejudiced to boot.
In other words, they’ll be filled with all the worst stereotypes of Chinese people.
Heck, impressionable Chinese kids might start to think of their race and culture that way too! All the better for the stealth-protelyzing in schools to make them into a new generation of Ridhuan Tees, yes?
Or as Hartal MSM puts it:
The BTN subtext to indoctrinate
What are the impressions to be drawn from Abdullah’s storytelling above?
That the Chinese are a nasty, cheating race whom anyone decent would shudder to have as his neighbour.
The Chinese characters are most unsympathetic and scarcely have any redeeming graces. They have no loyalty to the country (we’ll cover the ‘unpatriotic’ aspect another time).
This book is a less-than-subtle vehicle to knock into the heads of young students (who have to study this novel for their exam) that the Chinese pendatang — referred to repeatedly in the book as “bangsa asing” — must be grateful for the opportunities given by Malaya. It parallels the ‘pariah’ theme with regard to the Indian characters.
What if they remove all the objectionable material? But then again, why even pick such an unsuitable book in the first place when there are so many other candidates? It’s akin to choosing 28 Days Later or The Exorcist and editing out the scary, gory and mature themed parts so that it becomes suitable for kindergarten cartoon time – wouldn’t picking The Care Bears Movie have been more sensible?
And remember, they wouldn’t even deem to change the word pariah:
Federation of National Writers Association (Gapena) executive secretary Abdul Aziz Mohd Ali said the body supported the ministry’s decision to use Interlok as a textbook.
He said the only acceptable change that could be made to the novel was to add a glossary for the word “pariah” to better explain it.
Actually, the book was already highly edited as mentioned by Hartal MSM here.
So good luck changing anything that would affect the story about disgusting, reprehensible Chinamen:
“I believe we have enough time to make the detailed amendments so that there will not be any more disputes over the novel.” Muhyiddin said the decision was made after taking into account the views of various parties that Interlok was a good novel to nurture and strengthen unity among the multireligious and multicultural population in Malaysia.
“As such, the decision to retain the novel with amendments is the best solution. We will ensure that any amendments made will not affect the storyline of the novel and the noble message that the author wants to convey.”
For comparison, a letter to Malaysiakini points this out (excerpt):
Let’s look back at the case of the book Hikayat Munshi Abdullah, from the first Malay literary author, father and pioneer of modern Malay literature, which was once a reference book in 1958 for Bahasa Melayu.
The author in the work had described the Malays as lazy, gamblers and so on. He was also critical about the Malay rulers of that time, whom he had described as selfish and that the rulers had treated the Malay subjects dismally and that those sultans did not want the Malays to become well-educated and gain profession.
Because this book was insensitive to the Malays the book was removed as a reference book in Malaysia although it is still being used in Indonesia.
Either the people in charge of choosing suitable books did a lousy job of vetting, or (IMHO and in the opinion of Hartal MSM a much more likely scenario) they intentionally chose this piece of garbage that fits their own bigoted, narrow-minded, condescending views and were likely giggling to themselves over their insidious/seditious prank on Malaysian students.
A decision on this book’s use in schools needs to be made, promptly and firmly. It will be compulsory to read as part of the BM subject.
KUDOS: For undeserved mention by Lim Teck Ghee is his letter carried at Malaysiakini, Lim Kit Siang’s blog, Malaysian Mirror, Centre for Policy Initiatives, Human Rights Party Malaysia, and Human Rights Party Malaysia again.
And mentioned as well by Hartal MSM.