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NGOs call for calm in debating 'Interlok'

Source : Malaysiakini

Mar 1, 11 5:37pm

Fresh from an aborted rally organised by the Human Rights Party last weekend over the controversial novel Interlok, several NGOs are now calling for calm when discussing the use of the book.

In a joint press statement, six human rights and cultural NGOs, including Suaram and the National Interlok Action Team, said the issue should not be politicised and called for cool heads to prevail.

“An emotional, hardline stance should be avoided so that unwanted sentiments do not replace sensibilities in handling such a complex issue,” their statement says.

“All there is to it is whether the novel fulfills the existing criteria as a textbook for the education and the interest of students.”

In an effort to promote an intellectual discussion on the book, the NGOs said they would hold an open forum featuring several writers and artists from all races.

‘Don’t use it in schools’

Slamming the arrest of 109 people allegedly involved in the aborted rally in protest of the novel, the NGOs said that the detentions were was an infringement of their freedom of expression.

At the same time, they said the controversial move by the Education Ministry to make the novel a compulsory reading text for the Malay literature subject for Form 5 students was not suitable.

“We opine that the author’s attempts in symbolising race relations through the three families portrayed in the novel are stereotypical, with its historical accuracy suspect,” says the statement.

“There were also many weaknesses and negative values by the three families as published in the novel, so of course it would spark controversy, seeing that racial sentiments in the country are still high.”

The other NGOs are Pusat Pembangunan Kebudayaan LLG, KL and Selangor Chinese Assembly Hall, Seniman Paksi Rakyat and Budayawan Bertindak.

While many have claimed that the novel, written in 1967 and published in 1971, contains derogatory references to Indians, 22 Malay NGOs have defended Interlok.

Following protests, the government agreed to edit the novel, but retain it as part of the secondary school syllabus.