Monday, November 06, 2006

94] ASLI's gift to academicians

Asli’s gift to academicians
Azly Rahman
Nov 6, 06 11:47am
‘Fazilah (a researcher at Universiti Malaya), when contacted by malaysiakini (Nov 1, 2006), declined to comment on her research. …She also refused to entertain questions on the issue of bumiputera corporate equity ownership, saying that as a university staff, she has to comply with the 'Akujanji' (pledge of good conduct). …Under the 'Akujanji', academicians are barred from making media statements without prior approval from the university's authority. … The government has always maintained that the country has yet to achieve the 30 percent bumiputera equity ownership target.’

‘All mankind is from Adam and Eve, an Arab has no superiority over a non-Arab nor does a non-Arab have any superiority over an Arab; also a white has no superiority over a black nor does a black have any superiority over white except by piety and good action (from Prophet Muhammad's (PBUH) Last Sermon, 9th Day of Dhual Hijjah).

The two quotes above respectively represent a fear and a hope.

We need to start living with the reality of open dialogue and leave behind the fear of speaking up in honour of intellectual freedom. The quote from Fazilah is a testament to the totalitarianism of the document of blind loyalty called the Surat Akujanji. Even PhD holders with good training in defending dissertations become fearful of those out to destroy the integrity and honour of the academicians. We must take control or be controlled, speak up or be silenced.

Now that the Asli report is out, what do we do with it? As the prophets of any religion would enjoin, how should we abolish all forms of superiority by way of economic design?

How do we get our academicians, activists, students, scholars, farmers, workers and even our rulers to read it, make informed judgment and act upon the recommendations that call for human solution to statistical problems?

How do we perceive it as a national test by first respecting the enterprise of the interpretation of data as yet another reminder to do periodic reality checks on the state of our political-economic well being?

Fertile area of research

How do our local scholars/academicians transform this seemingly controversial report from a document of denial into a fertile area of research into this Malaysian post-modern human condition?

Will our economists extend the Asli study into a more complex analysis of the interplay between Capital, Technology, Nature and Labour? Will our historians see it as good platform for the study of the interplay between the history of the ownership of private property and revisit our analysis of dialectical and historical materialism we left off in our planning of the New Economic Policy (NEP)?

Will our sociologists now answer the question of how we have gotten to this critical juncture in history in which the accumulation of wealth has produced more visible class structure in all spheres of living? How will our educators see the relationship between schooling and labour, education and class-ethnic stratification, or even how the NEP continues to maintain the tyranny of racism and racial discrimination?

How will our political scientists use the report to understand the need to revamp the structure of political consciousness and to affect political action through grassroots activism when the NEP is showing signs of ideological bankruptcy and a waning of affect?

How do our social scientists learn from the report so that they can train social workers to be ‘colour-blind’ especially in helping the Indians and other marginalised ethnic groups gain their dignity as respectable Malaysians who laboured as hard as the other races in building this country into what it is now?

We need a kaleidoscopic view of research; one that will give us a holistic picture of the NEP and next give us academicians the tools to denounce our 'neutrality' so that we may become like engaged artists who subscribe to the idea of committed art (in the service of the masses) rather than to the ideology of art for art's sake (in the service of the bourgeoisie).

But our academicians continue to traverse the road to serfdom, carrying their backpacks of self-imposed fear. We need to groom the Jean Paul Sartre and the Albert Camus among us.

What we need to do with the Asli report will be the intellectual task for our nation. This exercise should take us away from the increasingly fruitless and nauseating squabbling between the previous and the present prime ministers on the issue of whose family is amassing more wealth than the other. This debate is not adding value to our need to look at the NEP in newer perspective.

In fact, the Mahathir-Abdullah debate is only good for matters of ‘issue versus non-issue’ and for the clever design of ‘mystification’ - in the ultimate analysis, it creates a mental smog over the issue of alternative ways of looking at political, economic, social and cultural change.

Radical redesign

I have read the Asli report produced under the direction of Professor Lim Teck Ghee, an academician of high intellectualism and integrity. The report is an encouraging inquiry into the possibilities of social justice and radical economic desconstructionism and redesign.

There is a human face to the findings of the report. It confirms the perception that our politicians, especially the ones that went berserk/haywire after reading the findings, have not evolved much in their critical and intellectual sensibilities. Yet they still want to represent the people in public office. This is troubling. Hegemony lies in the rule of the blind but arrogant.

The Asli report is the kind of report and reporting we are used to in doctoral work in institutions such as Columbia Princeton, Stanford, Harvard or even Oxford - a place we now often hear as a model of Malaysia's emulation for ‘world class-ism’.

I see the possibilities of extending the inquiry and going into deeper analysis of the geneology, anatomy, post-structurality and possibilities of the NEP, using the language of neo-marxism and post-structuralism. Academicians should continue to comment on the Asli report and demand that the government explores the nature of poverty as it neatly and artificially create a new class of multi-cultural poor (immigrants and all), creating a powerful political elite that will devise strategies to protect their interest by buying over our universities and all academicians in them.

We should move towards a symbolic analysis of wealth and power and deconstruct these symbols both in their physical as well as in their symbolic manifestations. We should explore what the Japanese Nobel Laureate Yasunari Kawabata would call "neo-sensualism" in the way we compose the portrait of progress and its contradictions.

So, what next after the Asli report? How do we reflect upon the findings? How do we enrich the data and design cumulative studies that will explain why are how we have arrived at a juncture where political ethics seem to be worsening as economic power of the bumiputera and non-bumiputeras continue to be concentrated on the few.

The acronym ‘Asli’ tells us something. Its means ‘original’ (in Bahasa Melayu) or the real things in its original state, of Man/Human Being in its Natural state of things.

This means that the Asli report is inviting us, like Jean Jacques Rousseau did in his essay ‘Discourse on the Origin of Inequality’, to go back to the natural state of things.

What this means is a challenge for us all - academicians, students, scholars, tinkers, tailors, soldier, spies, politicians - and all Malaysian who were made to believe that poverty will be restructured and wealth equitably shared.

Fellow academicians wake up! The greatest enemy of fear is fear itself. We must become the organic intellectuals the rakyat is waiting for.

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