Malaysia: Whose freedom of speech, Mahathir?


Malaysia: Whose freedom of speech, Mr. Prime MInister?

Does the prime minister really think it is his administration’s prerogative to grant or deny the freedoms that are associated with democratic life? A news report on Nov 8 quoted him as warning the public against causing trouble in “matters concerning race and religion” through the “abuse” of the freedom of expression “given by the government”.

If the report is accurate, Malaysians have reason to fear the possibility of losing one of the liberties that citizens of a democratic country normally consider to be their inalienable right.

Mahathir sounded like he was speaking as the leader of a Malaysia stuck in the pre-internet and pre-Reformasi era, when it was perhaps normal for the average citizen to think of the government as the dispenser of liberties.

But the advent of the internet, which roughly coincided with the emergence of the Reformasi movement, heralded the rise of democratic consciousness among ordinary educated Malaysians. Government controls over the flow of information were no longer effective, and anger over the perceived injustice to Anwar Ibrahim spread across cyberspace and across racial lines.

Malaysians gradually became accustomed to the idea that the freedom to express themselves and the freedom to avail themselves of information are integral parts of civilised democratic life. Today, they think of such liberties as theirs to own and not to be dispensed to them by the government at its pleasure.

An Iranian scholar writing about the 1979 overthrow of the 2,500-year-old Persian monarchy attributed the fall of the Shah, with all his military might, to the simple idea of distributing tape-recorded speeches of the then-exiled Ayatollah Khomeini.

Indeed, technology has played a crucial part in the rise of civil society in Malaysia. Futurist Alvin Toffler predicted in a 1970 book that dictators would fall with advancements in information technology and the availability of computers in every home.

Image result for ayn rand on freedom quote

Politicians in power, in Malaysia or anywhere else in the democratic world, must live with the reality that they can no longer effectively curtail freedom of speech. And Mahathir should not fret over this as long as his government enacts laws to punish those who threaten bodily harm with their speeches.

Indeed it is only a citizen’s own sense of decency and decorum, as well as his fear of running afoul of laws against the threat of violence, that should limit his outburst.

In the new Malaysia, we must constantly remind the government that freedom of speech is not some commodity for it to give or take away. It is our fundamental right. I may not like someone’s speech because it offends my beliefs, but I do not agree that he should be jailed. I can always counter his argument with my own speech or writing.

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Even now there is a WhatsApp warfare over the possible ratification of ICERD and its alleged impact on so-called Malay rights and privileges. This is one of the signs of a working democracy. In fact, we are now seeing a rise in the number of public forums to educate citizens on current issues. But it is sad that these forums occur only in hotels and clubhouses and not on the campuses of our universities.

In the new Malaysia, any politician in power who threatens to withhold the freedom of speech will be seen as someone who is out of touch with the times. The new Malaysia rejects the cult of the strong man but welcomes a prime minister who knows how to manage the talents of his subordinates and sees civil society as a participant in governance.

It is true that many current members of the federal Cabinet have no experience in governance, but then neither are they experienced in the destruction of public institutions and the desecration of the Federal Constitution. And we should welcome that.

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.

Language, Civilisation, Politics, and Malay Chauvinists


November 1, 2018

Language, Civilisation, Politics, and Malay Chauvinists 

by Dr. Sharifah Munirah Alatas

http://www.freemalaysiatoday.com

Since 9/11, global scrutiny turned to contentious concepts such as terrorism, mono-polar, bipolar, superpower, economic and cultural imperialism, as well as linguistic colonialism.

It is the latter which is the subject of this commentary because it has stirred harsh, aggressive and sometimes, amusing reactions in the media (local, regional and global), as well as in Malaysia’s recent parliamentary sitting.

A few days ago, Parliament was entertained by the rantings of a particular opposition MP who claimed that English is not an intellectual language. Among the many incoherent sentences that were uttered, he cited examples of ancient civilisations and conquerors, attempting to rationalise that, “English is not an intellectual language that develops the mind and brain”. He also confidently pontificated that “modern economies like Japan, Taiwan and non-English speaking Europeans do not use English in their journey to become developed nations”.

