What is teh tarik enlightenment?

This is my first column on The Malay Mail, published 3rd December 2013

Jamal Al-Din Al-Afghani was something of a charismatic maverick and crusader of anti-colonial ideas in late nineteenth century Egypt. His informal engagement with the public evokes a scene not dissimilar to a small forum led by Socrates. Surrounded by earnest disciples in cafes, Al-Afghani would hold court on ancient Islamic science and Western philosophy, appealing to the dispossessed lower and working class who would feel out of place in the hallowed halls of Al-Azhar University.

The ultimate goal of Al-Afghani’s thought was to avenge the degradation that European imperialism had brought to the Islamic world. But he did not reject all things Western or European in toto. By shrewdly adopting Western tools of modernity such as the printing press, Al-Afghani wrote articles and published pamphlets to disseminate his exhortations against the West. So influential was Al-Afghani that he was attributed as the architect of the politicisation of Egypt’s public sphere in the 1870s. Within a few years of his arrival in Egypt, nearly all of Egypt’s newspapers were run by his devotees. His most notable disciples would later become leaders of postcolonial Egypt and later, Iran, his homeland.

More than a 100 years later, something similar is afoot in urban peninsula Malaysia. Groups of Malay men meet at 24-hour restaurants rattling off names of white men both dead and living: Spinoza, Kant, Mill, Hayek, Habermas. To make applicable and complimentary to the local context, iconoclastic Muslim thinkers such as Ali Shariati are invoked. Is this some kind of intellectual renaissance unseen since, well, who knows? Perhaps. But what is certain is that it is what Clarissa Lee calls the birth of our salon culture.

This loose collective of individuals organise book discussions, lectures, and produce books translated into Malay, the language of its audience targeted for intellectual and Islamic reform. IKD has recently published Immanuel Kant’s foundational text What is the Enlightenment? in Malay, signalling an attempt to herald a Malay kind of Enlightenment. Now is as good a time as any to investigate the rise of this community.

These names and ideas bandied about during the Enlightenment have a talismanic quality. They appeal to idealists. The Kantian man stands apart from the rest of society thanks to his superior faculty to reason and freedom from the shackles of fear and dogma. He and his ilk form the public sphere, a potent site for contesting against the state. With the right conditions, Islamic reform and Islamic secularism may be imminent. These grandiose ideals may be the seeds of an intellectual framework for a new Malaysia.

There are, however, detractors who are cynical of this fledgling intellectual trend and quick to denounce earnest verbiage as “pseudo-intellectualism.” Such criticisms should be disabused from the short-sighted ignorance of the power that ideas have in the bigger picture of history. Ideas alone, often slow in its path towards eventual action, have resulted in social transformations and political revolutions. Lenin’s 1916 pamphlet on imperialism and capitalism inspired revolts against colonial subjugators in Asia and the Middle East.

There is a naivety like the rush of first love in this intellectual movement. Their often uncritical adoration of Western philosophy is attributed to a lack of awareness of the vast corpus that challenges its androcentric Eurocentrism. But like Al-Afghani, we should not throw Western theory out with the bath water. After all, Malaysia as a country was founded on Western ideas; the nation-state was a created as a European political project, the rule of law, Parliament, and our education system are all imported without us resisting against its foreignness. And yet, other concepts — female emancipation, freedom of speech, civil liberty, gay rights — are attacked as being alien to our “culture.”

What is more interesting to observe is how pockets of this intellectual community are inspired by Indonesian civil society made up of key contemporary feminist, literary and socio-political figures. Women make a significant presence in Indonesian intellectual circles. But the urban Malaysian salon culture, which is keen on attracting the working class Malay, remains stubbornly Malay male-dominated. This gendered intellectual exclusion can also be witnessed in Singapore where an emerging intellectual book culture is dominated by young Singaporean Malay men.

There are certainly parallels between our local burgeoning intellectual community with that it aspires to mirror. Women were excluded from participating in world-changing philosophical debates in 18th century France. Their views were thought to lack weight and while their very presence amongst male thinkers (wannabe or otherwise) were inhibiting the freedom of intellectual homosociality these men enjoyed. Women opt out from late night discussions in 24-hour restaurants because being female in public at night is risky in Malaysia. Who knows what other reasons that account for their absence?

What are the other dynamics of exclusion at work in this emerging intellectual culture? Why do the chattering classes unproblematically choose to meet at 24-hour restaurants? Should they question the political and economic conditions that allowed them to discuss “liberty” and “rights” on cheap teh tarik while migrant labourers do the 3D jobs (dangerous, dirty, and difficult) that Malaysians won’t do? Liberty and rights for whom exactly? In the society where 9-to-5 jobs are privileged as the ideal, who is there to challenge the ethics of 24-hour sit-down restaurants if not the enlightened ones?

