What the constitution says and what some people believe in are two different things. We cannot expect to find what we study in law schools concerning the legal history of the constitution and the actual constitutional provisions would be similarly understood by people outside of acadaemia. In fact, we cannot expect that everyone shares the same thirst for knowledge and information. Some people refuse to read beyond what has been prescribed in a syllabus for a related course of study; some people are more than happy to just believe in what they are told to believe; and there are some people who simply refuse to read.
When the law lecturers, students and members of the legal fraternity in Malaysia study the Federal Constitution, they discover that in Malaysia the highest law of the land is the Federal Constitution instead of syariah law. However, in reality, when they leave acadaemia and interact with the people on the streets, things might not be the same with what they have studied in class. There are some people who believe that Malaysia is an Islamic state and that the syariah is the highest law in Malaysia.
This is the same with other aspects of the constitution. While the constitution does not say that the “special position of the Malays” is permanent, nor does it say that special assistance under Article 153 is to be given to all Malays, there are still some people who steadfastly believe otherwise. There are still some people who believe that the “special position of the Malays” is permanent and that such special policies under Article 153 are for all the Malays regardless of his economic means.
Could this divergence be explained by ignorance? That these people hold erroneous opinion simply because they did not study the constitution? Unfortunately, there are many members of acadaemia, both lecturers and students, who similarly steadfastly hold such an incorrect view regarding these constitutional matters. For example, in the case of UiTM, despite clear evidence to the contrary, there are still many students, lecturers, professors and politicians who steadfastly believe in the fiction that the Federal Constitution protects UiTM as the last “bastion” for the bumiputera (Benteng Pertahanan Terakhir Bumiputera).
Even more farcical is the existence within this group of some rich Datuks, Tan Sris and Profs who are rich enough to send their children elsewhere but instead had sent their children to UiTM, conveniently ignoring their own political rhetoric that “UiTM is for the bumiputera who are poor”.
Is ignorance the problem here? That is difficult to believe since there have been continuous effort by civil society groups to educate and inform. Since that obviously did not work, we need to question whether such an ignorance is contrived. Is it possible that these people “feigned” ignorance simply to be “safe”, to protect their “periuk nasi” or to appease their political warlords? Or maybe they hold no respect for the value of truth , preferring to stand by what is relevant for their self interests or maybe, to live by the mantra “saya dengar, patuh dan taat”?
This is indeed a trying time for scholars, genuine scholars who do not seek patronage from the politicians. The most important values that are being marketed and indirectly forced upon Malaysians are “taat, patuh ikut perintah” and these “values” run counter to the spirit of a learning society. Furthermore, the first verse in the Quran is not about “taatsetia, patuh, ikut perintah” but it is “READ” (“Iqra’”).
In the midst of the hyperbole and rhetoric of “Us” versus “Them”, the only option left for the reasonable and thinking individual is to read, to find out whether what the politicians said were facts or propaganda. Instead, there is an alarming and disturbing trend among some quarters of our society to suspend reason by choosing to align themselves with unsubstantiated “conventional wisdom”. What is even more alarming is the fact that unsubstantiated “conventional wisdom” is being championed in some universities as the incontrovertible truth which is procured by suppressing all relevant facts that could disprove the “conventional wisdom”.
In one university, a lecturer who informed his colleagues on Dr Mahathir’s parliamentary speech dated 11 August 1965 regarding the “special position of the Malays” was hauled up by the management and was told “if you are not happy, leave, go and join other universities”.
Among academicians, this has always been a bone of contention. Some academics believe that academics are government servants and therefore must be loyal to the ruling political party and must never speak against any government policy. Unfortunately for these “academics” there is another school of thought that says that academics/citizens only owe their loyalty to the country, instead of to the ruling political party and that academics, as servants of the taxpayers, cannot be loyal and beholden to the ruling political party since that would jeopardize the character of neutrality that is sacrosanct among government servants.
How does one deal with this problem? It might not be a problem for academics outside the field of humanities, who might not even be interested in such things in the first place taking into account of their research interests. Of course, that has never stopped such academics from the non-humanities background from voicing their opinions on such matters.
But, for academics who read and conduct research into these matters, are they supposed to keep silent and hop on the bandwagon of “conventional wisdom” worshippers? In some universities, this is what academic freedom has come to symbolize, the principle that an academic must stand for and defend the truth and their academic staff associations have never failed to lend their support in such matters. However, we also see that in some other universities, such things do not matter in which their academic staff associations’ main concern is the salary scale of the lecturers.
The awful truth in our public universities is that the management of the university are appointed by politicians. In an ideal world, politicians would never interfere in the management of a university and the university office bearers would always preserve the sanctity of the acadaemia. But in the real world, this is far from the case. We keep seeing decisions being made in universities based on politics and denials are often issued arrogantly in spite of the clear, unvarnished truth. Even the so-called academic seminars are devoid of academic substance, and a clear example of this is that none of the “celebrity” academics who are often invited to give a talk on “the plight of the Malays” in constitutional law related seminars have given sufficient focus on the feudal traits, characteristics and mentality that have been plaguing the Malay community.
It is truly a testament to the numbing down process that none of the “academic seminars” in our public universities have addressed the “real” history and issues, preferring to simply parrot out the script written by historically illiterate petty politicians. For instance, in all of the “ceramah” on “negara Islam” attended by this writer, none of the speakers had delved into paragraph 169 of the Reid Commission Report which formally recorded the wishes of the Malay Rulers who were not in favour of any provision in the Constitution that declared Islam as the official religion of the Federation.
Some of these people forget that in 2015, with the free flow of information that people get on the internet and social media, nobody has a monopoly over information. This is the reality that some people have been ignoring until today, in which they believe that it is enough for them to declare or make any pronouncements on any issue and that that declaration would stand unopposed, unchecked and would be swallowed by the masses wholeheartedly.
Some of these people refuse to face reality and obstinately believe that their authoritarian way in dictating historical revisionism would be readily swallowed by the masses lock, stock and barrel. It is comical to see that in some universities despite the official mantra championing “critical thinking” in their academic community, “critical thinking” is deemed an offense in the area of legal and constitutional history and that blind obedience is expected and rewarded.
Is there hope that there would be some “world class” universities in Malaysia? Your guess is as good as mine.
Ahmad Al-Mu’tasim is a scholar of law, an educator, who is only too familiar with the exploits of the system that wrongfully rewards the incompetents