I hope this issue commands the attention of most Malaysians because for a multi-cultural, multi-religious, economically-developing and relatively-peaceful nation, we need to separate the “wheat from the shaft”.

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Linguistic colonialism or imperialism as a concept is a derivative of Edward Said’s conceptualisation of cultural imperialism (in his two famous books Culture and Imperialism, and Orientalism). I doubt, though, that the recent local uproar about the use of English as a medium of instruction of a few subjects in school is based on any knowledge of Edward Said’s work.

Nevertheless, anti-English language crusaders keep creeping out of the woodwork because it seems fashionable. It is glaring that all of these narratives to date have been devoid of historical context. And this makes for extremely wimpy analyses.

Image result for Hasan Arifin, BN’s MP for Rompin

UMNO Intellectuals

Hasan Arifin, BN’s MP for Rompin, is not alone. There are many in Malaysia, among the public, government and elite who feel that English is being “deified”. They also believe that English speakers never created great civilisations. Leaving aside that this notion is erroneous, it also begs the question, “what is a great civilisation?”

In my  understanding, a great civilisation is based on a network of cities (territories) comprising cultures that are defined by the economic, political, military, diplomatic, social and cultural interactions among them.

So, the Roman, Spanish, Arab, French, British and Chinese (with their various dynasties) were great civilisations. How did language then become the signature dish, so to speak, of that civilisation?

Through these empires, languages spread and shifted in dominance. In the past, empires spread their influence through their armies, and after the conquests, so began the social and linguistic assimilation. Between the 3 BC and 3 AD, the Roman Empire was bilingual — Latin and Greek. This was because the Romans knew that Greek was a language of prestige, philosophy and higher education — an “intellectual” language.

Spain succeeded in making over 20 sovereign states today, that speak Spanish, excluding millions of Spanish speakers in immigrant communities in other non-Spanish speaking nations such as the United States, Canada and the Philippines.

Castillian Spanish became the most important language of government and trade. It was the lingua franca of the Spanish empire, a derivative of Latin. Latin was still the “intellectual” language of the Spanish and of the Church.

The Chola Dynasty was one of the longest, most civilised empires in the history of southern India. Tamil and Sanskrit were the official languages.Tamil and Sanskrit are two distinct languages, the former being Dravidian and the latter being an Indo-Aryan language. As we can see, all three great civilisations were bi-lingual.

In 21st century Malaysia, however, we are faced with a backlash of a-historical pundits who reject the ebb and flow of civilisational change, yet advocate for national progress and development.

Let me educate them on the current position of English in the world today. First, it is an intellectual language. The British Empire, between the reigns of Elizabeth I and Elizabeth II (1588-1952), had about 250 million English language speakers. English achieved unique conditions of development. The large continents of North America, Africa and Asia were colonised with industrialisation and trade in mind.

Global conditions at the time facilitated the transition towards the flourishing of English in previously French and Spanish colonial territories of North America and Africa. Due to abundant natural resources and human capital in these regions, the wheels of commerce and trade helped to “deify” (not my word) the English language. English was “at the right place, at the right time”.

Today, all civilisations are enriched by the ideas, thoughts and knowledge disseminated world wide in English. Of course there are other languages that perform this function, but English is predominant.

Second, people like Hasan Arifin and his supporters cannot distinguish between modernisation, Westernisation and imperialism.

Modernisation is the development and application of current and innovative science in the development process of all sectors of society. Westernisation is a process subsumed under modernisation when specifically-Western notions of what it means to be modern are accepted as universal values of modernisation.

Many aspects of Westernisation should not be accepted as modernisation. Imperialism, on the other hsnsd, is the process of domination of policies and ideas with a specific agenda in mind. In history, imperial powers have imposed power and influence through diplomacy or military force.

I think the current discourses in France and India of a “linguistic imperialism” are far-fetched.  Like Westernisation, there is good and bad imperialism. It is also era-specific.

In the 21st century, military and economic powers like the US, China, Great Britain, Japan, Germany and Russia do not mirror the same imperialistic goals of the World War Two era.

Anintellectual, would realise that the need to master the English language is hardly the imposition of an imperialistic agenda.