Perhaps one shouldn’t expect too much from an emerging intellectual class that is still learning the lessons of what a truly democratic society means. What took Europe several hundred years, two world wars and numerous fatal lessons from feeling superior to the rest of the world, Malaysia is only beginning to jump off the coat tails of empire since only the last century. Globalisation and super fast media may speed up the intellectual awakening of the elites in developing societies while the rest of humanity waits patiently for their turn.


The geography of urban intellectual culture in the Malay archipelago

First published on THE STATE magazine, 10th October 2013

Everyday for six months last year, I took the mikrolet from a major bus stop in South Jakarta to my home. A kind of share taxi, the blue mikrolet—number 36—would take around fifteen passengers at a time, following a looping route that covered one small area of South Jakarta. On the route, there was one stop that would prove to be always intriguing, intimidating, and irresistible: Salihara.

Like an oasis in the dusty and chaotic urban sprawl of the megalopolis, Salihara is a complex of smaller parts: one part cafe, other parts amphitheatre, book and DVD shop, and an inviting lecture room with lush carpeting and flattering lighting. The main building itself is a symbol of democratic renewal, echoing the architecture of modernisation in decolonising countries during the 1960s. Eminent poets, writers of edgy feminist novels, Islamic activists, and film makers are regularly seen here, either as invited speakers or self-invited customers of the cafe.

Just outside of Salihara is Pasar Minggu, literally the Sunday market by name but in actuality a marketplace all week. But Pasar Minggu is light years from the bucolic idyll of the farmer’s market. Traders and street food merchants sell their wares on the ground, just inches from the exhausts of slow moving traffic.

The sights and smells of Pasar Minggu miraculously disappear in the understated but elegant surroundings of Salihara. Built in 2008 primarily as an arts venue, Salihara is the brainchild of members of Indonesia’s most eminent and creative civil society. On most days of the week, poetry readings, dance and theatrical performances, lectures, and panel discussions on Islam, cinema, and feminism take place. They are attended by an engaged public, who have come to this place to challenge the status quo. In one panel discussion consisting of Islamic clerics, a member of the audience asks, “What is God?” to which one of the clerics answers, with radiant confidence, “God is but a mantra that one chants to the heart.” One will never witness such an exchange in Malaysia.

In Malaysia, a small but growing group of Malay men are inspired by the intellectual energy of Salihara and determined to create a small public sphere modelled after it. It is a game of catch-up, as they see their Indonesian cousins moving far ahead, while Malaysia is left in the dust in the intelligentsia stakes. The Malaysian chattering classes gravitate towards the enclave of Bangsar, in the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur, as the spiritual hub of the burgeoning intellectual scene. Bangsar has all the trappings of such a place; full of high-end watering holes, cheap food offered in 24 hour sit-down restaurants, and located between the hubbub of the capital and the expansive and desirable suburbia of Petaling Jaya. Here, the local rich and sophisticates, the White migrant community, and all manner of aspirational wannabes dine, drink, and are seen. They tend to eat the same things here; Indian Muslim fare of rotis and sweet teas—food of the people.

Salihara and the hip Telawi area of Bangsar are roughly reminiscent of Jurgen Habermas’s imagining of the public sphere. A place where civil society—a motley group of writers, journalists, artists and activists—come together and form a super league of dissenting voices against both the state and the prevailing threat of Islamic extremism to democracy and civil liberties. They are keenly aware of Habermas’s ideas and take advantage of their potential, along with those of the Enlightenment that drive their discussions. In this liberal marketplace of ideas, one can be a magpie, picking up works of key philosophers at random to add intellectual panache to political concepts. In this liberal marketplace of ideas, the misogyny of Rousseau and Spinoza are airbrushed out, the disregard of non-White plight of countless others are wilfully ignored. Ideas become fetishised commodities, whose provenance and context are often obscured.

In Malaysia, they are also inspired by the text of the much-revered Malaysian academic Syed Hussein Alatas, Intellectuals in Developing Societies (1977), which outlines the characteristic and function of the public intellectual in Malaysia. One such delineated characteristic that rings true of the Malaysian smart set is their self-imposed distance from the rest of society and preference to mix with their own kind. This distance is further accentuated by the geography of their haunts. They may be eating the food of the people, at the prices of the ‘masses,’ but they socialise and plot for a better Malaysia only within the specific locations of the Telawi area.

Members of the intellectual elite in South Jakarta and Bangsar organise the development of ideas and performance around public book discussions, and the translation of ‘classics’ into Malay and Indonesian. Book publication of Anglo-European thinkers into Indonesian is a serious and long-established business in Indonesia. The country has long lived with a mono-language policy in the media and education throughout Suharto’s New Order (1966-1998). Malaysia, meanwhile, has had a more chequered history of national language policy since political independence in 1957. It has switched capriciously between English and Malay, while competing with Tamil, Mandarin, Hokkien, and Cantonese.

