Academic freedom, critical thinking tools to fighting extremism, forum told

Source: The Malaysian Insider

Professor Dr Ibrahim Ahmad Bajunid says the Malays are ‘cultural prisoners’ in their own country. – The Malaysian Insider pic by Afif Abd Halim, June 17, 2015.
Professor Dr Ibrahim Ahmad Bajunid – The Malaysian Insider pic by Afif Abd Halim, June 17, 2015.

Universities have a role to play in preventing fanaticism and extremism from festering in society, academic Professor Dr Ibrahim Ahmad Bajunid said, warning that Malaysia was at a turning point.

Ibrahim, the deputy vice-chancellor of INTI-Laureate International University said extremism was taking hold and urged intellectuals to reclaim their fundamental rights.

He also said the Malays were “cultural prisoners” in Malaysia and that in many ways, the non-Malays were freer than the Malays in this country.

“When university people surrender and are not courageous and allow lesser thinkers take over because of their articulation and their loudness and their mechanism of power, they can actually oppress the masses.

“It is tragic when they oppress the intellectuals and the intellectuals accept the oppression,” he said.

Bajunid was speaking at a forum on “Higher Education Blueprint – education for development? The role of (world-class) universities” at Universiti Malaya yesterday. Putrajaya launched the blueprint in April to outline strategies for the education sector between 2015 and 2025.

Bajunid was responding to a question from the audience on ways for universities to fulfil their role as a place to foster critical thinking against dogmatism and fundamentalism in public life.

Earlier during the panel discussion, Ibrahim said Malaysia could become a failed state if it was not mindful about the contradictions in policies and implementation.

He added that while Malaysia’s education blueprint was a good guideline, institutions with good leaders could still do great things without it.

“Yes, the blueprint is a system-driven document and it talks about the big picture, but great institutions, great professors, great programmes and faculties have been doing all these without the overarching blueprint guidelines.

“We should focus not on the rhetoric or (getting on the) bandwagon but on the value of each academic and leadership at all levels.”

Global Movement of Moderates chief executive offer Datuk Saifuddin Abdullah, another panel member, said to combat extremism, there needed to be ample space for a contestation of ideas.

“We need to widen the public sphere because one of the better ways to combat extremism is to allow the contestation to be out there, only then can we call their bluff.”

Serdang MP Dr Ong Kian Ming, however, said the latest installation of the education blueprint did not focus on creating an environment of openness for discussions and debates.

“A truly open setting is where we are free to talk about most things given that universities are supposed to be the place where ideas are challenged and discussed.

“One simple example would be to abolish the requirement for public university associations to get approval from the administrator to invite outside speakers, this is not practised anywhere in the developed world.”

In Malaysia, speakers who are opposition politicians have often been barred from addressing students in public universities.

Late last year, then opposition leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim was barred from addressing students at UM and also the International Islamic University Malaysia (UIAM).

Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM) barred UM associate professor Dr Azmi Sharom from its campus where he was to have spoken about the Sedition Act.

Security guards chased the law lecturer, who has been charged with sedition for expressing a legal opinion in a newspaper article which mentioned the Perak constitutional crisis.

UIAM also barred PKR lawmaker Rafizi Ramli from speaking at a students’ forum on the goods and services tax, cutting him short when he was eight minutes into his speech. – June 17, 2015.


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