The inadequacy of the historical-context approach is dangerous for nation building. A system oiled by pseudo-intellectuals who run the policy-making machinery will be suicidal for our “new” Malaysia.

My advice is to be firmly grounded in historical processes, be up-to-date with current economic and socio-political trends and subdue ethnocentric tendencies which are embarrassing and underdeveloped.

Critics of the English language quote China and Japan as being ignorant of the English language, yet they challenge the US and other great powers economically and militarily. It takes more, however, to become a global hegemon.

Anti-English crusaders in Malaysia believe religiously that China and Japan, despite their incapacity to speak and write in English, have reached a level of global economic hierarchy that threatens US and other major power positions. However, even this notion is skewed.

China, for example is known as “the factory of the world” and “the bridge-builder of the world”. But China’s global hegemonic status is in doubt because it lacks the capacity for economic reform, to minimise economic inefficiencies and it has proven inadequate at reforming the financial sector in order to provide investors with consistently profitable returns (the failure of Sri Lanka’s Hambantota port construction is a case in point). Therefore, the issue of language does not figure in the equation.

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.

 

ISTAC and The Closing of the Malay Mind (?)


September 6, 2018

ISTAC and The Closing of the Malay Mind (?)

 

Dr. Maszlee Malik was appointed Minister of Education to enhance Pakatan Harapan’s Malay-Islamic credentials

COMMENT | Any specialist on think tanks will tell you that 80 percent of the think tanks in the world were formed right after 1950. This was a period marked by the ascendance of the Cold War.

When Cold War ended in 1989, think tanks remained. Some tried to reinvent themselves by holding marquee events like the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos.

In Japan, the Nikkei Asia Review does not have a think tank but is nevertheless made more pronounced by the annual Nikkei Asia Conference which Dr Mahathir Mohamad never seems to miss.

In China, the Boao Forum for Asia in Hainan Island was formed with the goal to supplant and replace WEF while the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore seeks to gather all the defence ministers in one spot over a period of three days or less.

At last week’s Bumiputera Empowerment Congress, which in 1962 and 1965 spawned the creation of MARA and Bank Bumiputera (now absorb by CIMB Bank Group), there were a series of resolutions that read like a laundry list of motherhood statements.

This is usually the first sign that things are about to fail. When driven to the extreme, where ideas are sparse, just pull any proverbial rabbits out of the hats.

Among others, it affirmed the centrality of the International Institute of Islamic Thought and Civilisation (ISTAC) as the prime vehicle to transmit the right values to help Malays and bumiputeras become competitive again.

Yet, ISTAC has had a checkered history. When it was first created in 1987, its location was just a stone’s throw away from the old International Islamic University Malaysia (IIUM) campus in Petaling Jaya.

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Professor Syed Muhammad Naquib al-Attas (pic above) was the leading founder of Istac.  His goal was to revive the salience of the philosophy of Imam Abu Hamid al-Ghazali. Anyone who failed to abide by this dictate was not considered his ‘murid’ (student).

Subsequently, it was moved to its own campus in Damansara Heights, adorned with its own Spanish Muslim or Andalusian motifs to give it a sense of crowning intellectual glory.

Before ISTAC could establish itself as a world-class institution, the politics of 1998 had thrown a curve ball at it.

ISTAC found itself embedded into IIUM’s new Gombak campus once more, and towards the end of the tenure of Najib Razak tenure as prime minister, most of the professors in Istac were either retired, or impelled to leave; some sadly were teaching three credit hours a year.

So much for respecting the intellectual authority and pre-eminence of the academics. It was Rais Yatim, as the IIUM President, who tried to add a dash of relevance by connecting ISTAC to the Malay world.

After all, rather than a singular focus on Imam al-Ghazali, the same intensity can be zeroed in on Hamzah Fansuri, a top spiritual thinker in Aceh, Indonesia, in the 16th century.

Malay, Islam, or both?

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When the authorities resort to moving the goalpost once too often, what is originally a sound academic institution would be enveloped by a foreboding atmosphere of fear and intellectual intimidation. Should we focus on Islam or the Malay world or both? In other words, academics who signed on to teach in ISTAC would be immediately aware of its sketchy history.

