Monday 30 May 2011

Using history to make us intelligent, not stupid

AB Sulaiman
COMMENT Some years ago, a concerned parent and friend drew my attention to the peculiar case of the current History textbooks for Forms 4 and 5 students. He hinted that apparently they were decked with omissions, errors, half-truths, an exaggerated role of the Malay ethnic group, and minimising or omitting altogether the considerable contribution of non-Malay individuals.

The texts furthermore exaggerated the role and influence of Islam toward the development of human civilisation and the country. His daughter had found the subject unbelievable, bordering on the ridiculous, and also very boring, but had studied on because she had to.

azlanImmediately after this awareness, I got hold of the books and read them. True enough, their contents were far and away from the history that I learnt during my school days. They contained even lies to which a non-academic and non-historian like me could detect. For example, it claimed that Parameswara died as a Muslim, while my recollection stated he died a Hindu.

I felt concerned over this revelation. For it is obvious that the mixture of lies, omissions, half-truths, errors and hyperbolical narration about race and religion had two features. One, it's the deliberate departure from truth (otherwise known as intellectual dishonesty); and two, the numerous amounts of prejudice, emotion, sentiment and blind religion to fill in the gap. Put together, I am certain they'd not nurture intellectual honesty, but instead produce a lot of prejudice, value judgments, and more lies and deceit.

I can say with confidence that a mind built on lies, suppositions and half-truths would indeed yield imprecise and subjective prejudices and value judgments, but seldom, if ever, the truth. Such thinking just does not grow healthily or go far.

Looking for lies

Let me quote an example of two people who thrive on half-truths and deceit.

azlanOne is Ibrahim Ali, the Perkasa president. He has been calling for a 'perang sabil' or crusade against the non-Muslims, a statement that would normally be deemed highly seditious by the government. But he was 'untouched', he got away with it. Why was he 'untouchable'? His answer as oh, no, it's not him who's untouchable, it's Anwar Ibrahim.

I don't quite know how the logic works, but my simple mind says it's utterly flawed.

Second is Gagasan Anti-Penyelewengan Selangor (GAPS) president Hamidzun Khairudin, who claimed a few days back (Malaysiakini May 28) that 'the federal constitution only states that the Malays and bumiputera have the right to receive a scholarship'.

In this case, he is still on the opportunistic assumption that Article 153 of the Constitution quoting the 'special position' means 'special right' of the Malays. Law expert Abdul Aziz Bari whacked Hamidzun well and good. If the latter has any sense at all, he should delete this issue from his mind.

My concern multiplied when bearing in mind the government's intention to make history a compulsory subject in schools as already declared by the Education Minister Muhyiddin Yasin. I have been saying to myself this could be another rather sad expression of twisted Malay nationalism, so frequent they are these days.

Is it wise for our leaders to teach intellectual dishonesty to our young?

I do not think so. I am a believer that we should educate our young with the best weapon of survival in this highly competitive post-modern era, and that is to enable and equip them with clear, logical and critical thinking.

The young should be taught to be able to intellectualise, to be able to deduce and induce and come to solid conclusions. In this way they'd make good decisions and the best way to start is to teach them to be intellectually honest.

Raising the alarm

Some members of the public like Dr Ranjit Singh Malhi have raised the alarm and alerted the public of this sorry situation. Some other members of the public like Dr Ramlah Adam, however, had defended this government policy stating that teaching History in this way is something 'positive'.

Then early last month, a group of citizens and NGOs met when several eminent personalities relating to this issue. All of them were echoing the same thing that had caused my initial concern. All of them were confirming with facts, figures, names and dates where current history texts were pregnant with lies, omissions, half-truths and of hyperbolic and exaggerated roles played by race and religion.

Truly this cannot go on for everybody will be the loser in the long term. It is not good for the mental health and well-being of the student and by extension the future of the country. Which individual, community or country progressed and prospered on deceits, lies and half-truths?

So the group felt it had to do something. It has established a people's movement to inform the government of this chronic, unhealthy, unsavoury situation. This movement is known as Kempen Sejarah Malaysia Sebenar (SMS). It has set up a committee and, in fact, has initiated a signature campaign, noting that several thousand of such signatures have already been collected with more coming in.

They are now devising other courses of action, including perhaps influencing the government to be aware of the silliness of this case and hopefully to agree for a complete revision.

If possible, the SMS would also help re-write Malaysian history to be more reflective of the facts and truth, i.e. more aligned with the facts and evidence, so as to become closer to intellectual honesty, accuracy and integrity.

Perhaps Malaysiakini readers too should keep your eyes and ears, your mental antenna, open to the activities and programmes of SMS, and wherever possible to also lend support. That would be great and goes far in realising the 1Malaysia spirit.

As for me, I support this movement and am happy to be closely associated with it.

My reason for lending support is simple enough, and I quote a wisdom made by Bertrand Russell: 'We are all born ignorant not stupid. Education makes us stupid.'

I am happy to be a part of a movement that strives to ensure our young, naturally born ignorant, are educated and become intelligent, not stupid.

AB SULAIMAN is an observer of human traits and foibles, especially within the context of religion and culture. As a liberal, he marvels at the way orthodoxy fights to maintain its credibility in a devilishly fast-changing world. He hopes to provide some understanding to the issues at hand and wherever possible, suggest some solutions. He holds a Bachelor in Social Sciences (Leicester, UK) and a Diploma in Public Administration, Universiti Malaya.

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