Monday, May 31, 2010

Silence of the Mahasiswas

Silence of the mahasiswas — Lee Lian Kong
May 31, 2010

There is a Bob Dylan song that goes “I used to care, but things have changed”.

Malaysian students used to care. They used to live up to their grand Malay name “mahasiswa”; fresh, spirited, inspired. Now it is a deafening silence or, worse, clueless silence. We have become frightened and leashed. We have surpassed ourselves to become shining examples of obedience. Like dogs. If the dogs bark, the owners whip and yank on their steel collars. If they are silent, they are rewarded with treats. In time, we have forgotten how to bark.

The mahasiswas of today are like those dogs.

Historically, young people were a significant force in the development of this country.

They were heady with the victory for independence. The mahasiswas debated, protested and demonstrated for pro-justice, pro-human rights, justifying their position and manifesting the education they receive in the best institutions of the country.

Back in 1974 during the Tasik Utara issue they were reckoned forceful enough that desperate villagers look towards them to help. Twenty-six years ago, a staggering 5,000 students went to demand for the eradication of poverty in Baling.

Where are they now?

In Pavilion, sipping RM15 cappucino lattes, using a Blackberry to play “Texas Hold ‘Em”. In shopping malls, stretching daddy’s credit card to buy more things they don’t need to impress people they don’t like. Apathy, ignorance, oblivion is a pandemic amongst Malaysian youths. One can give the excuse that the mahasiswas of before were spurred by the injustice they saw when they worked as teachers in the outskirts. One can continue by saying it is not our fault that we are robbed of such experience and enlightenment. One can even cite the magic word: Akta Universiti and Kolej Universiti. Such an argument is nothing but a conscience struggling to save some face.

First-class facilities did not rob the students at the University of California, Berkeley and several other universities of their conscience. For months, theirs was a persistent effort to bring together students of all race, gender and opinions to pass a Bill to divest from any investment from companies that provided financial and military support to Israel. Compared to them, we fall short miserably in terms of empowerment, independence and desire.

Sure, AUKU is a reasonable excuse. Being expelled and blacklisted, the possibility of not graduating, not getting a job or, worst of all, the dreams of owning a BMW evaporated are deterrents. However, AUKU is a blatant disregard to Article 10 of the Federal Constitution which advocates freedom of speech, expression and assembly, an insult to Article 9 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and has successfully played a part to place us at the lowest tier in terms of human rights. We proudly proclaim ourselves university students, in complete awareness of this knowledge, yet though our inaction we blindly accept this insolent law.

Aminul Rasyid, Teoh Beng Hock, Kugan, GST, subsidy cuts, economic burden on the rakyat are only a sliver of the issues insulting basic human rights. An innocent kid shot directly to the head by an irresponsible police officer. Economic terrorism leading to families not even able to have basic amenities such as water, electricity and education. We see, hear and know of all these injustices. Our awareness, if there is at all any, makes our silence all the more embarrassing when compared with our student bodies of 30 years ago, the outspoken student crowds of our neighbouring country, Indonesia, and America’s student unions divestment effort to stop Israel’s crimes towards Palestine.

Have those RM15 cappucino lattes completely numbed our conscience?

Thankfully, all is not lost. There are a few, but not enough, out there who publicly denounce AUKU and have courageously listened to their hearts and conscience, such as the recent famous four from Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia caught participating in the Hulu Selangor by-election. To these brave young men and women, I salute you.

Monday, May 03, 2010

Building a better person

We often think about schooling as simply getting good exam results; maybe at best, we regard it as a way to practice our intellectual skills. But schools are where the adults of tomorrow learn not just how to read and write, but how to live. Our schools do a good job of teaching us basic literacy (and arguably quite a poor job of helping us think about the things we read and write), but even our best schools are often only mediocre when it comes to preparing us for life outside academia.

A friend of mine, Lim Su Ann, wrote an excellent post some months back on how deeply unsatisfying the opportunities for extracurricular growth are in our schools — it's a piece I recommend highly. Most of us in school simply go through the motions of extracurricular involvement — we don't really care about what we do. Most of the extracurricular things I pursued in school had nothing to do with my school. Until our schools allow students the freedom to pursue the things which interest them outside the classroom, and encourage responsible decisionmaking instead of simply usurping all of students' autonomy, we can't say our schools are properly preparing the adults of tomorrow.