Friday, October 24, 2008

Hello adik, want some kacang putih? (Again)

In a previous column, I noted that it was deeply disappointing ‘that some of our university students – those who are supposedly committed to free inquiry and exploration of ideas – were successful in gagging free speech by having the Nobel peace laureate Shirin Ebadi’s invitation to speak at the University of Malaya withdrawn.’ Well, I have to say, for several reasons, this whole episode – like eating burnt kacang putih - left a very bad taste in my mouth.

Apparently, Shirin Ebadi’s invitation was withdrawn due to the fact that the prospect of having her speak at the university did not sit well with a group of Iranian students. Furthermore, we were duly made aware that the about turn on Shirin’s invitation was ‘not political.’ Indeed, vice-chancellor Rafiah Salim is quoted to have said that the decision was made ‘out of respect for our Iranian students who were not very happy.’ 

Perhaps like me, some of you may be wondering, how exactly is such a decision ‘not politically motivated,’ as presumably claimed by the vice-chancellor? I am truly at a loss in understanding how exactly is this not political? By Rafiah’s own admission, the decision ultimately gave priority to the sensitivities of Iranian students – whose country we supposedly have good relations with.  

So let’s see, the university censors free speech, coming from those who should above all be champions for open dialogue, and then we’re to have our intelligence insulted by being told this was not politically motivated? How could the stated reason give for scrapping Shirin’s invitation be anything other than politically motivated?!!

Some months back, I noted in a column how our politicians have a neck for talking down to us, the average people, where their condescension practically amounts to treating us like juveniles. Well, here is another perfect case of it. And I find this so-called vice-chancellor’s tact no less political than the usual condescending dribble we get from the regime.

If, by Rafiah’s own admission, the action was taken so as not to undermine our relations and ties with the Iranians, and if the university, as she claims, ‘weigh[ed] the pros and cons and [took] into consideration the big number of Iranian students,’ then how exactly does this not amount to a politically calculated decision?  

It baffles the mind how even our educators – like our politicians – seem so at ease with this kind of babble which truly insults our intelligence. I for one am embarrassed that we have educators such as these who discount the very sanctity of the concept of the university over what is transparently politically expedient.

Let me take the matter of the Iranian students’ feeling for a moment. In my view, the vice-chancellor and her colleagues should have taken this opportunity to further educate those Iranian students about the importance and value the university places on free inquiry and exchange of ideas. That should be abundantly clear to students – no less university administrators; that is, if we have any hope of seeing our universities not continue to lose their credibility! Surely, these university administrators could have impressed on those Iranian students that we hold the mission of the university above political differences. And to be a student in Malaysia is also to respect this about our university system. But then again, when our own university administrators seem willing to put politics and censorship above principle, haven’t they simply undermined their own credibility? Well, the answer is obvious, isn’t it?

So, please you politicians…and so-called intellectuals - I really couldn't be bothered if you want to carry on making proposterous claims, but stop insulting our intelligence.

G. Krishnan