Thursday, March 30, 2006

64] Let us not grow a hundred weeds

Let’s not grow a hundred weeds
Azly Rahman
Mar 27, 06 12:49pm

We must let a hundred flowers bloom, not allow a hundred thorns to grow. The struggle to free our universities continues. We continue to hear of witch-hunts on students demanding for justice and of unresolved cases of academicians being dismissed for speaking up and making a stand.

We read of confusing statements on what a student’s role should be vis-à-vis the right to be politically active. We hear calls by our elder scholars on the need to repeal the Universities and University College Act (UUCA).

We continue to feel the apathy and indifference of academic unions on the issues affecting their intellectual livelihood. Let us set the record straight once and for all. Students and lecturers who demand their right to dissent are not traitors - they are patriots in the truest sense of the word. “Dissent,” said Thomas Jefferson, “is the highest form of patriotism”. This was the essence of the American Revolution of 1776 - a revolution that deposed a government that no longer served its purpose and the interest of the people.

The core business of students and scholars is to dissent, to differ, and to deconstruct prevailing truisms. Truth is tentative - to be tested through scholarly pursuit, dialectical-materialism, and Socratic questioning. Political truths do not exist in the mind of the academic. Only the co-opted intelligentsia would buy into that notion. The deteriorating social, economic and political conditions in Malaysia naturally demand students and scholars to speak up. What is wrong with that?

Study the life history of leaders like Sukarno, Hatta, Jose Rizal, Ho Chi Minh, or even Mahathir - they rebelled against their governments with the help of students. They went to the universities for support. The students helped put them into power. We are sending astronauts to outer space but we are chaining our intellectuals to the core of the Earth.

"Continuing crises"

The continuing criminalisation of the human intellect is setting the stage for another wave of crises this year, even as we transfer the incompetent former minister of higher education to another department so that he may put his philosophy of human liberation to better use. All this will continue as we trumpet internationally how great our higher education system is. We will do so to those who do not know better; to those from others nations who send in their children to learn what academic freedom means. Are they instead learning about totalitarianism and how to transplant this system in their own country?

Will the new Minister of Higher Education save us from the rot? What will it take to make a hundred flowers bloom, when we have yet a hundred thorns to weed out? Or is he the chosen one to tighten the chains with which we are still bound? This is the dilemma of our intellectual growth, as we continue to demand for radical changes to rakyat-owned public universities. The academic union of each university has failed to save their institutions from being continuously shackled by those who do not know what a university means.

The students and faculty, intellectually harassed and terrorised, are getting fed up with the idea that universities are places to only study till their eyes pop, get good grades, sign the pledge of loyalty, and serve the powers that are increasingly becoming corrupt, authoritarian, and plagued with abject intellectual poverty.

"Engineer regime change"

Intellectuals must disengage themselves from any regimes of truth of the day in order to be paragons of virtue, to be respected, and to help dispel a post-modern “myth of the lazy native”, borrowing the words of Malaysian thinker Syed Hussein Al Attas. If we are to become ‘Harvards of the East’, there are fundamental notion of progress we must embrace. If we are to call our universities ‘world class’ universities, we must groom our intellectuals to develop dissenting views and never afraid to speak up so that they may help society reconstruct and regenerate. Is not the role of the academician, one of a Socrates-like scholar that will provide more questions and fewer answers and one who applies scholarship to social reconstructionism?

No one should claim ownership of the minds of the children we are educating, not even the most committed of all academicians. The children are to be cultivated as thinking and feeling beings if we are to teach them how to design a more tolerant, ethical, and less-corrupt society. Of course, the hands of creativity must be held by altruism and ethics.

Democracy must be made a lived experience, not lip-service. It must begin in the corridors of academia. Socrates, Rousseau, Marx, Dewey, Montessori, Froebel, and Freire all fought tooth and nail for the schooled mind to be free. Al Farabi, Al Arabi, Al Rushd, Radhakrishna, Kung Fu Tze, and Lao Tzu were fierce defenders of truth. How do we academicians engineer a regime change in universities if the philosophy that governs these noble institutions is no longer close to our heart's desire and the intellectual force to which we are attracted? How do we use our simplicity to revolt against the complexity of an increasingly corrupt social order? How do we wish to be governed as academic beings or homo academicus; the academician whose pursuit is not of wealth, power, and connectivity to the broadband of the wealth-power keg or to alliances we still find suspicious; or to theocratic truths-forces; or to some ethnically based doctrines, or even to blind internationalism that is sucking nation-states into its empire?

