Azmi Sharom, human being

Dr Azmi Sharom will speak this evening (Sat, Oct 30) at this month’s SABM Dinner Lecture, an event that is sold out. A couple of months earlier, we met the man in his office at Universiti Malaya in the hope of uncovering what makes this soul tick.

YOU know him as the law academic with the semi-tochang hairstyle, those piercing eyes framed in black plastic; eyes that can burn a bigot in a flash. You probably remember his bold pieces in Brave New World, his fortnightly column in The Star (The Real Social Contract, We must never allow the mob to rule, Under Threat? What Threat?).

One of academia’s few good men, many say. He’s a brave one, echo others.

The man rolls his eyes. “What’s so extreme about what I do anyway? Look, the stuff that matter to me – human rights, equality, fundamental liberties – these are values of a human being. I’m just being human. Being human! I don’t carry a bomb, I’m not plotting a coup, I don’t come anywhere near being a threat to national security.”

Welcome to the world of Azmi Sharom, where in crisp humour-laced lines, it’s a given that a spade is called a spade. The main question is what are you going to do about it.

“All too often we hear racists stepping up to make announcements – tuntutan ni, tuntutan tu – and we get all flustered,” he observes in a frown. “We can’t let these types dictate how we feel. If some bigot says ‘Go back to where you belong’,  a whole bunch of us end up moping in one corner and feel all hurt.

“But why should we care?” he asks incredulously, his head slightly cocked.

“It should be ‘We’re born here. We belong here, equally as much as you. Equal, geddit?’ That’s how it oughta be. There’s just not enough of standing up to these people. Take charge of your lives, folks.

“Sure it’s not easy – there’re two tiers where racism is perpetuated. One, it’s in the institutions – it’s embedded in government policies; you’ve read all about them especially in the alternative news. I needn’t elaborate on that; it’s boring. Two, personal attitude. This one’s insidious. It lurks inside so many of us. The very same people who cry out against racism bear racist tendencies themselves. You just need to listen to conversations to know what I mean.

“We can fight both, and we should. We need to take possession of our lives again. And mean what we say, for crying out loud.”