Thursday, October 23, 2008

No Free Speech for Nobel Laureate

I want to reproduce a letter written by a friend of mine - Andrew Aeria - on the move by UM to scrap a talk that was supposed to have been given by Nobel Peace Prize winner, Shirin Ebadi. Just to clarify, the letter is written with a sarcastic tone, in case there is any confusion.

Congrats to the UM VC!
Andrew Aeria | Oct 23, 08 4:38pm
I refer to the Malaysiakini report Invite to Nobel laureate scrapped after 'protest from students'.

I am writing to congratulate Rafiah Salim, the vice-chancellor of Universiti Malaya for bravely and single-handedly putting Malaysian academia back into the international spotlight.

Well done, Rafiah. By caving in to some obviously hidebound ‘Iranian students’ and cancelling Iranian Nobel Laureate Shirin Ebadi’s scheduled lecture on 'Islam and Cultural Diversity' at UM, you gratuitously displayed to the world your university administration’s equally immaculate bigoted view of academic freedom and the pursuit of knowledge.

Certainly, as Malaysians who already are the most informed in the world and living in a diverse multi-cultural society, we have no need to listen to ‘nobody’ Nobel Laureates like Shirin Ebadi, right?

I mean, what else does Ebadi know and what else can she tell us about ‘Islam and Cultural Diversity’ that we in Malaysia, with the help of our ‘Iranian students’, do not already know? So, well done.

I also gushingly applaud Rafiah Salim’s robust defence of the emotional health of ‘our Iranian students’. After all, if these blinkered ‘Iranian students’ are unhappy about ‘nobody’ Nobel Laureate Shirin Ebadi’s views and don’t want to listen to her, let alone allow others to explore any ideas that are different from their intolerant views, then surely we in Malaysian academia have to dance a jackboot march to their tune even if it is reminiscent of the Third Reich, no?

Well, Rafiah, you and your administration have pretty good goosestep dance moves, that’s for sure. I’m certain that all those now ‘happy Iranian students’ will gladly give you a 45-degree full-handed salute.

And if you listen closely, you might hear them happily utter ‘Seig Heil’! What courage you display in protecting the fragile emotions of our ‘Iranian students’. Truly well beyond the call of academic duty. Well done!

In this excellent spirit of ‘Malaysia Boleh’ and to ensure Malaysian academia’s continued international prominence, may I humbly suggest that you now direct the UM chief librarian to identify and publicly burn all books authored by Shirin Ebadi and other Iranian scholars of ‘Islam and Cultural Diversity’ that the ‘Iranian students’ don’t like.

I am sure those ‘Iranian students’ can very quickly draw up an extended list of disagreeable books that make them unhappy for your immediate action. Indeed, why stop at Iranian scholars, Islam and Cultural Diversity?

Why not just burn the whole UM library down so that all in Malaysian academia (led of course, by ‘our happy Iranian students’) can return to the raw pristine beauty of our vain-glorious collective ignorance.

Indeed, I am sure those ‘Iranian students’ and your administration would gladly welcome such a move as a significant civilisational move forward; Malaysian academia’s leap of faith into the brave new world of the 21st century!


Since when have Iranian students in our public universities started dictating policy? Does this mean that if Indonesian students protest a talk given by Habibie, such a talk will be canceled?

Don't get me wrong. I'm all for the right of the Iranian students to protest. But if they want to protest, they should be given a space, both physically as well as in different student newspapers, to protest Shirin Ebadi's presence on campus. But she should also be given the space to speak her mind in a way that is befitting of a Nobel Laureate. But this is Malaysia so we should not expect either to occur, apparently.


Shawn Tan said...

Personally, I'm not even sure if we have the full picture. In order to justify this action, the Iranian student body would have to organise and file a formal complaint to the university administration. Otherwise, they are just being used as an excuse and an easy scapegoat.

Considering the fact that the Iranians in our local universities are likely to be postgrads, I highly doubt that this is the case. Knowing how postgrads tend to live our little lives, it is unlikely that we would even know of the talk being given and by whom, much less organise ourselves together to file a formal protest. Typically, it's the undergrads who have the time, energy and inclination to do these things.

Call me a cynic.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps, the first Nobel Laureate and also the last todate (maybe there are others I missed out) who had conducted a lecture tour in Malaysia was Prof CN Yang in 1967.

He obtained the Nobel Prize for Physics jointly with Prof TD Lee in 1957. Prof Yang was 35 and Prof Lee 31.

Anonymous said...

nope. Prof CN Yang did went to zhong ling, penang 2 years ago. Besides him, there are few more laureate gave their speech inside universities. Just no publicities.

Unknown said...

