Mat Sabu case: Whither academic license?

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I wish to respond to the hotly debated topic of the Mat Sabu interpretation of the Bukit Kepong incident and the fact that he was recently arrested and charged by the police force.

My point in this short essay is simply; will we, academics face the same future as Mat Sabu for not supporting mainstream interpretation of not only history but also other social and religious matters?

I have been an academic for 24 years and in the field of architectural history and philosophy.

I have differed in so many issues from that of mainstream academia, architectural fraternity and religious authorities to the point that I have lost count!

From now on, should I look over my back for a police radio car everytime I criticise mosque designs, housing policies, campus designs or the prime minister's office architecture in Putrajaya?

From what I understand of Mat Sabu's position in this matter, he is simply saying that there are other people who were the first and also those who were most industrious at fighting the colonialist (or ‘protectors'?) rather than Umno.

Although I am not an expert in Malaysia's history, what I gather from reading books such as those written by Prof Khoo Kay Kim, there were a few groups who were seeking independence from the British.

One was the Islamists who were the most active group whilst the other were such as those who wish to set up the Melayu-Raya idea as part of Indonesia.

Mat Sabu mentions that there were also those who believed in communism who were also joining the struggle. In one sense it is quite easy to accept the statement that these were the original independence fighters.

What is the problem? Of course now the contention is that we were not colonised but ‘invited' or ‘protected' by the British. That was news to me!

Though I accept the explanation but I prefer Prof Dr Aziz Bari's statements and Farish Noor's writings that said in practice we were colonised.

Raja Petra also published the Office of the Colonial Administration regarding Malaya. Whatever it is this has been a lively eye opener to a novice history student such as I.

For the government to brand Mat Sabu as a a citizen who seems to be like some kind of traitor, to me is simply an overexuberence of political statements that has become the normal practice and I took no notice of it.

But what irked and shocked me was when Mat Sabu was arrested!

Will I be arrested for stating that philosophically our mosque designs are not within the Prophet's spirit of moderation?

Will I be arrrested for saying that we can learn a lot from Frank Lloyd Wright's church designs and adapt the organic architecture philosophy to mosque design?

Will I be charged in court for having the opinion that for a democratic country, Putrajaya shows a complete disregard for democracy in its planning and architectural approaches?

Will I be stripped of my citizenship for saying that in campus design, UTM Skudai is totally student-unfriendly and that Taylors University is the best student-friendly design?

I could go on and on for a few thousand more words about what I disagree in matters of architecture and many others on education, politics and religion. Those are merely the tip of the iceberg.

I recall sitting in Dewan Sultan Iskandar and watched Dr. Mahathir being conferred a honorary doctorate by UTM and listening intently to Mahathir' rendition of Malaysia's economic and political history.

I remember squirming in my seat when Mahathir criticised the monarchy for ‘giving in' to the colonialists and preferring getting a pension rather standing with the people.

The Sultanah of Johor was sitting barely 2 metres away! Now that was sheer academic guts! That was one thing I admired about Mahathir.

In his paper, Mahathir never made any academic referencing and his paper would be thrown out in a thesis viva. But I do respect his viewpoint that was laced with his own interpretations of historical events.

I have also read Lee Kuan Yew's version of the Singapore story and learned a great deal not about historical events in Singapore, Malaya and Malaysia but also I learned about his own interpretation of who actually caused the racial riots. I am still suspending my judgement on that issue until I have read a great deal more.

So now what will happen to academia? Is it not enough that our Secondary school history books are interpreted in a singular manner that now even academics must support the winning political party's view of things?

If so, we should close down our universities and start sending our children across the shores for real education.

What is the National Professors' Council stand on the arrest of Mat Sabu, I wonder... I know that most of the NPC views usually seems to ‘echo' the view of the ruling party.

But perhaps they should clearly make a stand on what it means to have or have not; an academic license.

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