The rise of this particular kind of public sphere is set against a backdrop of a revived sense of democracy and political potential in the hands of the people. After the end of Suharto’s authoritarian regime in Indonesia and the Reformasi movement in Malaysia, a flurry of organisations filled the vacuum of a once forbidden public space. Members of these organisations and social movements are collaborative. They are often situated within a bus or Light Rail Transit stop from another, and they eat and drink together. But they do not socialise merely to assert their social capital. The ultimate goal of the fledgling intellectual culture in Malaysia is to challenge the status quo, displacing the power of the ruling government and heralding a Malay version of the Enlightenment. The recent publication of Immanuel Kant’s What is the Enlightenment in the Malay language offers clues to such a dream.

As a term much used in developmental and sociological studies, civil society requires further contestation within the context of Malaysia and Indonesia. It is the buffer between the state and society, but its members’ position is often closer to the higher rungs of the nation than ‘the rest.’ In Jakarta, there is an acute awareness of class privilege among the self-professed elites who are the inadvertent beneficiaries of decades of corruption under Suharto’s regime. There is a yawning wealth gap in Indonesia where the small middle class are squeezed between the über affluent and the abject poor. In Malaysia, where the broad middle class enjoy a history of relative economic and political stability, class awareness is less frequently acknowledged. And when they are, they are uttered between sips of expensive lattes.

The Malaysian intellectual community is male-dominated because its membership reflects the dynamics of its founders who are highly educated, heterosexual, Malay, and male. They meet after work and till late when it would be riskier for women to travel alone at night in a country where crime is on the rise. There is the banter and debating style in a company of men that only a few women, who are expected to be demure and accommodating rather than highly opinionated and bold, will feel at home with. Also, the ‘serious’ books the community reads are those mainly by other men. There are, after all, only a few female philosophers. In this constellation consisting of supernova male philosophers whose work are seen as an exciting challenge to an intellectually arid landscape. Philosophy, alongside the humanities and social sciences, learned outside the classroom are currently being recuperated in Malaysia after decades of abandonment in favour of ‘useful’ and ‘job-making’ spheres of knowledge like engineering, law, medicine, and the ‘hard’ sciences.

There is plenty of interest in combining Western philosophy and critical engagement with Islam, personal liberties, and rational reason in Indonesian higher education. Indonesia can attribute its ability to combine Islam and institutionalised intellectual endeavours to the founding of the Indonesian Associations of Muslim intellectuals (ICMI) in 1990. Their legacy can be felt in the country’s progressive civil society. But there are acutely few spaces for such things in Malaysian universities. The repressive University and University Colleges Act restricts socio-political engagement amongst students in ways deemed oppositional to the state. Its impact on student activism and critical expression has had a lasting legacy in Malaysian university life since its imposition in 1971. And thus, the Malaysian university is no place for the intellectual who nurtures some kind of political ambition.

The appeal of the European Enlightenment is a curious one in Malaysia. Although often critical of religion, the Enlightenment poses little threat to the idealism and aspirational radicalism of the Bangsar intellectuals. What matters it that the Malay incarnation of the Enlightenment will release them from the ball and chain of dogma and moral paranoia. They have little interest in postcolonial or feminist critiques of their idols. And this underlines the illusion of their special place in the geopolitics of ideas where gender, class, space, and time are of no consequence.

The above are snapshots from a personal observation that will be soon be part of a social history of a new intellectual and cultural phenomenon deeply rooted in political action in Malaysia, one that is inspired by social and cultural movements in Indonesia. Key members of the Malaysian intellectual culture flit in and out of the sphere of formal politics, and their influence within such realms remains to be seen. However, there is little to doubt that their influence is fast spreading amongst younger people who are newly politicised via the trending climate of democratic possibility that has resurfaced after many decades.

On the viability of ‘gender’ and ‘sexuality’ as categories in Malaysia

The first thing that would be useful when thinking about genders and sexualities in Malaysia is that the categories of ‘gender’ and ‘sexuality’ are far from native and natural in the national language, Bahasa Malaysia. What is meant by ‘native’ and ‘natural’ refers to the fact that gender and sexuality are relatively recent loanwords. And as loanwords, they have a history and serve particular functions. Does the fact that ‘gender’ and ‘sexuality’ are loanwords from the English language and emerge from a Western medical, sociological and philosophical tradition mean that their meaning in the Malaysian context is foreign and out of place?

