by Azly Rahman
Jan 17, 2012
As a student of Cultural-Philosophical Studies with a passion in radical educational change framed within the context of cybernating-hypermodern societies such as Malaysia, I see the “Bawani-Zohra Affair” as emblematic of a nation gone berserk on the issue of freedom of speech and the culture of dialogue and public discourse.
We are in an ‘amuck-latah’ mood. The nation, at least in cyberspace, is furious (amuck) of what happened, and the protagonist of the propaganda machine fumbled big-time (latah) assuming that the teaching techniques of the “top-down, humiliate-first, no-apologies later” of many a Biro Tata Negara speaker can still be deployed unreservedly onto university students at the time when amateur videos can go viral, when tweets can flow like a tsunami, and when Facebook pages can be created in a fraction of seconds.
That’s the mistaken assumption – that the Frankenstein called “social media technology” will also not run amuck helping those silenced to have their poetic justice, and those humiliated to become an honourable being raised to the level of stardom, overnight.
It is said that at times, you do not need to find the revolution – for the revolution will find you. The revolution found both Bawani and Zohra in such an ‘absurd’ way, such as in many of the plots of French surrealist dramas like Eugene Ionesco’s rhinoceros running wild on the city streets, and Kafka’s character moving from desolation to awareness in “Metamorphosis”.
The timing was perfect, like that storm brewing right after the almost-a-million Malaysian march to take over Putrajaya; after the Deepak drama which was over-played, overdosing even the older folks; after the successes of all those Bersih rallies, and many other watersheds upon watersheds of consciousness-raising events, and ultimately, after the last hurrah circa GE13 – all these ripened the relevance of the fateful “Bawani-Zohra” rendezvous.
Hence, Malaysians saw not only an explosion of anger, but one that fuelled tremendous amounts of creative products, mainly in the realm of multimedia (music videos, Facebook and Internet posters, audio and video materials, and the production of other forms of creative artifacts inspired by the mantra “listen-listen-listen…”).
That is my observation, albeit too, as a ‘participant-observer’ who managed to contribute to the dialogue through my public writings here on Facebook, and in my other column in Malaysia-Today.
I have always found examples of the chaos and complexity theory at work in these kinds of phenomena; the “butterfly effect” of Malaysian public discourse, which must be framed in its most kaleidoscopic and multidimensional way.
In this case, a simple few minutes of verbal exchange in a dialogue on a campus situated way up in the “boonies” as the Appalachians in Ohio would say, can have far-reaching impacts up till now, leading to even the fall of the Barisan Nasional regime that has, for the last 30 years, been using the universities as a place wherein the human mind – of student, staff, and even faculty – would essentially need to “shut up and listen-listen-listen”.
At the same time, the leaders will be carrying big sticks and speaking not-so-gently, so that the entire mind-controlling machinery can function effectively while being devoid of critical sensibility.
For too long, society has allowed such stupefication to happen via the work of government-controlled propaganda-producing agencies trained in Soviet-styled mind-bending, mind-numbing, and mind-emptying strategies so that the dying ideology of one-race dominancy in the self-glorified, ill-intentioned ‘1Malaysian’ sloganism can prevail.
Even when the world outside has mutated multiple times and gone through the process of adaptations as a consequence of globalisation and the continuing relevancy of cosmopolitanism.
I don’t know, these are my ramblings for the day, folks… my Joycean stream-of-consciousness mood speaking:
Watching how the Mandelbrott set of Malaysian universities will play out; watching how the butterflies in this absurd drama will flap their wings; and watching how the ancient Malay dialectics of deadly dualism will be spoken.
The “amuck-latah” syndrome will be transmutated into newer forms in a hypermodern society – in a bipolar Malaysia trying to live in accordance with an ill-constructed ‘1Malaysia’ while society is firmly destroyed by implosive devices akin to the famed ‘C4′ used to end the life of a young Mongolian mother of a very young child some time ago, when truth was still a corpse waiting to come alive.
I don’t know, but there are now minds in those Malaysian universities that are refusing to just “listen-listen-listen” …until the truth explodes and destroys the creators of falsehood.
Please share your thoughts… humbly of course.
But where do we go from here?
DR AZLY RAHMAN, who was born in Singapore and grew up in Johor Baru, holds a Columbia University (New York) doctorate in International Education Development and Master’s degrees in the fields of Education, International Affairs, Peace Studies and Communication. He has taught more than 40 courses in six different departments and has written more than 300 analyses on Malaysia. His teaching experience spans Malaysia and the United States, over a wide range of subjects from elementary to graduate education. He currently resides in the United States.