Thursday, January 19, 2006

54] Joining hands as makers of history

A Thank you Note to Malaysiakini
By Azly Rahman

Monday, 17th January is Dr. Martin Luther King’s birthday in America. A historic day. Today America is celebrating the birthday of this great Afrian-American spiritual and civil rights leader.

I had chosen to start writing for the Malaysian public on this day last year.

Along with Malcolm X, or also known as El-Hajj Malik Shabbazz, he fought for the civil rights and sparked a major “revolution” of the 1960s. Both were assasinated before their fortieth birthday. Both taught dangerously and lived a life of profound commitment to social justice. Both were opposed to totalitariansim, militarism, materialsim, and capitalism.

America honored them and wants her children to embody the spirit of freedom. Dr. King’s birthday is now a public holiday.

Thank you, Malaysiakini

Its’ a historic day for me too.

I turned one as a columnist for this socially-conscious and journalistically-liberating online publication called Malaysiakini. I saw its first year of operation and followed with sympathy its plight in the first five years of its existence. Malaysiakini is a friend of free speech.
My thanks goes especially to its Chief Editor Steven Gan for giving me the opportunity to share my views on social imagination and radical political alternatives and possibilities. My thanks to Malaysiakini too for publishing my unedited thoughts – in the true spirit of committed journalism.

Through Malaysiakini I have made many friends among people of different walks of life and through many emails received thoughtful comments, commendations, and words of encouragement. I am now cherishing my friendships with students, politicians, architects, engineers, activists, professors, journalists, lawyers, doctors, community and NGO leaders, civil servants, judges, teachers, and many others from within and outside of the country.

These emails are a testimony that middle-class Malaysians are now highly sophisticated in their understanding of the concept of a just society and on our way to develop a critical mass of people who are ready to challenge authority and seek newer frontiers and demand for a more ethical government insituted amongst us.

Malaysiakini has helped raise the issue close to my heart – academic freedom and the need for us in academia to embody the spirit of free inquiry. It has emphatically but objectively carried the story of my and my wife’s (Dr. Mutiara Mohamad’s) dismissal from Universiti Utara Malaysia – of our ‘axing’ for refusing to sign the Surat Akujanji. Through Malaysiakini’s effort, our plight as well as those vicitimized by the public universities, are brought to public attention.
The document contains clauses that are cancerous to the well-being and the intellectual advancement of the Malaysian academic. It is a document of the 1970s of a post-World War II used in the year 2000 with a strange psychological stranglehold on even the best and the brightest of the Malaysian minds. This is the power of ideology and hegemony one must learn to understand and dismantle. Academicians must now understand their role as intellectuals in postmodernizing societies.

How is it possible for the government to force the academicians to sign a document that will make the latter fearful of its own responsibility to question authority and pursue truth? How is it possible that this form of mental domination and stupefication is allowed to monitor the corridors of academia?

Will one day, disillusioned students and faculty file a class action suit against the government to remove the letter as well as any totalitaran structures made legal, against the mind of thinking Malaysians? In a democratically evolving country such as ours, an action as such is possible.
I share the vision of Malaysikini and these publications that try to uphold the ethics of journalism.

"Watching “A Beautiful Mind” "

The movie “A Beautiful Mind” starring Russel Crowe as Nobel Laureate mathematical genius John Nash prompted me to have the urge to write and to share my views on the range of issues that continue to plague us. I was imagining how it must be like for our nation to construct an educational system that not only respects human imagination, critical thinking, and radical perspectives, but also actually celebrates these gifts in individuals and next, develops them.
How must it feel like if in a hundred years from now, our public universities had already evolved into a Princeton of John Nash – with its intense rigour even at the undergraduate level? In what ways might our universities benefit from such a culture of neither fear nor disfavour of radical opinions, in which creative, imaginative, critical, and divergent thinking are the norm rather than the exception, let alone being a liability?

We must become part of this creation of such truly democractic and dialogical institutions of human potentials development. We must fight against the systematic killing of the critical sensibility of our students and our faculty and our nation entire, and let freedom of thought rings in each and every four walls of our classrooms.