Instead of challenging the students to think in a critical and creative manner, the academics themselves would be looking over their shoulder if any authorities are watching over them when they teach subjects that are seemingly politically or ethnographically incorrect.

Must they teach Islam alongside with Malay history when the two can be separate disciplines?

The sciences of Quran and Hadith, for example, have their strong and long pedigree. But so does Sufism of various strands. Would a scholar be punished for teaching Ibn Arabi, instead of Ibn Farabi? No one knows. Precisely because the prior failed experimentation with creative Islamic thought had sent Muslim thinkers careening into various directions.

Do they just stick to their jobs and teach run-of-the-mill courses dictated by the authorities above or do they take the risk of teaching thoughtful and challenging subjects?

When scholars themselves are enveloped in an atmosphere of uncertainties, the process of transmitting the right values to the students are usually facile, fake, and artificial.

Not surprisingly, IIUM produced two groups of students in the last 20 years. Some were committed to reforming Malaysia, others who worked alongside Najib, saw no wrong in the kleptocratic excesses of the regime.

How can IIUM students fail on such a simple moral issue? Stealing was wrong yet many went with it at the Prime Minister’s Office. When scholars cannot predict their own fate, how can they help students grapple with their own?

Way to move forward

Indeed, Neil Postman, a top critic and educator, affirmed that the classroom is a seat of “negotiation”. When students and staffs are trapped in the same classroom, they have to challenge and confront one another’s ideas, albeit differently.

What emerges from the austere setting of the classrooms are not just information and knowledge per se, but the appetite to ask even more questions in the following days or weeks.

Paul Freire, a Brazilian thinker, argued in ‘The Pedagogy of the Oppressed’ that if students and staff members do not resort to outright argument and counter-argument, they would be importing all the logic of domination – and hegemony – that are all too apparent out there into their own mental conditioning.

If Malays are deemed as an “uncompetitive race” and this notion is left unchallenged in the future classes of ISTAC, then the students and staff members would not be able to break the chain of such mind-numbing stereotypes that are transported into the academic setting.

Students and faculty members would be attempting a safe and septic way to put their views across, which for the lack of better word, is what the late Professor Allan Bloom pointed out in the American campuses at the start of his ‘The Closing of the American Mind’ – no one wants to ask hard questions.

Indeed, the Bumiputera Empowerment Congress can lead to the Closing of the “Malay mind” too.

At the one-day conference, where the leaders talk down to the audience, where the latter in turn pretends to listen out of the polite fiction to portray their sheer compliance to the new government of Pakatan Harapan, there is no “breakthrough” at all.

Indeed, even if Education Minister Maszlee Malik as the IIUM president wants to focus on transforming Istac, the latter is an institution that is distinguished by two mediums of instructions – Arabic and English.

Malays were at their phenomenal best in MARA, subsequently, Bank Rakyat and Bank Negara, when they could excel in Malay and English, only then Arabic. If it is the latter, a third language, one would have to spend a considerable time memorising the grammar, syntax and rich vocabularies.

While learning a third language is good, the issue at play is economic competitiveness of the bumiputeras and Malays now, which means they have to make their proficiency in Malay and English work first, only then a mastery of Arabic. Either way, they must compete in an Anglo-Saxon world.

Mahathir and Anwar Ibrahim are not masters of Arabic. Neither is Daim Zainuddin. In fact, none of our previous prime ministers or education ministers has had any command of the Arabic language, except perhaps Maszlee who did a language stint in Jordan. But one cannot expect a first-term minister to lionise the whole country at the first instance. He can’t. The struggle over black shoes versus white shoes was enough to reflect the difficulties that he may have found himself dragged into.

To be sure, the idea of using ISTAC to transfuse the right values into the bumiputeras is a lovely premise. But a wrong one.

Anyone who has been associated with ISTAC in any way and form will also know that the institution does not normally cater to large segment of students. They offer advanced graduate classes at Masters and PhD levels. How can bumiputeras and Malay graduates be transformed only at the top, when those howling for help and jobs are those at the heap of the bottom?

Somehow the proposition on Istac as the locomotive of ‘revolusi mental’, or mental revolution, seems like a return to the 1990s when the Malaysian and global economy both moved so far along to produce platform, honeycomb, sharing, and gig economy – all of which are driven by artificial intelligence, algorithm, big data analytics and automation.