When ‘gender’ and ‘sexuality’ and their different linguistic incarnations reflective of the country’s multilingual fabric appear at all, they are sporadic, infrequent, and usually enmeshed in the discourse of academia, feminism, and human rights. ‘Gender’ and ‘sexuality’ are words and currency of those privileged by education and class background. Having rigorous knowledge and interest in gender and queer theory is often the preserve of liberal, queer, activist and/or intellectuals. So there is a spectrum rather than a discrete know/don’t know in the level of knowledge and use of the terms ‘gender’ and ‘sexuality’ in Malaysia.

The entry of new terms into a language and the development of those terms are governed by multiple factors beyond the will of one individual. Although the viability of terms in a language will require the consensus of collective acceptance and use, the fate of the terms’s cultural connotations are harder to predict. We can have the words ‘gender’ and ‘sexuality’ in public usage, but how would people react to these terms? What are the assumptions, misconceptions, prejudices, and the kind of curiosities these words invite? But above all, why does an interrogation into the genealogies of ‘gender’ and ‘sexuality’ in Malaysia matter at all? The answer to these questions has huge political implications with regard to the state of queer and feminist activism in Malaysia. Because language matters.

The banning of the LGBT rights festival, Seksualiti Merdeka, in 2011 precipitated the circulation of false descriptions and connotations of the festival in the Malaysian media as a ‘free sex’ event. With ‘merdeka’ to mean ‘independence’ or ‘liberation’ but with ‘seksualiti’ not gaining much linguistic traction in Malay, the very name of the festival became subject to misunderstanding. However, machinations leading to such a misunderstanding was far from innocent.

News reports and opinion editorials about transgender, gay, and lesbian individuals in Malaysia in the local mainstream media activate and reproduce transphobic and homophobic sentiments in a moralising tenor. Outside the manipulation of emotive issues and moral panics that serve partisan politics lies a broken linguistic and cultural landscape that seems, at first sight, inhospitable to the development of a local gender and sexuality discourse.

First and foremost, let us consider the westernness of ‘gender’ and ‘sexuality’. In the present situation, the words ‘gender’ and ‘sexuality’ are already in usage and in circulation in Malaysia. There’s not much we can do about that. Of course words do become obsolete and ‘die out’, but I’m not convinced that the terms used in one of the most influential discourses in recent times will become obsolete anytime soon. In opposition to Francis Fukuyama’s eurocentric assertions of the ‘end of history’, our history of gender and sexuality in Malaysia is only beginning to be told.

In their current usage, we have to pick up and analyse the perceived and ‘real’ cultural connotations of the terms, i.e. as concepts, they are ‘western’. Of course this accusation is true, as concepts ‘gender’ and ‘sexuality’ emerge out of western philosophy (which was once upon a time, an amalgamation of medicine, politics, mathematics, among other pre-specialised disciplines).

Even the discourse of biological sex did not begin with the oppositional or complimentary notion of sexual dichotomy. In Greek philosophy (and throughout much of western thought), women were considered lesser men or simply ‘incomplete’ as people. For instance, morphologically, the naming of women’s sexual anatomy (vagina, or the invagination of the women’s ‘penis’) was once part and parcel of the discourse that justified women’s inferiority. It would take hundreds of years for feminist theory to pick up on misogynist philosophical texts of a bygone era to develop what we can recognise today as gender theory. There are certainly differences in female and male anatomy, but the way they are talked about have changed during the course of history.

But what of the idea of ‘concepts’ themselves? The methods in the development of an idea are perhaps western in origin, too. Concepts are frameworks for systematic thinking and analysis. They are the vessels in which discourse reside, but they are permeable to other elements – the cultural and historical. Take for instance the differences we see in women and men; how people talk about women and men, and why they dress the way they do. In systematic thinking and analysis, what groups women and men together in how we describe them is gender. How we systematically think and analyse the erotics and legal history of desire is conveniently described through the concept of ‘sexuality’.

Remember, the term ‘gender’ or ‘sexuality’ had not come into popular existence until the last century. This means that gender is a cultural and historical construction as much as it a social construct. Gender is also an analytical construction in that we now have a framework to understand how femininity and masculinity exist as ‘effects’ of political and religious culture. More recently, people have begun to talk about how even sexuality is constructed. The idea and discourses pertaining to homosexuality had only come into existence in the late nineteenth century. Before, what is considered same-sex practices did not have a name. Now, not only does the term ‘homosexuality’ exist, but so does the identity and personhood of the ‘homosexual’.

Accused as more western than ‘gender’ and ‘sexuality’ are perhaps ‘homosexuality’, gay, and lesbian identities. Again, the westernness of gay and lesbian identities cannot be disputed as the origins of the discourse of homosexuality did emerge from the medical annals of European doctors and the reclamation of the discourse by gay communities did take place in the west. More belatedly, heterosexuality is now understood as a construct.

