Parallel “Huck Finn” Controversy Rages On In Malaysia
In a curious coincidence occurring literally halfway across the world, as independent publishing house NewSouth Books aroused controversy in the United States over its bowdlerized edition of Huckleberry Finn (replacing the words “nigger” and “Injun” with “slave” and “Indian”), the Malaysian Ministry of Education now struggles with outrage from certain quarters within the Indian community — and by Indian we mean “Indian”, not “Native American” — for allegedly racist passages in the novel Interlok by Abdullah Hussain, a compulsory Malay literature text for Form Five, equivalent to the eleventh grade.
Interlok (“Interlock”), whose author Hussain is a Malaysian national laureate, tells the story of three families — one Malay, one Chinese, one Indian — and their struggles in pre-independence Malaya. The Indian main character, Maniam, arrives in colonial Malaya from Nagapatnam, India, and discovers that the caste system was not practiced there.
The controversy, which stems from the use of the word “pariah” in the novel, first began when the Malaysian Indian Congress (MIC), a political party within the ruling Barisan Nasional coalition, urged the Education Ministry to withdraw the text because of its reference to the caste system. MIC deputy president S. Subramaniam was quoted as saying that the book did not accurately reflect the Indian community and that “it [would] create a bitter feeling among the Indians.”
Indians are the third largest ethnic group in Malaysia, comprising 7.1% out of the national population standing at 28 million.
The matter was brought to the highest levels of Malaysian government. Prime Minister Najib Razak said Wednesday that the Cabinet discussed the book during its weekly meeting but did not reach any conclusion regarding removing the novel or making changes.
Editorials on Interlok have popped up all over the Malaysian media with pieces on both sides of the fence. One particular well-written editorial by book reviewer Umapagan Ampikaipakan for the New Straits Times daily declared that attempting to censor the novel was akin to erasing the past. Worse, though, a number of op-ed writers have also come under fire for not actually having read the novel.
[via New Straits Times]
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TAGS: abdullah hussain • censorship • Huckleberry Finn N-word • interlok • Malaysia • malaysia education ministry • pariah • Racist language in literature
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