How can ISTAC transform Malays and bumputeras to adopt Industrial Revolution 4.0 when the focus on ISTAC itself, both institutionally and otherwise, remain unclear?

The success of MARAa has proven that Malays are quite adept at learning the best technologies, sciences and communication media; without which Malaysia would not have produced a capable group of officers and captains of industries.

But ISTAC has to either be merged with MARA, or converted into an entity that can cater to the bumiputera and Malay masses.

When it does, ISTAC has to then cultivate an ethic to learn, unlearn, and relearn, without fail, as futuristic Alvin Toffler and Heidi Toffler warned. Without such a curiosity, it will be another project that is high on rhetoric and low on delivery.


PHAR KIM BENG was a multiple award-winning Head Teaching Fellow on China and Cultural Revolution in Harvard University.

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.

The AF-A word


August 12, 2018

What is Affirmative Action?The AF-A word

http://discovery.economist.com/openfuture/what-is-affirmative-action?kw=all&csid=socialoffb&ref=openfuture

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Affirmative Action–Constructive Discrimination? In Malaysia, it is Bumiputraism by UMNO for political control of the Malays
 

As Harvard gets sued for discrimination, an idea popular in many countries comes under fire

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HARVARD UNIVERSITY is being sued for allegedly discriminating unlawfully against Asian applicants. America’s best-known university takes race into account when deciding whom to admit. It says this is one of many factors, and justified by the need to ensure a diverse student body. Plaintiffs contend that it has an unwritten quota to stop Asians from taking as many places as their stellar test scores would predict.

 

Racial discrimination is illegal in America, except when it isn’t. “Affirmative action” policies, which discriminate in favour of members of disadvantaged groups, are widespread in America and many other countries. Critics, including many supporters of the Harvard suit, argue that they should be illegal. Confusion abounds–America’s Supreme Court has offered contradictory guidance as to when affirmative action is and is not allowed.

The very phrase is vague. One of its early uses was in 1965, when President Lyndon Johnson of the United States signed an executive order requiring government employers to take “affirmative action” to “hire without regard to race, religion and national origin”. Since then, the phrase has come to mean more or less the opposite: giving preference to people because they belong to a particular race, religion, caste or sex.

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In many countries, the state gives a leg-up to members of certain groups because they have suffered discrimination in the past or continue to endure it today. America offers preferences to black people, whose ancestors were enslaved. India has quotas for dalits, formerly known as “untouchables”, who are at the bottom of the Hindu caste system. Some countries have affirmative action for members of groups that are on average poorer than their neighbours, even if those neighbours have not historically done them wrong. For example, Malaysia has positive discrimination for native Malays, who are poorer and do worse in school than their Chinese and Indian compatriots.

The details vary from place to place. In some countries, affirmative action applies only to areas under direct state control, such as public-works contracts or admission to public universities. In others, private firms are also required to take account of the race of their staff, contractors and even owners.

Advocates of positive discrimination often argue that such policies are necessary to correct historical injustice. Some quote another line of President Johnson: “You do not take a man who for years has been hobbled by chains, liberate him, bring him to the starting line of a race, saying you are free to compete with all the others, and still justly believe you have been completely fair.” Another argument is that discrimination against some groups is so pervasive that it can only be corrected with reverse discrimination.

Critics of affirmative action argue that two wrongs do not make a right; that treating different racial groups differently will entrench racial antagonism and that societies should aim to be colour-blind.

 

Many of the groups favoured by affirmative action have grown more prosperous or done better educationally since these policies were introduced. But establishing how much credit affirmative action can take is hard. The world has grown dramatically richer in recent decades and far more of its people have gone to university. Ethnic Malays are three times richer in Singapore, where they do not get preferences, than in next-door Malaysia, where they do.

 

Thomas Sowell, the author of “Affirmative Action around the World”, observes that although affirmative action policies are typically introduced as temporary measures aimed at narrow groups, they often expand in scope as new groups demand privileges, and become permanent. In 1949 India’s constitution said quotas should be phased out in ten years. Today over 60% of the population is eligible. More than 95% of South Africans are covered by preferences of some kind.