To ignore for a moment those who are still obsessed with the Kipling-esque binaries of east and west, globalisation is now the order of the day and changed how we think about world geopolitics. Globalisation of media and the internet assisted in the travel of ideas and concepts. Among them are the concept and connotations of gay and lesbian identities that were adopted by communities in their quest for belonging, identification, and legitimacy. Those with access to knowledge about gay and lesbian culture are those with class and educational privilege. The greater the privilege, the more savvy one becomes with the terms ‘gender’ and ‘sexuality’.

In a way, Malaysian public discourse picks up the terms gender and sexuality halfway in the narrative history of gender and queer theory, when the discourses regarding the two have developed in highly sophisticated ways in the west. By comparison, our own versions of ‘gender’ and ‘sexuality’ remain remotely peripheral to the ways gender and sexuality are discussed in the west and neighboring Southeast Asian countries. As discourses, our ‘gender’ and ‘sexuality’ are non-existent. Only until we develop our own discursive ‘centre’ of gender and sexuality can we begin to talk about decentering western ones.

Currently, we rely on the anthropological data of mainly western academics to piece together a puzzle that is the history of gender and sexuality in Malaysia. But will using the frameworks of ‘gender’ and ‘sexuality’ to look into the past when such ideas may have been non-existent risks being anachronistic? A reflexive historian never forgets that we can only look through the prism of the present and construct a historical narrative using the modern conveniences of theories that help us ‘see’ gender and sexuality of the past.

Thanks to the accommodating nature of the Malay language in its absorption of foreign words, we have the terms ‘gender’ and ‘sexuality’ in the national Malay language dictionary. But surely this is not enough. Behind the definitions of terms lies a lack of depth. We are beset by a number of factors exacerbating the isolation and negative connotations of the terms ‘gender’ and ‘sexuality’ in Malaysia. First, they are not used enough in the mass media and everyday parlance. Second, there is not enough interest in the studying of gender and sexuality. Third, our academic culture is stifled by rigid institutional barriers against ‘controversial’ and ‘liberal’ topics like gender and sexuality.

As concepts or theories, ‘gender’ and ‘sexuality’ needn’t be western if we can develop our own concepts and theories for even the notion of concepts and theories can be de-westernised. And with the critical mass of talk, writing, and visualising to develop a local discourse, the terms ‘gender’ and ‘sexuality’ can be reclaimed from the clutches of negative connotations to become viable, positive, and culturally robust. In the mass of inconsequential commentary, there are gems to be had. During the age of globalisation where nation and local cultures are safeguarded from the ‘outside’, locality and indigenous concepts have greater legitimacy to withstand critique from within.

Pengajian tinggi diperniagakan, mutu pendidikan dipermangsakan

Disiar di Merdeka Review pada 26hb Jun 2012.

Siaran iklan di panggung wayang sebelum mulanya filem untuk sebuah universiti swasta yang menawarkan huruf-huruf azimat atas selembar kertas – BA, MA, PhD – ialah sesuatu yang sangat membimbangkan. Dahulu kala, iklan yang mempromosikan minuman keras sering disajikan buat penonton/konsumer. Kini, pengajian tinggi didagangkan seperti kereta dan telefon bimbit. Penuntut IPT (dan ibu bapa) kononnya adalah “pelanggan”, kecuali hak-hak konsumer pendidikan tidak mungkin wujud kerana pendidikan tidak boleh diukur atau ditaksir. Jika penuntut tidak puas hati dengan mutu pengajian, apakah mereka dibayar kembali ganti rugi? Apakah semua penuntut IPT (dan ibu bapa) tahu langsung akan kriteria sebuah pusat pengajaran tinggi yang bermutu dan bertaraf antarabangsa?

Bagi kesemua pertanyaan di atas, saya rasa jawabnya tidak. Secara dasarnya, pintu masuk ke alam pengajian tinggi akan dibuka mengikut kemampuan kewangan, daya intelek, dan kelayakan yang lain. Namun di Malaysia, pintu masuknya banyak dan seperti sebuah medan selera, menu kursus dan IPT yang beraneka macam boleh membingungkan sang mahasiswa (dan ibu bapa). Apakah bakal mahasiswa tahu kelebihan IPT X daripada Y selain nama dan jenis kursus yang mempamerkan prestij? Apakah ibu bapa bakal mahasiswa rela menyerah puluh ribuan ringgit dalam bentuk pinjaman atau sebaliknya untuk sebuah IPT yang belum diketahui tahap kecemerlangan graduannya? Atau apakah sijil yang berhuruf azimat sahaja yang diburu?

