Professor Anthony Milner, Basham Professor of Asian History at the Australian National University, made an interesting comment on the controversial novel Interlok . Milner was quoted as saying:

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.

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’s comments received swift condemnation from groups opposed to the use of Interlok as compulsory text in national curriculum. The Centre for Policy Initiative noted this in a press statement:

An analogy would be if Milner – who incidentally has admitted to reading Interlok only in its truncated English translation – were to put forward the idea of including The Protocols of the Elders of Zion in the German school syllabus as a model to teach sympathetic history.

A report by the National Interlok Action Team found the novel to be derogatory towards Malaysians of Chinese and Indian origin, to contain historically factual errors and misinterprets religious and cultural practices of the non-Muslims. A more vociferous coalition asks Professor Milner which other country uses fiction to teach history.

Was the esteemed Professor, an expert on Southeast Asian history, and who is currently the Pok Rafeah Chair in International Studies at Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (National University of Malaysia) right in suggesting that such a controversial novel be used as a model for Historical text in Malaysia?

Professor Anthony Milner has since issued this statement to clarify his comments. It concludes with this excerpt:

As I’ve suggested, creating a national history curriculum is a matter for insiders. In my Australian experience it can be a divisive and emotional process, but might just contribute in the long run to social reconciliation. It seems to me that there are elements in Malaysian history that do have the potential to help build an inclusive narrative – and mentioned a couple of these at the Kairos meeting. But I may be too optimistic, and simply do not have the local experience to contribute seriously to this Malaysian national conversation.