Kian Ming / Tony,

Two interesting post on Education today

Deputy VC under probe – wonder which Uni is this

University College Sedaya – Becomes full fledged University

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

The ex deputy vice chancellor under investigation is from Unisel (info from a reliable source).

Anonymous said...

Dear Penang Tionghua,
There's another Nobel Laureate who gave public lecture at UPM in 2005 which I attended. He's the father of Euro -- Robert Mundell from the University of Chicago (known for his Theory of Optimum Currency Area). He complimented Malaysia's fixed exchange rate system during his lecture but guess what, Malaysia went off peg one week later!

Anonymous said...

Iranian students are now invading Malaysia just like Indonesian ones and soon we will be outnumbered and outvoted by foreign students living as citizens in Malaysia courtesy of the welcoming approach of society here. Soon the minorities that have been born and living here for centuries will be cast out to make way for a new face. Sad but that is the way things are going.

Anonymous said...

the real reason for cancelling Shirin Ebadi's talk is because she's an Iranian dissident. The order came from the Iranian government and Malaysian government is kowtowing to their wishes.

Anonymous said...

Anon (10/4 03:58): In terms of international subscription, we could possibly pose a challenge up the THES or Shanghai Jiao-Tong's rankings. Penang is flooded by the Arabian seas.

Anonymous said...

Anon (10/24/2008 04:27pm): Sorry, wrong reference to ur time as 03:58re: my comments 06:20pm

Anonymous said...

Anon 10/24/2008 10:02:00 AM
Grace 10/24/2008 03:58:00 PM

Thanks for the info.

Anonymous said...

Sigh...I suppose that this is the so-called 'Muslim Brotherhood' that the govt is talking about.

Anonymous said...

Who is the next UM vice chancellor posted in harakahdaily website (

Anonymous said...

Another post about UM new vice chancellor (

Anonymous said...

LKY invited the Saudis to study in NUS right? How come no Saudi protest over religious, social academic discussions in NUS? Maybe we should go Saudi and ditch the Iranians?

BenNike said...

Good Morning. By any chance, can you tell me how do I read the old archive. I can't seem to find any link. Thx.

Soo Huey said...

I guess there are many types of people and many types of Iranian students, but I just want to say that all the Iranian postgrads (only three) whom I know are nice and open-minded, and I very strongly doubt any one of them would protest against the lecture by Dr Ebadi.

Their society and upbringing MIGHT (I don't know this to be true, but also wouldn't be surprised if it was) train them to look poorly on Dr Ebadi, but I trust that these friends of mine would at least attend the lecture or if they feel it isn't right for them to attend, be curious enough to ask about it afterwards.

I feel I have to leave this comment to defend Iranian students. The Reuters report suggests it was actually the Iranian gov who asked for cancellation of the lecture. If true, innocent Iranian students shouldn't have to take the blame for it.

Anonymous said...

Do check out this interesting piece: "The Disadvantages of
an Elite Education"

Anonymous said...

Sorry, Robert Mundell is from Columbia University (mistake from my previous post)

Anonymous said...

Now that USA has a black president what about a minority leading universities and institutions in Malaysia? Malaysia yes we can!

Anonymous said...

In heading a university there are certain imperatives to help chase and fulfil the corporate objectives:

1) Marketing outreach
2) Education standard

UK Nottingham University has a Chinese Chancellor Prof Fujia Yang. He is a physicist of international standing. The Professor was also a vice-chancellor of the world famous Fudan University in Shanghai. He could help push the China Market for Nottingham.

LSE has Prof Danny Quah to head its Economics Faculty. Prof Quah and his weightless economy has received wide international reviews. He was recommended by a British who is the present Governor of the Bank of England to the post, albeit there were many well qualified British.

Both Professors head a community of international mix; the majority are still British components. Yet, they are able to hold water and survive so long in those environments. Therefore, it would not be wrong to say that they are very well-received by the community.

Prof Quah was also two times Tae-Kwon Do British Champion. Could the British refuse to accept his championship because he was a Penangite? Truth prevails. A fact is a fact.

All these standards and merits were given a top priority over other tones in the country because of one simple fact: Survival of the fittest. Only the fittest survives.

Only this way, the nation could drive improvements and progress.

Meritocracy must be real and not imagery or just following the Joneses jumping on the band-wagon because somebody say this and that.

Obama said, "If you doubt US democracy... the answer is found today!"

Anonymous said...

Education in Malaysia must keep up with the latest happening in the first world countries.

However, moulding new leadership with core values or shared universal values is essential to our country's progress, especially in a multi-cultural society. This is what makes Malaysia unique.

Lets put aside our differences and showcase "Malaysia, the World Capital of Peace" - quote GPFMalaysia.Org

Malaysia Boleh!