Docile academics and the case of Prof. Aziz Bari

Written by Dr Lim Teck Ghee
Thursday, 27 October 2011

Minister of Higher Education Khaled Nordin, in his speech announcing the establishment of the National Council of Professors, reminded Malaysian professors to not only be “super gurus” in focusing on their respective careers but to contribute their expertise and participate in national life.

The recently established professors’ council comprising over 1,500 professors in the public universities did indeed weigh in on a national debate not too long ago, namely, ‘Was Mat Indera a communist or a patriot?’

Academics such as professors and professor emeritus Ridhuan Tee, Ramlah Adam, Shamsul Amri Baharuddin, Khoo Kay Kim, and their ilk enjoy the academic rights and freedom of expression through their comments appearing regularly in the mass media.

Having themselves taken advantage of these rights – in my view, correctly so, and one further assumes they would want to continue to enjoy such freedom – their silence therefore on the action taken by International Islamic University Malaysia (IIUM) don, Prof. Abdul Aziz Bari, is somewhat of an anomaly.

Prof. Aziz Bari has the responsibility to use his expertise to enlighten the public on matters related to his field of interest and scholarship, which extends to commenting on Selangor Sultan Sharafuddin Idris Shah’s recent decree in relation to the raid on a Methodist church in Damansara Utama by the Jabatan Agama Islam Selangor.

Over 140 academics signed a petition supporting Prof Aziz Bari in this and condemning the authorities for coming down on his academic rights and freedom.

In addition to the petition signed by academics in their individual capacity, there have been statements from five academic organizations condemning the actions by the authorities against Prof. Aziz.

The five organizations are the academic staff associations of IIUM, Universiti Malaya and Universiti Teknologi Malaysia; Ikatan Ilmuan Nasional (Ilmuan); and the Malaysian Academic Movement (Move), with the last being the earliest to come out with a press statement on Oct 19 decrying the actions taken by the authorities.

But where is the voice of the National Council of Professors on this developing controversy? Or for that matter other prominent academic organizations such as the Malaysian Social Science Association.

And what about the rest of the numerous academic staff associations as well as other professional organizations spawned by and working in the burgeoning number of public and private universities in the country?

Prof. Aziz Bari presents an important test case of academic freedom. Yet the majority of staff associations and many thousands of individual academics have not put their names to the petition or voiced their support for Prof. Aziz Bari and in defence of the cause of academic freedom.

The silence of the great majority of the country’s academia – individually and collectively – can be attributed to various reasons including:

*They are not aware of the case of Prof Aziz Bari.

*They could not care less about what is happening in the case.

*They are concerned but either cannot be bothered to voice their concerns or are too afraid of what they feel may be adverse repercussions to their careers.

What is especially noticeable is the silence from some of the most vocal academics whose views on race, religion, history and politics, etc. are much sought after by the mainstream media.

One assumes that they should want to provide feedback in their own areas of expertise without fear of being victimised by the authorities or being hauled up under the Universities and University Colleges Act; Aku Janji; or other regulations. One also assumes that they would be in sympathy with Prof. Aziz Bari and should be among the first to protest against the harsh and unacceptable actions taken.

But perhaps their silence is because they think Prof. Aziz Bari deserves being punished whilst they themselves have special immunity from the treatment meted out to other academics that dare to speak out against the status quo.

However now is not the time for the rest of the traditional ‘silent majority’ (over 35,000 academics in the public universities and possibly similar numbers in the private universities) to become deaf and mute.

If they have not done so, it is not too late for them to declare their support for academic freedom by adding their names to the signature campaign which can be found here.
Prof. Aziz Bari was doing exactly what the Minister of Higher Education was calling for, that is, for academics to descend from the ivory tower and contribute their knowledge to national issues.

All academics should stand by and with Prof. Aziz Bari.

We should also all be aware of the truism: ‘If you don’t exercise your rights, if you don’t show the government that you value those rights, eventually you will lose them.’

  1. #1 by good coolie on Thursday, 27 October 2011 - 8:41 pm

    Politicking can comprise academic independence. What is happening to the professor is just a political witch-hunt. I was a student of his for a brief period. In that time, I came to realise that he would not fault anyone for speaking out independently on any issue. Give him the same courtesy! Enough of first world facilities being coupled with third-world, Banana Republic, mentality.