Susulan daripada isu hutang PTPTN yang menggempar, persoalan panas pendidikan percuma sebagai penawar bisa penghutang-penghutang muda terus membakar. Mungkinkah barisan pembangkang ingin meraih watak “hero” mahasiswa dengan umpan mereka, pendidikan “percuma”? Tetapi apakah barisan pembangkang sedar akan kos pembiayaan sebuah IPT yang bertaraf antarabangsa? Dan apakah pendidikan itu benar-benar boleh dipercumakan? Parah sekali apabila peluang untuk bersambung belajar dipolitikkan untuk mengumpan undi muda. Jika kita ingatkan kembali dana berjutaan ringgit yang disalurkan untuk penubuhan sekolah-sekolah bestari yang disalahgunakan oleh pihak pengurusan dan pentadbiran untuk lawatan luar negara, kita dapati bahawa wang ringgit institusi dan pendidikan “percuma” bagi mereka yang layak mudah dibazir kerana matlamat yang terpesong dan penyelidikan yang lemah.

Bagaimana pula dengan United Kingdom, negara yang kaya dengan IPT yang terbaik di dunia dan destinasi ribuan mahasiswa Malaysia setiap tahun? Kini kerajaan Konservatif David Cameron telah menghentikan pembiayaan awam untuk pusat-pusat pengajian tinggi dan menaikkan sebanyak tiga kali ganda yuran tahunan penuntut tempatan. Kesan terhadap mutu pendidikan di IPT British akan langsung dirasai; tenaga dan bakat pengajar baru terpaksa disekat, dan kursus yang tidak menjamin keuntungan bagi pembangunan material negara seperti sastera, falsafah, dan media dibanding kejuruteraan dan sains akan diperlekehkan. Malaysia akan menjejak langkah United Kingdom jika perbadanan awam tidak menyumbang kepada pembangunan masyarakat yang saksama dari segi pendidikan.

Apabila pengajian tinggi dijadikan produk yang didagangkan semata-mata, bukan sahaja mutu pendidikan dipersia-siakan. Di sebalik fenomena penuntut yang “dipelanggankan”, ramai penuntut IPT, terumatanya IPT swasta dijadikan korban tamak haloba para “usahawan” IPT. Terdapat beberapa IPT swasta yang dilaporkan menyeleweng dan merompak secara diam-diam pinjaman PTPTN pelajar. Sesetengah penuntut IPT pula melapor penipuan nama dan pendaftaran kursus oleh pihak fakulti. Kemudahan seharian yang “basic” seperti bekalan elektrik dan air di beberapa kolej swasta yang kurang memuaskan sering dilaporkan juga.

Saya sendiri pernah menginap di asrama kolej swasta di mana bekalan elektrik dipotong setiap malam dengan sengaja untuk menjimat kos pentadbiran kolej. Pengetua kolej tersebut merupakan seorang ahli politik UMNO yang bercita-cita tinggi dan pengurus sebuah golf resort di kawasan kolej swasta tersebut. Pelajar luar negara pula sering dilayan seperti warga kasta bawahan. Selain perkauman yang berleluasa, pegawai-pegawai imigresen secara rutin menyerbu asrama pelajar luar negara IPT swasta atas pelbagai alasan yang sangat mencurigakan. Apabila pendidikan menjadi sekadar bisnes dan sebuah proses menjual-beli, pihak pengurusan IPT menjadi peniaga yang akan jarang sekali beretika.

Pendidikan bukan sebuah produk yang boleh dijual-beli. Namun sikap rakyat Malaysia yang terlalu mudah menanggap pendidikan secara prinsipnya “murni” dan secara prosesnya “diberi” seperti objek dari pengajar ke pelajar. Pendidikan, terumatanya pengajian tinggi, menyiapkan individu untuk berfikir dengan kritis sebelum melangkah ke dunia bukan sekadar sebagai pekerja, tetapi sebagai dewasa yang berpengetahuan luas. Universiti adalah institusi pengetahuan tertinggi yang melahirkan warga yang bijak-pandai, lincah berkomunikasi, dan mempunyai kesedaran sosial.

Kerana IPT (terutamanya IPTS tertentu) yang diumpamakan kilang pencetak sijil mengambil peranan sebagai penjaja pendidikan dan beriklanan merata tempat, keperluan dan hak mahasiswa jarang dibela. Ramai mahasiswa tempatan dan dari luar negara dibelenggu aturan IPT dan ugutan yang boleh menjejaskan perjalanan pengajian mereka. Oleh yang demikian, hanya hak dan kesedaran mahasiswa yang harus diperkasa, kerana pelaburan atas nama pendidikan mahasiswa amatlah besar. Kerajaan yang mengutamakan peniaga pendidikan dan meminggirkan mereka yang kurang berkuasa politik, kewangan, dan sosial akan membina masyarakat yang materialis dan anti-intelektual.

