by Zaharom Nain. Posted on October 23, 2011, Sunday
THE man is an acknowledged authority in his field, a true expert in a profession (and country) renowned for its ever-present ‘kangkungs’. He writes – and speaks – critically, many say, without fear or favour.
Early last week, the man, Malaysian professor of Constitutional Law, Abdul Aziz Bari, was suspended by his university, is now under investigation under the Sedition Act by the police, and by the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) under the Communications and Multimedia Act 1998. And all because of an opinion he expressed on an online news portal regarding the recent decree by the Sultan of Selangor over the controversial Selangor Islamic Religious Department (Jais) raid on the Damansara Utama Methodist Church awhile back. Indeed, it is widely and freely reported that the learned professor had described the decree as “unusual” and “inconsistent”, stating that any such royal intervention must abide by the principles of Islam.
His suspension has thus far sparked off a student protest, Facebook pages in support of him, and some lawyers and fellow academics from his university and even Universiti Malaya openly expressing support.
But perhaps more telling is that the Deputy Minister of Higher Education himself has now come out in support of Aziz, advising the university’s rector to retract the controversial suspension of the law professor.
All this seems to indicate that the university’s authorities appear to have acted rather hastily and now find themselves in a bit of a pickle, reportedly making wildly contradictory statements. All of which do not reflect very nicely on the university, of course. While all this is going on, the instantaneous action of the students and the mobilisation of support by Malaysia’s civil society evidently indicate a unified belief in taking a principled stand.
People, mainly Malaysians, some having not read any of his writings or comments, have freely come out in support of a professional – and human being – who they believe has been wronged.
It is this development that is refreshing and encouraging, indicating there is a growing number of Malaysians who will not simply lie back and let a fellow human being be harassed and bullied.
Yet, despite all this, it is sad to observe that the very people who see themselves as the ‘vanguard’ of the academic profession, those ‘professors’ who not so long ago set up their ‘council’, have remained silent on this matter.
Just as there are the many ‘cue journalists’ in our midst; those who will only see something as newsworthy on the basis of cues handed down to them by the powers-that-be, it is clear that the same species are in abundance within Malaysia’s academic fraternity.
This, indeed, is the environment that we find ourselves in; an environment developed, nurtured, largely by politicians, in the main spheres of cultural and knowledge production – including academia (the education system as a whole in fact) and the media.
And when someone like Abdul Aziz Bari goes against the grain and is brave enough to open his mouth, these sycophants come up with lame excuses to enable them to distance themselves from him. Some, I have discovered lately, begin this pathetic process by keeping very, very still and quiet, hoping that they won’t be approached for a word or two of support, for a signature or name to go on a petition supporting someone like the learned professor and criticising the actions of the authorities. And when approached for such support, such action, they bleat, like many civil servants, that they could lose their jobs, that their next application for a promotion may be affected, that they have to ‘cari makan’. So, it is, indeed, terribly sad that, like Hata Wahari, the former president of the National Union of Journalists, someone like Abdul Aziz Bari, now finds himself without the institutional and organisational support that he needs at a time when he really needs it.
It is even sadder that these self-serving individuals and groups – in Malaysian academia and elsewhere – have very
little understanding of what taking a principled stand is all about.
I’m sure you too have come across many of these opportunistic people over the years. In so doing, you probably will share my belief that it’s really much easier to pity them than to fear for the welfare of the Hata Waharis and the Abdul Aziz Baris of this world. Unlike the sycophants, the latter two will have no problem holding their heads up high, believing in the right of what they do … and doing it.