"Alternatives needed"

We must offer alternatives to any attempt to subvert our role as organic intellectuals. We cannot remain the voice of Reason if our lives, as the existentialist philosopher Jean Paul Sartre said, have been reduced to being mere utilities in an educational setting founded primarily upon “instrument reason”. We as academicians cannot be made to become like Frantz Kafka's "vermins" (in ‘The Metamorphosis’) in our historical march of progress in this nation that is increasingly heteroglossic, cybernetic, and problematic.

Our daily toil is now governed entirely by those who own the means to change policies at their whims and fancies; by those guided by the ideology that is increasingly problematic and no longer in synchrony with the changing times. Changing times demand Malaysian intellectuals to stand up with pride, like the Bugis warrior-philosopher Raja Haji who braves the bullets of the Dutch slavers. Like this ancient warrior, we intellectuals are to help mediate the contradictions between the alienated inner self and the corrupt-to-the-core politics of the day. It is in times like this that we need the young, brilliant, and eager academicians to learn how to read the signs and symbols of this hyper-modern nation, and to understand the political-economic and post-structuralist nature of the power structure in order to deconstruct its base and superstructure and next, to build a new social order.

‘Things fall apart’, borrowing the theme of the African writer Chinua Achebe's masterpiece, to describe the state of Malaysian academia. The cultural core that guides our intellectual fervour cannot any longer hold. Enough is enough with the constant and consistent insults designed for the Malaysian scholars. We need to be given the room to grow as post-modern philosophers in our respective fields who will one day produce frontier knowledge and cutting-edge ideas so that there will be more home-grown committed intellectuals we will produce in decades to come.

"Set universities free"

What is so complex about the definition of a university for it to be misunderstood? A university is a secularly-sacred institution of scholarly pursuit of ideas that must not be used to create further divisions in society - be they divisions and sub-divisions based on race, colour, creed and national origin. It is a place wherein the universality of ideas must reign, guided by philosophies that will bring humanity closer to a more meaningful democracy.

A university is not merely a diploma mill and a production-house of academic Taylorism. It is not an institution to put a Quality Control stamp on the mind of students so that they may become merely good workers in a TQM-inspired company. It is not a game of production and reproduction and schooling the mind into total submission.

A university is not a place wherein the discoveries of new bodies of knowledge must point to the dictates of party politics and that ‘truth’ must be acquired through ‘methods’ designed by and derived from the structural-functionalism of politics. It must not be a place to canonise the ideology of this or that dubious leader whose interest is in self-emulation and deluding oneself to grandeur. A university has more respect than that. The university is above politics. It must educate politicians. The professor must guide the politicians - a professor who is a philosopher-ruler and one who is incorruptible and preserves the culture of free inquiry and human liberation is the best professor a nation can ever have. Professing knowledge and helping others grow intellectually is not the same as packaging propaganda and helping others become retarded by it.

"Closing of the Malaysian mind"

We are letting our universities close the Malaysian mind. We have built glasshouses and installed our bread factories and circuses in it. We have closed the mind of the Malaysian when we let this government announce that the university is not a place for those who oppose the government.

Let us ask this question then: What is a ‘government’? Why must it not be challenged? A ‘government’ is a socio-economic-political entity that derives its legitimacy and authority from the people who created the government. A government is a concept that must be consistently overthrown if we wish for the definition and usefulness of it to undergo cycles of birth and rebirth, thesis-anti thesis-synthesis, and dialectical-materialism of change. It is derived from a social contract in which the Natural Rights of Man/Woman is supreme.

One does not surrender oneself to be chained by a representative body. Read Roussseau to understand this. A government must consist of people who must also be taught that power is best used to transform others into ethical and intelligent beings and not used to create more power and tools of oppression to subjugate others. Students and scholars must not support a government that is treating them like intellectual invalids and scholarly imbeciles. A government that refuses to respect the rights of others to make a stand and respect freedom of opinion cannot be re-elected.

A closed Malaysian mind is a dangerous thing. It lures thinking into forgetfulness; we will forget why we should constantly fight corruption in high places, help fight for the poor of all races, and help recognise how political dynasties are created and evolve into dangerous empire-building in politics.

Dare we close more and more of these Malaysian minds? Who will benefit from more ‘cattle-raising’ of the human intellect?

Incorruptible university educators, let us demand for a repeal to the UUCA. Let us discard the Surat Akujanji. We do not have anything to lose except our mental chains.

Let a hundred flowers bloom.

Letter to higher education minister 12:43pm Wed Sep 28, 2005
We took the road not taken06:36pm Mon Aug 22, 2005

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