‘Why are some Indians so sensitive?’ asks Cambridge PhD

Dr Neil Khor, who tells readers that he holds a Cambridge doctorate, defended Interlok early in the debate when the controversy first erupted. In his article, Khor asks “Why are some Malaysian Indians so sensitive?”

Writing in Malaysiakini on Feb 7 under the headline ‘Literary freedom and the need to inter-logue‘ — or click to read Neil Khor’s article in pdf  format — he blurbs the Interlok  issue (and his own take on it) as a matter that he “thinks requires better historical treatment”.

With the lag of one-and-a-half months from the time Khor’s article first appeared, we can all benefit from expanded discussion on the topic that has since taken place. Thus we’re revisiting Khor’s opinion and making two rejoinders.

Hartal Rejoinder #1

Khor contends: “If there are some passages in Interlok that some segments of Malaysian society finds offensive, the answer is not the wholesale rejection of the novel or the censoring of the so-called “offensive” passages but an intelligent conversation or critical appraisal of the novel. There is nothing wrong for teachers or students to disagree with the writer [Abdullah Hussain].” (emphasis Hartal’s)

A mere two paragraphs down from the above statement, Khor follows up with this sentence:

“Firstly, the lack of positive reaction by prominent educationists [to defend Interlok's freedom of expression] demonstrates an acute problem with the education system as a whole: an inability to think independently. So ‘top-down’ is the system that any contrarian opinion is impossible.”

To put it in simple words, Khor is saying students and teachers (components of “the top-down education system”) cannot think independently and it is a big problem that these people are also unable to voice out any views that don’t toe the line (“any contrarian opinion is impossible”).

If it is the case, as Khor himself claims, that students and teachers cannot think independently and cannot have opinions that don’t follow the authorities, then how can he expect teachers or students to disagree with Abdullah (see Khor’s own words bolded above). The Malaysiakini contributor contradicts his own premise.

Hartal Rejoinder #2

Khor writes: “What is not said [during the anti-Interlok campaign] is that students might misunderstand these passages because there are racist teachers or incompetent ones. If that is the underlying fear, the answer is not to banish the novel from schools but to banish incompetent teachers from schools.”

Banish incompetent teachers from schools? Thanks for the laughs, doctor!

Let’s just apply Khor’s line of argument to Satanic Verses:

  • The lack of positive reaction by prominent Malaysian authors to defend Satanic Verses ‘s literary freedom demonstrates an acute problem with our intelligentsia as a whole,
    .
  • If there are some passages in Satanic Verses that some segments of Malaysian society finds offensive, the answer is not the wholesale rejection of the novel or the censoring of the so-called ‘offensive’ passages but an informed conversation or critical appraisal of it. There is nothing wrong for Malaysians to disagree with Salman Rushdie..

  • What is not said during the public book burning of Rushdie’s writing and the street protests after Friday prayers is that Malaysians might misunderstand these passages because they are incompetent readers when it comes to challenging ideas. If that is the underlying fear, the answer is not to ban the novel and its author but to banish close-minded demagogues who incite the mob.

Do you think Dr Neil Khor will apply his same eloquent appeal on behalf of any other controversial ouvre such as Rushdie’s? Will he call for lifting the ban on Rushdie’s several novels in the country? Will Khor similarly say, ‘”Why are some Malaysian Muslims so sensitive?”

Err, somehow we don’t think so.

Related:

‘Satanic Verses’ for SPM English, can ah?

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