Chairman Najib and the cultural revolution

By Mariam Mokhtar, FMT

Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak’s interpretation of the “best democracy” for Malaysia is to have a tight grip on the growing student movement and an even tighter hold on academics in Malaysian universities.

In a move which could be seen as throttling intellectual discourse and stifling creative thinking, the authorities have sought to silence constitutional law expert, Professor Dr Abdul Aziz Bari of Universiti Islam Antarabangsa (UIA).

So are we experiencing an Umno-inspired cultural revolution? Today, Umno gags those in the world of academia. Will they resort to the burning of books, tomorrow?

The Universities and University Colleges Act (UUCA) was enacted in 1971 to curb the growing student movement. It created an environment where students and lecturers did not feel free to express their views and opinions.

Critics want the act abolished because this would eventually pave the way towards a world-class higher education. Perhaps this will explain why not one Malaysian university was included in the Times Higher Education (THE) 400 Top World University Ranking 2011/12.

Students who dare express an opinion, especially an opinion which does not toe the government line, are arrested, and possibly expelled.

Even students who are studying politics, and who observe the progress of by-elections, have to be careful as their actions may be misconstrued by the authorities.

The fear inspired by Umno-BN has far-reaching tentacles. Students studying overseas fear having their scholarships or study loans withdrawn, if they attend any talks by opposition politicians.

The latest outrageous Umno attack on our intellectual fraternity is the harassment of Abdul Aziz Bari, who said that the sultan of Selangor’s decree relating to the Selangor Islamic Affairs (JAIS) raid on the dinner at the Damansara Utama Methodist Church (DUMC) had been “unconventional” and that any intervention by the sultan had to be in line with the principles of the religion.

Abdul Aziz added that “under the Sedition Act 1948, it is fine to criticise the rulers so long as it does not advocate the abolition of the institution (of monarchy)”.

However, this did not stop the authorities and pro-Umno sympathisers from hounding the professor. He has since been issued a show-cause letter and in a move that would affect all of his students, was suspended from lecturing for an indefinite period.

The professor who has taught at the UIA for the past 22 years has had his access card confiscated and is barred from his office at the Gombak campus.

Deputy Higher Education Minister Saifuddin Abdullah said that “the suspension raises questions” and has asked for an explanation from UIA. He has also twitted that he backed students or people wishing to express support for the professor.

A thinking person is dangerous

Saifuddin is not alone. The suspension of Abdul Aziz has been condemned by several institutions ranging from student bodies, academics from other educational establishments to Lawyers for Liberty.

The Solidariti Mahasiswa Malaysia or Malaysian Graduates in Solidarity have organised a protest march which will involve students from campuses across the Klang Valley today, after Friday prayers.

Abdul Aziz’s comments about the sultan of Selangor were not the first involving royalty. He had previously criticised the behind-the-scenes Perak debacle of 2008. He has also made his views known about the other royal households and the Umno domination of them.

Perhaps Abdul Aziz’s willingness to talk about sensitive issues based on his expertise is what Najib fears most.

A law lecturer who is able to stimulate the minds of his students and the general public, is dangerous.

A thinking person will not allow Najib and Umno to get away with a fraction of the things they get up to, these days.

A thinking electorate, which is able to ask questions, which is able to criticise freely and which is able to analyse for itself, is like an uncontrollable beast.

Najib knows it and so does Umno. That is why Najib will try to make an example of Abdul Aziz by punishing him.

Najib’s latest ploy is the use of the three Rs: Race, religion and royalty.

A subtle ploy to strike fear

Mahathir started the trend and Najib is continuing this practice. If the Malays are allowed to interact with the other communities, they will be exposed to outside influences and so the power base of Umno will be placed at risk.

Najib has formed a special team to concentrate on the 3Rs. The main characters are Othman Razak, the Special Adviser to the Prime Minister; Wan Ahmad Wan Omar, deputy Election Commission chairman; Kamarudin Baria; Tajuddin Wahab; Rahman Dahlan; Harun Che Su; and Misri Barham.