  2. #2 by sheriff singh on Friday, 28 October 2011 - 12:14 am

    They all left their bolas and dignity at their Varsity gates.

  3. #3 by boh-liao on Friday, 28 October 2011 - 12:53 am

    Don’t expect d NCP 2 stand by Prof Aziz Bari

    Do d Profs hv any principle or balls? Just watch their action or rather inaction
    Some of them r just d barking/biting dogs of UmnoB/BN n all ready 2 earn more titles n $

  4. #4 by Jeffrey on Friday, 28 October 2011 - 3:28 am

    Academic freedom upholds intellectual honesty and integrity above all but since when has academic freedom been encouraged by Govt as a cherished value here whether amongst students or their teachers? What is cherished are those UMNO/BN’s endorsed Social Contract Values expounded by TDM since late 1970s, inculcated since then by Biro Tata Negara & reinforced by legislations such as Universities and University Colleges and Printing Press Publication Acts! Even today TDM is harping on how Prof. Aziz Bari comments relating to royalty was contrary to Eastern Values (though his constitutional amendments clipping their powers were apparently not, in his view) Consistently he also defended ex IGP’s script that Human Rights advocacy should not be copied wholesale from the West (lest they undermine Perkasa’s Cause). Academics who want to cari makan and rise up within ranks of academia should know their place better than engaging in political-socio public discourse questioning directly or indirectly the nationalistic communal Social Contract values underpinning UMNO’s political relevance and hegemony.

  5. #5 by Jeffrey on Friday, 28 October 2011 - 3:37 am

    One must appreciate how deeply and pervasively TDM has stamped his ideology outlined in Malays Dilemma on the country’s political value system and UMNO’s ideology, which, even today a good almost 40 yrs later he, even when out of office, tries to keep UMNO within these parameters through his king making capability, pressure of NGOs like Perkasa, and scripts of Ibrahim Ali, latest ex IGP Rahim, and their ilk.

  6. #6 by Jeffrey on Friday, 28 October 2011 - 4:30 am

    Having said above the duty to speak truth to power is a laudable and positive obligation for all Malaysians, including ex cop like Mat Zain Ibrahim, and should not be viewed as if it were within only some special preserve like “Academic Freedom” to which only Professors and academics are obliged. It is the duty of the brave and honest to speak – courage and honesty are main eligibilituy conditions- and not necessarily that of only those who supposedly have intellect, qualifications and degrees lining up from one side of the wall to the other, who are straightaway diqualified by their self interest timidity and lack of what sheriff described earlier as “dignity and bolas”!

  7. #7 by trublumsian on Friday, 28 October 2011 - 4:49 am

    Not all sees things the way Aziz Bari does, but being academia a healthy and unabashed exchange is seriously lacking here. Freedom of speech is a misnomer in this country, but use the alternate media.

  8. #8 by dagen on Friday, 28 October 2011 - 8:41 am

    Umno knows best. Umno is supreme. Anyway, umno decided that giving people full human right is dangerous. In any event all human rights in the world must be subservient to umno’s unwritten rights. And any attempt to challenge those rights would be treated as anti-agung, anti-sultan, anti-islam jenis umno, anti-melayu, unpatriotic, ungrateful, communism, terrorism etc etc.

    … Hoi cintanegara, jib said he would keep his promises. So where is my money, by now 10million. I hv been making statements in support of umno lately.

  9. #9 by k1980 on Friday, 28 October 2011 - 10:01 am

    //said he would keep his promises. //

    Well, he promised Altantuyu the sky, and by golly, the ashes of Altantuyu filled up the night sky when the C$ went off.

  10. #10 by rockdaboat on Friday, 28 October 2011 - 2:07 pm

    It is their culture to Shiok Sendiri.

    Say anything good about them, they are very happy even if it they know it is a lie.

    They cannot accept the truth when the truth reflects badly on them.

    Typical behavior of a self-proclaimed Tuan who cannot survive without the aid of handout.

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