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Malaysian students and social revolutions

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Azly Rahman

I congratulate our students in Malaysia for being interested in activism again. At a time when race issues and racism is on the rise, we need voices in the wilderness to speak in unison en masse, eerily shattering the silence of the forest. We need those voices to haunt the corridors of academia; corridors that have been busy merely with issues of politicization of this or that, instead of becoming fertile areas to plant the seeds of philosophy and social revolutions. Our universities need to discuss critical issues in society and invite promoters of freedom. A few years ago Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was invited to Columbia University in New York raise issues of global concern.

More importantly, Ahmadinejad was invited in the name of promoting and continuing the tradition of academic freedom. Our universities are more interested in inviting Mawi and Siti Norhaliza so that the students can continue to be glued to images of pop idols, and so that they will be turned into one-dimensional beings. We cannot continue to feed our students with bread and circuses. They need philosophy, political economy, multiculturalism, and scientific socialism on a daily basis.

The Mawi-Siti Norhaliza culture of thinking constructed in our universities are still reflective of false consciousness, mass deception, 1Malaysia, Hadhari-pop mania and iconoclasm, and emblematic of talking heads of money-making machines that prey especially upon the weakness of the Malay spirit.

How did we come to a stage in history that Kennedy-era economist Walt Rostow would call ‘the age of mass consumption of mass deception’? It is our fault that the state of affairs is nauseating.

We are being denied justice in virtually all aspects of governance. This is the legacy of hegemony wrought upon the nation through the 22-year rule of former premier Dr Mahathir Mohamad.This is the danger of letting one stay in power for way too long.Power corrupts and absolute power can corrupt absolutely.

We have not developed a critically conscious citizenry, we let the three branches of government collapse from the tree of knowledge that we artificially plant in order to showcase democracy to the world. We let the system silence the people and we dumb-down our educational institutions. We don't know exactly how the next general election will favour the despotic regime.

Danton of the French Revolutionary period lamented days before his execution: "... better be a fisherman than engage in all these". He may be wrong. We must all be like Robespierre, I suppose, and fight on until we conspire with fate to change the scheme of things.

I believe we will see natural justice take its course. As Rousseau said: "Everything is Good in the hands of the author of Things, everything degenerate in the Hands of man". Indeed the challenge is to stop the rot. Only with regime change will this be possible. Only through education for critical consciousness can the nation survive intact.

Our universities need to be turned into more intellectually challenging places and more systematically be forced to open their doors to critical dialogue. They must allow radical speakers to be invited. Students must not be denied the need to hear critical perspectives. Their minds must be cultivated with revolutionary theories that would teach them to revolt against all forms of oppression and domination.

We must demand that our schools and universities produce documents of change in the way we teach students about freedom of speech and improvement of thinking. We cannot allow our students to develop into leaders that we have now -- those interested in maintaining the status quo of a sinking ship.

The documents of change must succinctly state our commitment to raise the level of thinking of all students from pre-school to post-graduate schools. A higher order of thinking skills, critical thinking, and creative thinking must be made explicit goals. Benchmarks of higher-order thinking skills must be set and standards put in place.

Schools must bridge the achievement gap, educational resources must be allocated with equity so that we do not produce classes of people that will antagonise each other and lead the way for the kind of revolution we do not want to see - as in the case of France that culminated with the burning of Paris a few years back.

Multi-culturalism must be the foundation of our schools and educational institutions; the meeting of diverse needs of the learners and the creation of a nation of people who will not only respect one another's struggle but collaborate in removing regimes that create divisions in society; regimes that antagonize classes of people, using race and religion as tools of hatred.

We have a lot to do, as a nation. But we must begin with the unshackling of our mentality in solving problems. If our universities are merely interested in maintaining the hegemony of the ruling class and a corporatist despotic regime that thrives on slogans of economic progress via political stability, we cannot see deep into our national psyche, let alone heal it.

We cannot see the desire within that we wish to subjugate, tame, and put to moral and ethical use. ‘Desire’ here means the maintaining of the entity called the kerajaan, which produces men and machines that help run the mechanistic world of rampant corruption.

The machinery that supports this system is plagued with individuals and institutions that legitimise the propping-up of a broken judicial system, the advancing of sub-intelligent values in the way we teach our students in our universities, the empasis on material gains over spiritual cultivation, the prioritizing of wants over needs, the creation of hate groups, and the maintaining of a parliamentary culture that is fast degenerating into a state of denial.

Stop the rot in our educational institutions. Open our minds to possibilities of progressive changes. Let our imagination and hope for a just society run wild. Honor Socrates and the great thinkers of revolutionary change. Express rage against the machine.We do not have anything to lose except our mental chains.


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