Stonewall in Student Freedom

Posted on December 14, 2010

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Batu 5 had put on his debating hat and given a justification to the University and University Colleges Act (UUCA) which was better than any I have ever heard. If he was in parliament, he would put to shame most of our current representatives. However, I still cannot agree with the arguments given and therefore, in the interest of intellectual masturbation, here I will provide a reply to the arguments posed by Batu 5.

 

I understand that his article was focused solely on the provision in the Act which does not allow students to join any political parties and the reply shall only revolve around this point. Let it be known, however, that the UUCA has many other provisions that I do not agree with. These include provisions that curtail student autonomy.

 

Batu 5’s first justification for the UUCA is a paternal argument which says that it is to protect students, who are the future leaders, from being exploited as they possess gullible and impressionable young minds. The writer further explained that young people are the ones mostly involved in anarchist, anti-establishment organizations, skinheads or neo-Nazi groups.

 

The whole notion of protecting the students from harm and exploitation does no good in the long run. Once students leave university, there is nothing to protect them from the harsh realities of life. How do we expect to have first-class graduates when they are only allowed to learn this on their own when they are dumped into the real world where the consequences of failure could be disastrous? During their days in campus, mistakes on the part of students should be allowed as a training ground for the future.

 

Now, there is nothing wrong with them looking for an identity or a group to belong to as it is part of growing up. It is a right to join a political party or organization of one’s choice. If they are to join racist parties such as the very famous ones here or something more ridiculous, like a Parti Bomoh Progresif (PBP), so be it. They will learn from whatever it is they are doing, whether one deems it a mistake or not. If the state really wishes to protect them, then what they should do is allow for every kind of party or group to come into campus to present their ideas and debate it out with students so that a culture of healthy discussion, debate and dialectics could take place on campus. This way, every voice will have a chance to be heard and students can come to their own conclusions, subscribe to the presented views or just whack the hell out of everyone.

 

A certain kind of education which is based on the principles of freedom should also be given to the students. This would include educating them, through the student press and other channels, about what they should be aware of in making a decision such as joining a party or cause. This way, students will come to more mature decisions and whatever exploitation that is being directed at them would be effectively minimized. Students must be able to spot exploitation and manipulation, and this can only be done not when laws are in place to prevent such acts, but when students are taught to identify them. The law does not and cannot be the answer to everything. Here is one such instance. Furthermore, Laws other than the UUCA that already restrict freedom to join groups or parties are aplenty, we have the Sedition Act, Societies Act, Internal Security Act and others. Can we not add another?

 

Batu 5 also does not see any other way for policies to be formulated, except by way of accepting certain stereotypes. I fully disagree. It is absolutely dangerous to suggest or legitimize stereotyping for the formulation of policies. Injustice and discrimination would be a direct result of this as we have seen from many other systems such as the Nazi regime’s law that discriminates the Jews, and this was a result of taking stereotypes too seriously. The law must take into consideration the ‘minority’, which in Batu 5’s context, would be the more mature and less gullible students. This would mean that the law or policy in question should allow for enough freedom for those bound by it to maneuver their way around as to optimize their potential and pursue their own legitimate goals.

 

We must not, on the contrary, restrict everyone from joining political parties or organizations just to protect certain groups in the student population from being easily exploited and one day realize and find themselves working deep inside a mine with a ball and chain attached to their legs with a party flag on their chest, trying to figure out what the hell happened. Furthermore, there is no concrete evidence to suggest that the easily exploited, gullible and immature minds are the majority among students and would justify the stereotype. Ivy League universities in the United Kingdom for example, allow their students to join political parties and organizations, and campuses hardly witness any trouble. In fact, they always find themselves in the top-half of international university rankings whereas the same cannot be said about our local varsities.

 

The biggest problem I find with Batu 5’s justification is that from his arguments, it seems like he views political parties as inherently evil and destructive. Batu 5 claims that being a member of a party would no longer make a student impartial as he would be biased and his beliefs and support would be entrenched. I must assert here that there is nothing wrong with being partial or biased towards a belief system or cause of a party. If independence of mind is what Batu 5 was rooting for, need I remind you that the whole Perak crisis was caused by such maverick party members with truly independent minds; Independent of honesty, that is.

 

In truth, students may leave a party at any time and if they do not, good for them for finding something they really want to do. Maybe, just maybe, the cause and work of the party is that good. It may be hard to believe, but there are such parties around. If Mandela had not stuck to the African National Congress, the apartheid regime would probably still be around today and Shakira would have had to sing her last World Cup song, locked up on Robben Island. I wouldn’t mind being in that prison though. Waka waka eh eh.

 

Ironically, the mindset which views political parties with that kind of distaste demonstrates the effectiveness of UUCA all this while. It is exactly the State’s intention to popularize apathy amongst students by regarding political parties, which are an essential part of the political arena with such pessimism. While I do not doubt that it would do well for everyone to be critical of parties, causes and politicians, we should not have a view that regards all political parties are bad. If students carry on weighing, exchanging and debating ideas without joining something they consider worthy, students will continue to observe without ever being agents of change. There is of course activism that does not associate itself with party politics but no matter how I or others like myself dislike it, the reality is that party politics have made a lot of difference and has helped to shape our history to what it has become today. Interestingly, the UUCA does not only restrict students from joining political parties but prevent them from joining any organizations, groups or trade unions without the Vice-Chancellor’s written consent. That would mean; PERKASA = Yay. KOMAS = Nay.

 

Since many of our rallies, protests and demonstrations are also associated to organizations and parties, students can be easily caught and even expelled if they take part. (Remember the ISA-7?) Direct action such as this is completely illegal under the UUCA. Inaction is exactly what they desire. Let us not hand it to them.

 

If there is still a worry of them being forever ‘contaminated’ with a party’s ideology, again, educate them in schools and on campuses, the value of reason and independent thinking. It is high time for education reform anyway.

 

I wholly agree, universities and campuses should be politically neutral, but this should not apply to students. They are different and cannot be regarded as one of the same. University students must be allowed to take a stand and take sides. At the end of the day, no matter the justification, We, the students know why there is such a draconian law in existence; the State fears us. And rightly so.

 

In the lead up to the 1969 General Elections, a bunch of student activists from University Malaya went around the country in a rented bus to share their Student Manifesto which witnessed thousands of citizens coming out to witness these great young men and women speak on current political issues. The effect of this was tremendous as most of the candidates (the constituencies of which the students conducted their rallies) that endorsed this manifesto won in that election. Most of them were from the opposition. However, this achievement was overshadowed by the May 13 events that took place that year. This story is one that we must remember as being one of the reasons why the UUCA was enacted, to eliminate the threat that students can bring to power.

 

Sure, the law is only as good as those who administer them. Unfortunately, this law is absolutely terrible to begin with. There is a dire and urgent need for us, students, to wake up from this slumber and threaten the status quo with truth, freedom and justice. As Victor Hugo once proclaimed, “There is nothing more powerful than an idea whose time has come”. Well, fellow students and friends, the time has finally arrived.

 

If you are a student, no matter from which university or college, come and join the Perhimpunan Mahasiswa Negara on the 11.1.11 for student unity and solidarity. Organised by the National Union of Malaysian Students at http://www.facebook.com/#!/numsmalaysia

 

written by: Haji Lou Reed

 

Posted in: Haji Lou Reed