The return of Interlok is certainly not a right way to start the process of national reconciliation

In response to the controversial novel, Interlok, being made into a television drama serial funded by the government, Communications and Multimedia Minister Ahmad Shabery Cheek said yesterday that there should not be any problems as the drama will not involve any contentious words.

He was quoted as saying that the issue with Interlok is certain words used in it, not the storyline, theme etc.

It seems that Shabery Cheek is not aware that when the controversy erupted, the government’s proposed solution of removing some words was not accepted and the novel was finally withdrawn as a school text.

The whole issue is therefore not just about some offensive words.

In fact, in May 2011, Penang Deputy Chief Minister II Dr P. Ramasamy revealed in the Penang State Assembly meeting that the Penang state government had made a decision to bar displaying the Interlok novel in Penang public libraries.

Ramasamy said that the state government was of the opinion that certain contents of the book were racially offensive despite the Education Ministry having made several amendments to remove the alleged offensive contents.

Let me remind Shabery that when Interlok became a controversy in 2010, not only were the Indian community hurt by the novel’s contents, the Chinese community too raised their objections.

I reproduce below an extract of media report of the stand and views taken by the Chinese groups on March 30, 2011:-

In a statement today, Chinese associations from across Malaysia said the book was not only offensive to Indians but Chinese as well, as it depicted the character Kim Lock as a "miserly opium addict and callous adulterer" and his son, Cing Huat, as "cunning, greedy, unscrupulous and someone who would happily sell his daughters".

"Interlok" in its totality propagates the ideology of ketuanan Melayu. In our considered opinion, this novel is not only unhealthy but an insidious poison," the statement said.

"In fact, "Interlok" is barely a step away from the Biro Tata Negara (BTN) brainwashing that promotes racism and disunity.”Interlok" conveys the central message that Chinese, Indian and other minorities are second-class citizens in addition to perpetuating the divisive notion of a host community (the Malays) versus foreigners ("bangsa asing" Cina dan India )."

The groups also condemned the "major thread" in the book, which depicts the Chinese "cheating and oppressing" Malays or as "nasty and immoral" communist guerrillas.

The statement was signed by the Kuala Lumpur and Selangor Chinese Assembly Hall (KLSCAH), LLG Cultural Development Centre, Malaysian-China Chamber of Commerce, the Federation of Chinese Associations Johor, the Penang Chinese Town Hall and 40 others, including the Malaysian Consultative Council of Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Sikhism and Taoism (MCCBCHST), Saya Anak Bangsa Malaysia (SABM) and several Indian organizations.

It is therefore wrong for Shabery to say that the issue with Interlok was with certain words contained in it, not the storyline, theme etc. On May 5, Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak called for national reconciliation after Barisan Nasional won a simple majority of 128 seats in the 13th General Election.

“National reconciliation is necessary to weed out extremism and racism,” he said at a press conference held at Putra World Trade Centre, Kuala Lumpur.

The return of Interlok is certainly not a right way to start the process of national reconciliation.

In fact, with the recent political crackdown and now with the return of Interlok, many Malaysians are justified to doubt if the Prime Minister is serious about and committed to the process of national reconciliation.

M. Kula Segaran DAP National Vice Chairman & MP for Ipoh Barat