Although the groups covered by affirmative action tend to be poorer than their neighbours, the individuals who benefit are often not. One American federal-contracting programme favours businesses owned by “socially and economically disadvantaged” people. Such people can be many times richer than the average American family and still be deemed “disadvantaged” if their skin is the right colour. One beneficiary of South Africa’s programme of “Black Economic Empowerment” is worth an estimated $500m; he is also now the president of South Africa.

In several countries, the most heated debates around positive discrimination concern education. Some American states, such as California, Michigan and Florida, ban the consideration of race in public university admissions. But others are doubling down. Universities that take race into account are typically reluctant to disclose how much weight they ascribe to it. Critics speculate that this is because they give it far more weight than most Americans would consider fair. One study found that at some colleges, black applicants who scored 450 points (out of 1,600) worse than Asians on entrance tests were equally likely to win a place. The plaintiffs in the Harvard suit hope that it will force the university to reveal exactly how it evaluates applications.

Some say it is reasonable to award university places to African American students with lower test scores, given that as recently as 1954 it was legal in America for states to run separate schools for blacks and whites. But critics argue that it is counter-productive. A study by Richard Sander and Stuart Taylor found that lowering the bar for black students lets them enter law schools for which they are ill-prepared, causing many to drop out. Strikingly, they estimate that positive discrimination results in fewer blacks successfully qualifying as lawyers than would have been the case under colour-blind policies.

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Some people argue that policies designed to uplift the disadvantaged should cater only for those who are actually poor, rather than using race as a proxy for disadvantage. Barack Obama, though he has generally supported affirmative action, said it would be wrong for his daughters to get “more favourable treatment than a poor white kid who has struggled more”. Some universities have adopted race-neutral policies such as trying harder to recruit poor students or admitting anyone who comes in the top 10% of his or her high-school class. Many could free up more spaces for deserving poor students by removing preferences for the children of alumni—but few do.

 

No to Academic Normalization of Trump


August 6, 2018

No to Academic Normalization of Trump

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Those who have served the current US president are necessarily tainted by the experience. While they should not be barred from speaking at universities, they should be accorded none of the trappings of institutional esteem such as fellowships, named lectures, and keynote speeches.

 

CAMBRIDGE – The University of Virginia recently faced a storm of protest after its Miller Center of Public Affairs appointed President Donald Trump’s former Director of Legislative Affairs, Marc Short, to a one-year position as Senior Fellow. Two faculty members severed ties with the center, and a petition to reverse the decision has gathered nearly 4,000 signatures. A similar protest erupted at my home institution last year, when Corey Lewandowski, a one-time campaign manager for Trump, was appointed a fellow at Harvard’s Institute of Politics.

“Universities should uphold both free inquiry and the values of liberal democracy. The first calls for unhindered exchange and interaction with Trumpist views. The second requires that the engagement be carefully calibrated, with not even a semblance of honor or recognition bestowed on those serving an administration that so grossly violates liberal democratic norms.”–Dani Rodrik

The Trump administration confronts universities with a serious dilemma. On one hand, universities must be open to diverse viewpoints, including those that conflict with mainstream opinion or may seem threatening to specific groups. Students and faculty who share Trump’s viewpoint should be free to speak without censorship. Universities must remain fora for free inquiry and debate. Moreover, schools and institutes of public affairs must offer student and faculty opportunities to engage with the policymakers of the day.

On the other hand, there is the danger of normalizing and legitimizing what can only be described as an odious presidency. Trump violates on a daily basis the norms on which liberal democracy rests. He undermines freedom of the media and independence of the judiciary, upholds racism and sectarianism, and promotes prejudice. He blithely utters one falsehood after another.

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Those who serve with him are necessarily tainted by the experience. Trump’s close associates and political appointees are his enablers – regardless of their personal merits and how much they try to disassociate themselves from Trump’s utterances. Qualities like “intelligence,” “effectiveness,” “integrity,” and “collegiality” – words used by Miller Center Director William J. Antholis to justify Short’s appointment – have little to commend them when they are deployed to advance an illiberal political agenda.