I actually taught in the place where they shot some scenes of the movie “A Beautiful Mind” in a campus in Madison, New Jersey where the estates of the Vanderbilt family adorn the landscape. I taught graduate classes in education, making me more nostalgic of the possibilities of a profound and engaging learning environment we Malaysian can create, given the time and commitment to teaching.

I have been to Princeton University on several occasions, and have studied with professors who studied at Princeton University. In fact, one of my mentors and dissertation advisors at Columbia – a philosopher of education and a believer in the power of digital technologies -- is a Princeton alumni. I have therefore been enculturalized into the thinking culture of such a university and have embodied the ethos of America’s spirit of intellectual freedom.

"In search of radical forum"

It is not only Columbia University that has shaped my opinions but a range of other life experiences too – beginning perhaps from childhood when I was growing up in Kampong Melayu Majidee, Johor Bahru.

I found Malaysiakini as a radical forum to share my views, as I said in my first column entitled “Seeking the history of questions”; that I want to plant the seeds of radical thinking and to view teaching as a “subversive” and liberating act.

We live in an increasingly and fast-changing time when human agents in the form of policy-makers from inside and outide of our nation transform the social relations of production and define and redefine our means of subsistence.

Johor Bahru and Kuala Lumpur changed not because change is natural and inevitable but because the present government believes in the ideology of Western-styled developmentalism. There are human beings that are aware of the forces of change, and there are those who are not. Those who are not aware will view change as a “reality” and accepts it. Those who are aware will question these forces and the policymakers and will view change as a “construction” and possibly resist, reject, and reconstruct it.

We have been blinded by these happily-imported and prohibitively-expensively-paid change-management “gurus” who teach us to “manage change” but not how to analyze it and “resist change”. We therefore have imported them from abroad to teach our executives how to manage change and skim off from the poor using more efficient methods.

We allowed them to create a Corporate Malaysia through our misunderstanding and abuse of the concept of Malaysia Incorporated and our policies of “Looking East, Looking West, but not Looking Deep Enough Within”.

We paid these consultants astronomical fees to teach us how to transform our landscape into money-making, rent-seeking properties and make the most money while the poor gets to live in “Sting Gardens” or rumah setinggan or squatter homes we called “rumah haram atas tanah haram” – in places such as Kampong Bahru, Kampong Pandan, and Kampong Kerinci.

And in Johor Bahru, in the 1970s, human beings who live in these Johor bantusaans or ghettoes or shantytowns get thrown out of their “Sting Gardens” so that the corporate and political elites and the artistocrats among us can play golf daily and hang out in those country clubs in Tasek Utara. Those slums continue to proliferate, proportionate to the proliferation of signature golf courses and mega-malls. We have those slums in places such as Kampong Melayu Majidee and Kampong Ubi.

And therefore we have these question on social justice and equality amongst us. We must answer them by first, seeking the history of those questions. In the society we live, who gets to even ask the questions? What premises on human rights and human development did these questions emanate from?

In short, have we been asking the right questions all these decades?

"Become a thinking nation"

Let us continue to explore the history of the questions asked and to find out how we arrive at this or that historical juncture. I believe these questions will help us go back to the origin of things and in the process, to understand the world we live in. I believe that these questions can be one way for human beings to go back to the Center and its Primordial Nature, through what Rousseau calls "sentimental education" or, to explore, as the Indonesian poet W.S. Rendra once said in his play Kisah Perjuangan Suku Naga or The Struggle of the Naga Tribe, the "world within and the world without." Through these questions I believe one can break free from the shackles of domination and release the imagination.

And as Rousseau continues: "Man is born free... and everywhere he is in chains," and that the first language he needs is the cry of Nature. We are born into a matrix of Chinese complexities, and we will spend our lifetime understanding it, possibly escaping it, and consequently constructing an understanding of ourselves. We are born to be makers of our own history. In this world without borders, we are all essentially, transcultural citizens differentiated only by our national identity cards and our passports.

I want to continue to share the experiences I have in developing the human mind and in the teaching multiple perspectives of knowing. I hope my ideas have been useful to the readers.
Let us work towards developing a nation that will truly appreciate the value of radical humanistic thinking.

Let us first, educate the present government on what freedom of expression means.

Thank you again Malaysiakini, for a wonderful year and to you readers for giving me the motivation and inspiration to continue writing

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