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A bishop calls for wisdom on Interlok issue

By Terence Netto
There is an urgent need for the wisdom of sensitivity to override other imperatives in the controversy over the literary textbook 'Interlok', said the head of the Roman Catholic Church of Melaka-Johor Diocese.
Bishop Dr Paul Tan, who is also president of the Catholic Bishops' Conference, speaking as the bishop of Melaka-Johor Diocese, said a literary text that is commended for the edification of youth in a multi-racial society should adhere to supra-partisan, supra-racial standards and values.

"By those standards, 'Interlok' won't qualify as a recommended text because there is cause for legitimate concern that it gets its history and sociology wrong," opined Bishop Tan, in comments made to Malaysiakini.

"'Interlok' has got its history and sociology wrong in much the same that a local preacher of the Muslim faith has got her facts wrong about St Valentine's Day and its supposed connection to Christian lifestyles," he elaborated.

"The ease with which some with a pedagogical role in Malaysian society get their historical and sociological facts wrong is a symptom of the gulfs that prevail and the difficulty that people of goodwill face when attempting to bridge them," he remarked.

"In situations such as this one, if you persist with a text like 'Interlok', you will only freeze people in the mental and cultural ghettoes they find themselves in and as consequence, you will make racial stereotyping easy and the desire to discover the difference between appearance and reality that much harder to promote," he expatiated. 

Novel's subliminal message 

Tan said he found in conversations with Hindu Malaysians a sense of their being selected for cultural and religious pummeling as a consequence of the results of the 12th general election of March 2008.

"There is a feeling that a minority is being specially selected for psychological punishment as a result of the way the vote went in the last general election.

"The book 'Interlok', in its historical and cultural miscues, is seen as a text that was selected for the goal of conveying the message that a subject people ought to compare their current status with the servitude they supposedly endured in the past," commented Bishop Tan.

He held the subliminal message of the novel was that the Indian minority in Malaysia ought to compare their plight in the light of times past and times present.

"This is a highly subjective ethos which is not suitable for the edification of youth who at the school-leaving stage ought to be fed with reading material that projects universal values and themes," he said.

He also said putting one's religion, culture and ethnicity above others goes against all sense of a desire to dialogue, understand and accept others as they are, which is the foundation of the unity of a people. 

For that reason, Bishop Tan said the Education Ministry should reconsider the selection of 'Interlok' as a literary text for Form 5 students and replace it with a choice that elevates rather than estranges our youth.

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