Monday, January 21, 2008

153] Reflect, re-analyse, reconstruct, revolt!

Reflect, re-analyse, reconstruct, revolt!

Azly Rahman | Jan 21, 08 3:05pm

Final Part (Part 4) of the speech on "Student Idealism", delivered to Indonesian and Malaysian Muslim students of North America, Washington D C, December 2007.

We now come to the last part of our speech. If there is a restatement of my thesis statement, it should sound like this:

"Students, you are a beacon of hope. Reflect, reanalyse and revolt. Reclaim your righteous minds, as the African-American actor Denzel Washington said to his students in the movie The Great Debaters. Transform the world inside and outside."

The hope for change lies in the middle class and in public education, and in you, students of social change. How do we teach ourselves to analyse propaganda, bias, half-truths, and recognise progressive forces, institutions and organisations of change and subsequently align with these forces?

Reflect

How do we retreat inside of ourselves first, just like what Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) did in preparation to go out into society and deconstruct it, with the help of fate conspiring to change the scheme of things entire? The Prophets of the Judeo-Christian tradition – the messengers of Allah – such as Abraham, David, Moses and Jesus (peace be upon them), and the transcultural philosopher of all ages such as Socrates, Siddhartha Gautama, Kabir, Guru Nanak, KungFu Tze, Lao Tze, Mencius and many others send to all nations since the beginning of humanity – all of them have gone through moments of reflection and engineer revolutions of the mind, body, soul, and even social relations of production. We need to read what the philosopher Karl Jaspers and later historian of religion Karen Armstrong said in her book A History of God about the Axial Age wherein there is a flowering of religious ideas in the East and the West particularly with the emergence of great minds such Socrates in Greece, Siddhartha Gautama in India and KungFu Tze in China.

We are in a postmodern age of creativity, chaos, cynicism, chasm, complexity and change – brought about by the advancement of technology, the permeation of relativity on thinking, and the globalisation of ideas. We need deep moments of reflection in order to survive in this chaotic world. We need to philosophise religion and to ask deep questions on what we believe in. Universities need to train students to engage in these activities in order to achieve a balance between the developments of the rational-scientific-instrumental-reasoning mind with the intuitive-creative-spiritual-contemplating-soul-searching mind. Guided by the Inner Self the individual that has evolved to the highest stage of moral and spiritual reasoning will be able to revolt against the corrupt system and help others do the same.

Re-analyse

How do we do this in the Malaysian and Indonesian context?

I see great potential in our students in public universities they need to equip themselves with the skills to affect changes. It is their rights - the right to think and act and to organise for intelligent actions that will be of benefit to Malaysians of all races.

At the brink of the 2008 Malaysian general election, we are in a mess, are we not?! What was Jakarta like after the fall of Suharto? What was Mecca/Makkah like before the emergence of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon Him)?

Crime rate, mass dissatisfaction, oil prices, religious intolerance, levels of state-sponsored indoctrination in our educational institutions, number of those involved in substance abuse, dispossessed and marginalised youth, crackdown on dissenting and progressive voices of change, national concern for a fair election, the rot in the judiciary, arrogant public servants, cases of corruption in high and highest places, - all these are rising and collectively has become an issue of National Security.

Let me give you one illustration:

Growing up in Johor Bahru as a teenager who thought that I have been groomed "street smart", I don't think the streets of Johor Bahru are now safe enough to give our present youth that kind of urban education of mastering the urban environment. In the mid 1970s, I used to walk home alone from Jalan Ah Fook to Majidee when I was 11 or 12. Now I'd be dead halfway.

There is also the loss of respect in the youth of today - respect for themselves, the elders, the teachers, the family, and essentially law and order. The medium is the message though - if youth groups such as the Mat Rempits are supposedly being used to create disrespect for others and to have disregard for law and order, and at the same time law enforcement agencies themselves are losing control over their environment, we have got a problem such as what we are reading in the news.

Johor Bahru, again, is a good example. What has it become? Harlem and the Bronx in New York is now safer than Johor Bahru or even Alor Setar or KL. Why?- Maybe the cops in New York are still taking bribes but the public is more vigilant and powerful in playing their role in the check and balance system. Mayor Giuliani started cleaning up New York City in mid-1990s and New York City is now safer. Local government is strong here in America. Of course, as I have written many times, democracy is evolving in America, but because citizens demand their rights to be well-represented and protected, the evolution of democracy progresses well.

But if we have politicians who think that politics is a process of enriching oneself, family, and friends, and not about public service we will continue to elect people who do not want to step down after 8, 16, 22, 24 or whatever years. Look at states that have Chief Ministers that refuse to step down after 10, 15 years. What is the consequence of being in power for too long? Look at what happened to Indonesia during the time of Suharto? The image of Yudhistira – the "Just One" --,propped up for many decades in the psyche of the Indonesians is now the image of a mentally and physically destroyed ogre or Rakshasha. Crimes against Humanity were committed a million times over. One needs to read the work of the great Indonesian poet W.S. Rendra to get a feel of what ailed the great nation of Indonesia.

Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely, as Lord Apter once said.

In Malaya, our political system is so messed up now that even the universities don't know what their role is any longer -- is the role to use the system to create good, questioning, thinking, problem-solving, brave, transformative, life-long learning, citizens OR to create fear in students so that they cannot make good political decisions that will help them rejuvenate society. The 'respect' for students is not there, unlike in campuses in many advanced nations. The university has become a "particularity" that promotes parochial thinking. Communitarian thinking has taken over cosmopolitan thinking.

Reconstruct

We need to move forward recreate society by demanding that we make radical - yes, radical - changes to all levels of leadership that is no longer making our nation safe and happy. Change must come from the grassroots, middle class, intelligentsia, and the policy/lawmakers. It must come from you students – beacons of hope.

We cannot even allow a new breed of racist young leaders to take foot. We must look for those who will abandon race-based politics and fight for the rights, respect, dignity, and economic well-being of the children of all races - because this country called Malaysia is founded upon the principles of Multiculturalism that should have evolved as how is should be. Race-based politics is a threat to national security. We will not survive another 50 years if we continue to allow those in power to play up those the masses that will easily translate economic frustration into anger.

Our children deserve a better nation that what is happening to it right now. We have evolved too much materialistically and have let politicians be consumed and intoxicated by money in the process of maintaining power. Politics has lost its noble value, in our case.

How do we improve thinking skills in our schools and in our universities then if we discourage even university students to ask radical questions and to think 'outside of the box'? Who benefits from all these? Is the level of thinking deteriorating? Who's at fault if this is so?

Is there a difference between the public and private schools/higher education institution in terms of how teaching is approached? How much of what is happening in our Malaysian and Indonesian classrooms help promote radical questioning? How do we reflect upon the "culture of learning" in our classrooms and how teachers/lecturers/professors encourage questions that improve cognition?

Would allowing radical speakers (from politics, arts, humanities, etc.) into our campuses help students develop alternative points of view? In America today, campuses are racing to grab presidential candidates to speak to students.

Senator Barack Obama, Democratic Presidential candidate, recently spoke in Jersey City New Jersey in St. Peter's College and many high school and college students are even volunteering in his campaign, -- what a beauty! He is an interesting "hybridized" individual – he has a Javanese stepfather and spent a few years growing up in Jakarta!

Can we do this in Malaysian campuses – allow any speaker to speak on campus? I think we should do this. I think we ought to. We will have nothing to lose except our mental chains. I think all of you here today – studying in America – should campaign for this idea of "democratising thinking on all campuses". Let freedom reign in our universities. Insist that we become more informed, more critical, and more intelligent beings that will change society for the better.

Vice Chancellors must allow students bodies to invite radical speakers during the campaign season in order to enrich our students with alternative viewpoints. This will help them decide their future of even make much needed changes. I think the Vice Chancellors will be more respected too for promoting such freedom -- true to their commitment to "World Class" thinking. It'll be the beginning of a good way to develop a culture of intellectual/academic freedom. It is time we mature politically.

Revolt

We now come to our last few concluding statements.

Respectable leaders of the new age of Malaysian and Indonesian politics,

You are answerable to the Creator, not to creations. Reclaim your righteous mind. Reflect, reanalyze, reorganize, and revolt against the injustices that afflict fellow human beings. Destroy racism and race-based policies, so that you may be help society be at peace with itself. But you must first find peace within yourself, so that you may then govern yourself peacefully. Be guided not only by the scriptures close to your heart but also by the philosophies of other cultures you are yet to learn from. Destroy all form of artificial constructs that are helpful only to a certain extent; constructs such as race, creed, color, and national origin. We are essentially made of the very basic unit if life: the DNA. We are created from a clot of blood so that we may learn to evolve, to know, to transform, and to help others enjoy the Blessings the Creator has bestowed upon us. In Islam, is not Muhammad (Peace be upon Him) sent to Humanity as a Gift and a Blessing and a Mercy to Humankind?

I leave you with this quote/Quranic verse on universality and multiculturalism you are all familiar with:

"O Humankind! We have created you from a male and female, and made you into nations and tribes, that you may know one another. Verily, the most honorable of you in the sight of Allah is he who has most taqwa among of you. Verily, Allah is All-Knowing, All-Aware." (Al-Hujurat/The Dwellings, verse 13)

Journey into yourself in Peace. Journey into society in Peace. Hold on fast to your ideals You have a world to clean up, to reconstruct, and to transform.

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