I REFER to the letter from Dr Ranjit Singh, “Adopt inclusive approach in history” (The Star, Oct 2), commenting on the secondary school history textbooks in Malaysia and the heavy Malay-Islamic bias that he saw in these books. His opinion is not far-fetched because I too have seen a Form Four textbook on world history. Looking at the contents page, I saw so many chapters on the Islamic past that I became curious about what was inside. It did not look like world history to me. It looked more like a history book written for the purpose of satisfying the racial and religious politics in the country.
Just a few days ago, I heard over the radio a discussion about Malaysian history. The topic was the history of the Emergency and the academics were saying that the official version does not give a fair view of what the various races went through during the difficult years of the communist insurgency.
It’s well known that all races suffered together from the Malayan Communist Party atrocities and those who lived on the fringes of terrorist-infested jungles suffered more. Many Chinese families were forcibly evacuated from the sensitive areas to be transported to the new villages which were built for the displaced people.
Another aspect that is not well acknowledged in our schools is that the Malayan police and army could not have done the fighting alone. There were many soldiers from Britain and Commonwealth countries who fought and died for our freedom not only during the Emergency but also in World War Two.
There is no need to give our schoolchildren exaggerated stories about our past and, worse still, deliberately downplaying the influence which ancient civilisations and other religions had on the culture and traditions in our part of the world well before the arrival of Islam. As we all know, the whole Malay archipelago region was Hindu before it became Muslim. Similarly, the Chinese mariners were here in their big ships long before the Arabs and the Europeans came. Thus, when the Melaka Sultanate was established, there were lots of Hindu and Chinese elements in the Malay folklore.
It is better for our schoolchildren to know the truth than to learn when they grow up that their teachers were not teaching them the right history. They should know that during the early period of our development, the immigrant races played a big role working in the rubber plantations and tin mines as labourers and assistants for their European bosses. The educated from southern India became teachers, clerks and hospital workers while the more enterprising among the Chinese took to business, opening up shops and building towns for their commercial and trading activities.
Typical of all immigrant races, they worked hard and took risks to create a better future for their families in their new homeland.
The Malays worked in traditional agriculture and in the government. Those Malays who were well educated were sent to Britain for further training to be recruited into the administrative service. The elites among them became part of the ruling class.
When the country became ready for independence, the British handed over their power confident that with responsible Malay leadership working in partnership with non-Malay leaders to form a stable government, Malaya had all the favourable factors to make a success of Merdeka for all those who call this country their home.
It is regrettable that the story of racial partnership in the efforts to defeat the communists during the Emergency and subsequently to negotiate with the British for independence has not been properly dealt with in the school History textbooks. Schools have a big responsibility to educate children on how the earlier generation of leaders worked together for our success as a nation of many races and religions.
Countries like Germany and Japan have learned from the bitter lessons of war that their children must grow up to reject the racial supremacist and nationalist policies of the past so that they can live in peace with the world. In Malaysia too, we have to constantly educate our children about the importance of tolerance for our diversity and multiculturalism and respect for the Constitution and rule of law so that we will develop into a country that is at peace with ourselves and with the world around us.
The History and Civics textbooks in schools and the Biro Tata Negara courses for government servants should be written in a factual manner without dressing them up to suit certain political aims, so that in being objective, our education and government institutions can play a big role in welding the various races into 1Malaysia.
TAN SRI MOHD SHERIFF MOHD KASSIM