*Gambar di atas menunjukkan seorang lelaki yang menaikkan sepanduk atau notis yang bertulis ‘Education not for sale’ atau pendidikan bukan untuk dijual.

Pendidikan seks untuk memupuk nilai bertanggungjawab

First published on Merdeka Review, 23rd March 2012.

Zaman remaja merupakan masa yang paling jahil, menakutkan, dan mengujakan bagi mereka yang masih muda. Sewaktu di bangku sekolah menengah perempuan beribu tahun dahulu, saya, dengan perasaan penuh malu, bertanya kepada rakan sekelas yang lebih ‘berpengetehuan’ tentang perkara-perkara intim apakah maksudnya ‘klimaks’ atau orgasme. Jawab rakan saya dengan penuh yakin: ia adalah apabila pasangan yang asyik bersenggama berteriak-teriak seperti haiwan ternakan bergaduh. Atau mengawan. Usia saya sewaktu itu baru mencecah 13 tahun, seorang anak dara tetapi sudah didedahkan dengan unsur-unsur ‘dewasa’ melalui rakan sebaya. Saya pernah sekali seperti anak-anak remaja yang lain, yang mempunyai sifat ingin tahu.

Dengan kurangnya pendidikan seks, golongan remaja akan terjebak dalam kancah kejahilan tentang tubuh dan naluri mereka dan kurang berasa tanggungjawab atas perbuatan mereka. Pendidikan seks yang baik bukan sahaja mengajar anak-anak tentang bagaimana hubungan seks berlaku, tetapi menyampaikan nilai-nilai seperti rasa tanggungjawab, kehormataan dan keyakinan diri kepada kaum muda. Tanpa mengajar nilai-nilai seperti ini, anak-anak mungkin akan mencuba apa yang telah dipelajari dalam kelas pendidikan seks tanpa rasa tanggungjawab pada diri, keluarga, dan pada pasangan mereka. Namun, saya rasa yakin pendidikan seks yang komprehensif bukannya menggalakkan remaja untuk ‘mencuba’ tetapi akan menjadikan mereka lebih berhati-hati dan prihatin tentang implikasi hubungan seks di bawah dan sebelumnya berkahwin.

Tanpa disedari, sebenarnya pendidikan seks tidak formal sudahpun berlaku di rumah, diajar oleh ibubapa dari usia bermulanya anak mereka boleh bercakap dan memahami bahasa. Ibubapa telahpun mengajar bagaimana menamakan kemaluan anak-anak mereka, bagaimana untuk tidak menyalahgunakannya, bagaimana untuk memeliharanya daripada pandangan orang lain. Pendidikan seks tidak formal sudahpun bermula di sekolah tetapi dikalangan rakan-rakan sebaya. Ada yang dipelajari tentang seks oleh mereka, sama ada melalui orang-orang dewasa, filem-filem lucah, majalah Mastika, dan sebagainya bukan boleh kita, ibubapa, atau guru mengawal.

Pendidikan seks yang formal akan mendidik anak-anak remaja untuk menghormati pasangan mereka, membasmi deraan seksual, dan boleh mengurangkan kes-kes keganasan rogol dan sumbang mahram. Dengan melengkapkan anak-anak dan remaja dengan pengetahuan tentang tubuh badan mereka, tentang defininya cabul dan perkosaan (dengan cara dan bahasa yang sesuai), mereka akan lebih tegar memaklumkan ibubapa mereka jika sesuatu yang tidak diingini berlaku kepada mereka. Antara faktor yang memberanikan perogol dan pencabul anak-anak adalah mangsa-mangsa yang mendiamkan diri, dimalukan, dan tidak boleh bersuara. Pendidikan seks yang formal boleh memberikan ‘suara’ kepada anak-anak untuk melindungi diri mereka dan membawa pesalah seksual ke kebenaran.

Masalahnya di sini adalah ibubapa, guru-guru, pakar isu-isu keagamaan – kesemuanya dewasa – yang kurang selesa, segan, dan malu untuk berkongsi pengetahuan tentang lumrah manusia, kehormatan, dan masa depan anak-anak dan remaja. Yang ganjilnya, kanak-kanak secara lazimnya kurang segan bertanya tentang perkara yang sensitif berbanding anak-anak remaja dan mereka yang sudah mencecah dewasa. Kita tidak boleh mengharapkan pendidikan agama di sekolah atau menunggu di ambang perkahwinan untuk maklumat dan tanggapan tentang seks dan seksualiti yang sihat. Setahu saya, ustazah dan ustaz saya sepanjang persekolahan saya tidak pernah membincangkan tentang kontrasepsi (cara-cara menghindar daripada kehamilan), HIV, keganasan dan gangguan seksual.