The stain extends beyond political operatives and covers economic policymakers as well. Trump’s cabinet members and high-level appointees share collective responsibility for propping up a shameful presidency. They deserve opprobrium not merely because they hold cranky views on, say, the trade deficit or economic relations with China, but also, and more importantly, because their continued service makes them fully complicit in Trump’s behavior.

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Academic institutions must therefore tread a narrow path. They cannot turn their backs on Trump and his entourage, nor ignore their views. Otherwise, they would be stifling debate. This would run counter to what universities stand for. As a pragmatic matter, it would also backfire, by giving the Trump camp another opportunity to demonize the “liberal elite.”

But clear rules of engagement are necessary. The most important principle to uphold is the distinction between hearing someone and honoring someone. Trump’s immediate circle and senior appointees should be welcome for discussion and debate. They should be treated in a civil manner when they show up. But they should not be accorded the degree of respect or deference that their seniority and government positions would normally merit. We do not, after all, have a normal administration that can be served honorably.

This means no honorific titles (fellow, senior fellow), no named lectures, no keynote speeches headlining conferences or events. While individual faculty members and student groups should be free to invite Trump appointees to speak on campus, as a rule such invitations should not be issued by senior university officers. And lectures and presentations should always provide an opportunity for vigorous questioning and debate.

Without two-way interaction, there is no learning or understanding; there is only preaching. Administration officials who simply want to make a statement and escape searching interrogation should not be welcome.

Students and faculty who sympathize with Trump may perceive such practices as discriminatory. But there is no conflict between encouraging free speech and exchange of views, which these rules are meant to support, and the university making its own values clear.

Like other organizations, universities have the right to determine their practices in accordance with their values. These practices may diverge from what specific subgroups within them would like to see, either because there are contending values or because there are differences on the practicalities of how to realize them.

For example, some students may believe that requirements for a certain course of study are too stringent or that examinations are a waste of time. Universities allow free debate about such matters. But they reserve the right to set the rules on concentration requirements and exams. In doing so, they send an important signal to the rest of society about their teaching philosophy and pedagogical values. Allowing full debate of Trumpism while refusing to honor it would be no different.

Universities should uphold both free inquiry and the values of liberal democracy. The first calls for unhindered exchange and interaction with Trumpist views. The second requires that the engagement be carefully calibrated, with not even a semblance of honor or recognition bestowed on those serving an administration that so grossly violates liberal democratic norms.

Dani Rodrik is Professor of International Political Economy at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government. He is the author of The Globalization Paradox: Democracy and the Future of the World Economy, Economics Rules: The Rights and Wrongs of the Dismal Science, and, most recently, Straight Talk on Trade: Ideas for a Sane World Economy.

Education and Schooling–What’s Our GPS?


July 27, 2018

Education and Schooling–What’s Our GPS?

By Dr. Azly Rahman@ Columbia, NYC

Image result for Bertrand Russell on Education

COMMENT | Education, that gentle profession, that conveyer belt of social reproduction, that process called schooling, and that idea of “educare” (from the Latin) or to draw out human potential is again, a main topic of concern for us Malaysians these days. A very serious journey, often treacherous, requiring good stewardship.

Where is our global positioning system (GPS)? Where are we heading? What is our reading of the global sustainable development goals and how do we use that understanding to plan for mega-structural changes?

What areas must we focus on in order to see these five years as ones where we make drastic changes to renew prosperity in education – beyond this current political-economic malaise, the World Bank report, at times disheartening results of PISA or TIMSS surveys, fragmented and divisive schooling, pursuit of trivialities in maiden-steps of reform, and endless ethnic and religious politicisation further threatening the hope for national reconciliation (if not “unity”)?

What would be the nature of the systemic change and renewed philosophical orientation we need, in order to capture the nobility of multiculturalism/pluralism as the best way to include all Malaysian citizens in this gentle journey called ‘education’?

How do we bring back learning into the classroom and put the child back in the centre of attention so that we may again see human self-flowering and flourishing?

