Use ‘Interlok’ as model for history textbooks, says historian
PETALING JAYA, June 8 — The controversial “Interlok” novel should be used as a model for history textbooks as it’s is quite “inclusive” in its narrative and depiction of non-Malays, a historian has suggested.
Professor Anthony Milner, currently with the International Studies department of Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM), said that despite complaints against the Malay novel, he felt that the author of the book national laureate Datuk Abdullah Hussain attempted to provide an idea of the lives of the Chinese and Indian community and their relationship with the Malay community.
“I only had a chance to read ‘Interlok’ in English, so I would not know if the Malay version of it gave it a different meaning... (but) the actual story was wonderfully inclusive compared to the history curriculum.
“The novel was sympathetic towards Malays, Chinese and Indians, in fact the novel was only unsympathetic towards the British,” he said during a forum organised by the Kairos Research Group here last night.
“‘Interlok’ is a bit of a historical novel, it actually reaches out and tries to give an example of the Chinese,Indians... that’s how I think history should be taught, use ‘Interlok’ as a model,” Milner explained.
The “Interlok” novel is a compulsory text for the literature component of the Bahasa Malaysia subject in the secondary school syllabus. It first encountered controversy when Indians accused it of using words and phrases deemed offensive to the community.
Despite public outcry, Deputy Prime Minister and Education Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin has stood firm on the decision to retain “Interlok”, choosing only to amend parts deemed sensitive by the country’s Indian community.
Malaysian historians and non-governmental organisations are also pushing for greater accuracy in history textbooks for secondary school students.
Elaborating further, Milner said that the current history textbooks needed to have more “emotive substance” to draw students into a livelier intellectual debate and to instil inspire students to feel more connected with the history of the country.
He said that although history textbooks had a strong focus on the history of Malays, a balance was needed so that there was also emphasis on the history of the Chinese and Indian community.
Milner also felt that the current textbooks were too detailed, and suggested that the authors of the books focus on specific topics and historical figures, such as pre-Independence politicians like Ibrahim Yaacob and Datuk Onn Jaafar.