Thu, Jul 20, 2006 - Page 4 News List

Malaysian textbook sparks divisions


A new university course meant to boost unity among Malaysia's ethnic groups has been criticized after reported complaints that a university distorted historical facts and promoted racial polarization.

Students in state-run universities have been required starting this year to take a course titled "Ethnic Relations" for a semester to help them understand other races and promote a healthy debate on ethnic integration.

Each of Malaysia's universities has issued its own textbook on the subject because the government has not prepared a standard teaching guide.

But a course textbook at the University Putra Malaysia has triggered a furor by pointing to an opposition party as the trigger for 1969 race riots that left hundreds of people dead and blaming Indian youths for another riot in 2001, the Star newspaper reported.

The book also labeled an independent Chinese group, Suqiu, as "extremists" for calling in 1999 for a meritocracy that challenges ethnic Malay rights.

The textbook sparked a heated debate in parliament on Tuesday, with both government and opposition members calling for its withdrawal and for the entire subject to be reassessed, newspapers reported.

Nazri Aziz, a Malyasian minister in charge of law, labeled the textbook as "seditious," the New Straits Times said.

"Students who have attended the course have told me that it does not mention the contribution of the Chinese and Indians at all," said Wee Ka Siong, another ruling coalition lawmaker.

Opposition leader Lim Kit Siang, whose Democratic Action Party was blamed for the 1969 riots, said the textbook was divisive and a "historical lie."

"If public universities are used to distort history, glorify [the government] and poison the minds of the new generation against opposition and dissent, they will aggravate racial polarization and destroy all efforts to forge national unity," he said in a statement.

Higher Education Minister Mustapa Mohamad denied the book was historically inaccurate but agreed that placing the label "extremist" on Suqiu should be dropped.

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