Sunday, September 02, 2007

131] I want to serve...

I want to serve...
Azly Rahman
Jul 30, 07 12:23pm

Fundamental Liberties, Part 2, Malaysian Constitution, Article 10

  1. Subject to Clauses (2), (3) and (4) -

    a) every citizen has the right to freedom of speech and expression;

    b) all citizens have the right to assemble peaceably and without arms;

    c) all citizens have the right to form associations

On June 1, 1964, the United States Supreme Court strikes down Washington laws requiring state employees to take loyalty oaths. The loyalty oath statutes are challenged by more than 60 faculty members, staff and students of the University of Washington in a case organised by the Washington chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the UW chapter of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP).

The court rules that both a 1955 statute requiring all state employees to swear they are not "subversive persons" and a 1931 statute requiring teachers to swear to promote respect for government institutions are unconstitutionally vague and violate due process.

Such beautiful guarantees we must all uphold. Such a good example from America we must emulate. Such important lessons academics must impart on as many citizens as possible. But why are Malaysian universities trying to deny us of our rights to freedom of speech and expression?

My apologies to readers for not writing last week's column. I had a very challenging week. I received a letter from the lawyers of Universiti Utara Malaysia demanding me to apologise for my writings on UUM and also forcing me to stop writing on the issue of my dismissal. The public apology has to be approved by the institution.

I do not know what to make of it. I am confused.

My writings are meant to educate, not aggravate. Read closely and understand them. If one disagrees, refute them rationally and publicly. I will be grateful if we could engage in such intellectual discussions. That's what a university is all about - sincere dialogue without fear or favour. Don't ask me to write a public apology for something I am not sure what it is about. Don't stop me from writing. Don't get an injunction against me.

I am essentially an educator, not an agitator. I am merely telling my side of the story. My wife and I wrote a 19-page letter to the prime minister, the King and several ministers, only one replied with a memo to another minister. Others perhaps did not have the time to listen to us.

My respect for the institution

I have tremendous respect for the students, faculty and staff of UUM, the institution I was dismissed from. They are very dedicated, ethical, and hardworking people. But I do not have any respect for the Machiavellis or the power abusers in universities - those who make decisions that are politically-motivated in their rise to fame and perhaps fortune.

I had that experience with the previous administration of the late Dr Ahmad Fawzi Basri (May God bless his soul). My wife and I do not wish to pledge our allegiance to a vice-chancellor that is out to retard my career. I speak from experience, lots of personal experience on this matter. I did not wish to work under him.

I work best with sincere and transformative leaders. I want to be able to get outside help if I feel that I have been unjustly treated. That's my right. That's anybody's right guaranteed by the Constitution. The Akujanji (especially the last two clauses) will not allow me to even do that.

It states that I will have to obey orders however the vice-chancellor defines these as. What if I disagree with orders that are politically motivated or ones that are antithetical to the philosophy of a university? I have a simple solution to resolve this issue - remove especially those two clauses. They are only suitable for totalitarian regimes that are evolving into fascist states.

I believe I am a committed educator who will be able to help students of UUM and other Malaysian universities develop newer ways of looking at society and themselves.

I do not believe the present administration of UUM is interested or capable of helping academics revise and remove the last two oppressive clauses of the Surat Akujanji. Or maybe I am wrong. Maybe the Academic Union can help do it with the help of other groups. Or maybe a new leadership needs to be installed, one that will help even repeal the University and University Colleges Act.

Let me serve

With utmost sincerity, I want to serve UUM (and other Malaysian universities). I want to teach its undergraduate students, advise its doctoral students, and give lectures to the public on the importance of creative, critical and futuristic thinking. I want them to become radical world wise thinkers that can speak up and speak with truth to power - without fear or favour. My own education and my childhood experience of asking questions taught me to do these. Speak up against oppression wherever they are.

The lessons of the American Revolution taught me this too. I Iearned this through teaching American history in the United States. I want to teach especially Malaysian youth the proper and rational way to revolt against all forms of injustices - through radical but rational ways of thinking. We must continue to help the poor, the oppressed and the marginalised of all races speak up and design ways to make their lives more meaningful. This nation is heading towards ruins.

UUM need not doubt my sincerity. If the present administration is doing that, perhaps it is getting unwise advice from members of the old regime. This shouldn't be the case. And again, remove the oppressive clauses of the Surat Akujanji for a start and tell students and faculty that they will now be allowed to speak without fear or favour and that the university is now a safe place for the development of intellectualism.

No student groups should be hunted down for having different views of the future of our nation. No lecturers and members of the staff should be disciplined, demoted, or dismissed for having dissenting views and having strong principles. Be true to ourselves. Things will be better. We can then talk freely about power, ideology, culture, religion, brain, consciousness, the NEP and corruption, hegemony, radical philosophy, new definitions of 'bumiputera', extra terrestrial intelligence, or new political philosophies for new governments.

Give students the freedom to speak up on matters of importance to their future. Let them create a better future than ours. Ours is now all messed up - with corruption, cronyism, God-less capitalism, institutional racism, mediocritism and all kinds of "isms". Have them keep their idealism on their way to ethical pragmatism.

Students can ask any rational and relevant questions in a public forum and not get suspended for two semesters. Even elementary schools in the United States value, promote and celebrate freedom of inquiry in classrooms. I speak from experience in this area. The Americans removed their Akujanji many decades ago. They will laugh at our universities or having such a document.

Petition by 40 academics

Many academics still have faith in our public universities. The petition endorsed by 40 prominent academics headed by the gurus of Malaysian academia – Drs Syed Husin Ali and Lim Teck Ghee - attest to the urgency of our universities to address the issue of academic freedom.

The petition, endorsed by numerous prominent non-governmental organisations (NGOs) must be taken seriously by the Malaysian public as well. It renews the work of others especially the Academic Union of Universiti Malaya on the need to remove the symbols of intellectual shackles. I hope the universities are passionately discussing this important petition and acting upon it.

The public too still has faith in our public universities. But we must remove the obstacles to intellectual progress - institutions, individuals, and ideology. We can do this collectively.

I will continue to bring the message of peace, mediation, and conflict resolution in this matter. But I will never sign the Akujanji in its present form and I urge academics to do so too.

May we progress as a nation, through conflict resolution and mediation.

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