I have addressed these issues in the past through the seven volumes of writing published over the last five years. My passion for translatable concepts in education, critical consciousness, and “cultural action for freedom” (borrowing the Brazilian philosopher Paulo Freire’s words) has made me become worried if we are indeed seeing Malaysian educational leaders asking the right questions, let alone attempt to focus on systemic, structural changes that would bring the desired measurable sense of equity, equality, and equal opportunity to our children, regardless of race, religion, color, creed.

Image result for Plato on Education

I wrote an open letter to Malaysia’s future education minister the week the new government assumed power. I wasn’t sure if the opinions were what leaders and policy makers were interested in paying attention to, but that was not my concern. I wrote out of deep passion and concern of what we have gone through in trying to find meaning in education and national development, and the shape of what we will continue to chart.

Focusing questions

What are we to do with our educational mission, philosophy, ideology, paradigm, pedagogy, process, passion, and the possibilities of a truly progressive and reflective nation? We must reconstruct, rejuvenate, and reconfigure the entire gamut of learning and teaching, from each brain cell/neural connection to the collective building of a civilisation based on the principles of cosmopolitanism, from the womb to the grave – in order to affect radical changes.

These considerations are not new, but to translate into sustainable effort of seeing progress through and through will be a novel agenda.

Essentially these are the considerations that are missing in the Malaysian education system, albeit the grand and elegant language of systemic change and yes, the world ‘systemic’ needs to first be reconstructed, as in any work that needs to be done on the reconstruction of philosophy.

The big questions by way of a ‘backward design’ or with the end in mind, are, “what will be the shape of society we envision collectively as Malaysians”, and “what kind of cognitive, emotional, and spiritual evolution do we wish to see in each child”, and how must schooling respond to these twin demands of a vision.

In the late 80s when I started this gentle and passionate profession called “teaching”, I was fortunate to be involved in an effort to create a highly engaging environment and cultural context of learning, working with other dedicated educators day in, day out to prepare determined and dedicated youth to secure places, by their own achievements, in top-ranking institutions in the United Sates, the UK, and other countries.

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These are some the places they were accepted into: Princeton, Columbia, Harvard, Cambridge, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Wharton School of Business in U Penn, Stanford, University of Paris – Sorbonne, Carnegie Mellon, Monash, Australian National University, London School of Economics, Warwick, Royal Institute of Surgeons in Ireland, Australian National University, and many other places of academic repute – an effort worth replicating should one know the proper ingredients and recipes of educational success framed evolvingly and contributing to the idea of “human and social engineering”.

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Greedy Rosmah Mansor– Product of a Malaysian Failed Education System

In short, how do you design a system that will bring bright and eager-to-learn children from the rubber estates, the city slums, the kampungs, into the classrooms of the most prestigious universities in the world? This is not a simple task of parroting the rhetoric of “world-classism” alone that we must all work together in crafting.

Highest quality for all

There has to be a renaissance or a rebirth in the way we conceptualise the schools we wish to build for children of all Malaysians. Many are asking this question: Why must parents be made to worry about the future of their children by way of economic worry?

Why must good and safe schools that ensure learning happens be prohibitively expensive and reserved for children from parents whose major worry is when to get a new Bentley, Maserati, or the latest Jaguar or a private jet in the way they move around and about in this world?

Or even worse, to get a US$20 million diamond ring or a US$30 million apartment in New York in the way they consume themselves whilst the poor are not just neglected, but asked to think positive about price hikes and to be less lazy.

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Our brainstorming session on such hope in educational renewal must begin with these simple questions:

“What kind of schools does each Malaysian child deserve?” And, “how must we be true to ourselves in making sure that our children have the best teachers, technology, and tender loving care, as soon as they enter schools?”

“How do we turn them into the everyday geniuses and make them love the country, be productive enough to care for their fellow men and women?

These are philosophical, political, and psychological questions we must address if we are to build schools that will not turn out to be “successful failures”.

This should be our topic for the great national school debate for this new regime we have some hope for. Otherwise we will, again, be lost and be fighting endlessly for the directions to get out.


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AZLY RAHMAN is an educator, academic, international columnist, and author of seven books. He grew up in Johor Bahru, and holds a Columbia University doctorate in international education development and Master’s degrees in five areas: education, international affairs, peace studies communication, and creative writing.

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.