Tetapi nampaknya kerajaan kita enggan berganjak ke arah masyarakat yang matang dan mandiri. Berita lama tentang pengharaman buku ‘Where Did I Come From?’ (Dari Mana Saya Datang?) oleh Peter Mayle yang pertama kali diterbit pada tahun 1984 membuktikan sekali lagi keengganan kerajaan kita untuk membaca dan menilai sebuah buku untuk kanak-kanak dengan matang dan saksama. Buku karya Mayle yang berkisarkan sepasang suami isteri yang saling menyayangi, berhubungan intim lantas dikurniakan anak telah dicapkan ‘keterlaluan’ di sebuah negara yang tidak segan bermain politik lucah dan menghalalkan pengedarkan majalah Mastika, Pesona, dan seangkatan dengannya di perkarangan kaki lima.

Buku yang ditujukan untuk bacaan kanak-kanak dan ibubapa dianggap melanggar Seksyen 292 kerana penggambaran lukisan kartoon sepasang suami isteri yang telanjang, bersetubuh, dan memaparkan maklumat tentang penamaan anatomi reproduksi yang betul untuk kanak-kanak. Pengharaman buku Mayle dan tindakan-tindakan drakonian anti-pendidikan oleh kerajaan yang lain tidak jauh bezanya daripada kongkongan seorang ibu atau bapa yang pantang melihat anak mereka berfikir dan membuat pertimbangan sendiri dengan cara yang matang.

Kita tidak boleh menghalang golongan remaja daripada mengenali dan memahami seksualiti mereka, walaubagaimana khuatir kita akan berasa tentang gejala seks di bawah umur dan pembuangan anak. Pendidikan yang baik tidak boleh dipertikaikan, ini termasuk juga pendidikan seks dan tenaga pengajar yang terlatih, sensitif, dan berfikiran terbuka. Pengenalan pendidikan seks ke sekolah-sekolah bukannya agenda liberal, tetapi boleh mempunyai unsur-unsur yang berlandaskan ajaran moral di mana nilai-nilai universal seperti sikap bertanggungjawab dan penyayang, kehormatan diri, melindungi yang lemah, dan pengurusan perasaan dan imej kendiri boleh diterapkan dalam syllabus.

Kelompok anti-Hari Kekasih patut hentikan fikiran lucah mereka

Disiarkan di Merdeka Review, tanggal 14 Februari 2012.

Pertembungan pandangan berbeza tentang sambutan Hari Kekasih telah lama wujud dan akan terus kekal sampai bila-bila. Yang membuatkan penulis hairan adalah perkara yang paling ditentang keras oleh PAS, badan keagamaan seperti JAKIM dan yang sewaktu dengannya jarang diutarakan sama sekali. Bahkan perkara itulah yang dilihat menembus jambakan bunga mawar, kotak coklat, dan patung-patung teddy bear; iaitu pasangan yang berciuman dan bersenggama di luar nikah. Mungkin bagi khalayak yang menyambutnya tidak akan melihat dari sudut yang seksual, tetapi yang menentang sambutannya akan melihat yang itu dan hanya itu. Ini mendatangkan satu persoalan bagi kita semua, adakah fikiran mereka yang alim lagi berugama lebih peka dan terobses hanya dengan perkara yang seksual pada saatnya Hari Kekasih atau pada tiap-tiap masa?

Jika diselidik sahaja perkataan “maksiat” itu dan diteliti apa sebenarnya yang diselindungi di sebalik retorik ahli berugama yang berapi-api tentang gejala sosial, kita akan dapati hanya satu pertunjukan kuasa dan imaginasi lucah tentang hidupan belia masa kini. Ya, kita seharusnya khuatir dengan barisan pemimpin agama yang pantas memikirkan yang bukan-bukan dan tidak mempertimbangkan realiti bagaimana pasangan yang bercinta menyambut Hari Kekasih di Malaysia. Bagaimana PAS dan seangkatannya mendefinisikan “sambutan” Hari Kekasih sebelum menyarankan tangkapan pasangan beragama Islam yang menyambutnya? Definisinya sangat penting, kerana pasangan tidak boleh ditangkap tanpa garis panduan agama yang jelas. Adakah sambutan itu dilambangkan dengan pemberian bunga-bunga dan acara makan malam? Adakah PAS dan JAKIM akan melibatkan diri dalam aksi voyeurisme yang asyik-masyuk semasa mengintip pasangan yang berdua-duaan?

Mungkin saya terlalu kritikal melabelkan pemimpin agama, PAS, dan pihak berkuasa sebagai orang-orang yang miang kerana hanya berfikir yang bukan-bukan bila tibanya aura romantika Hari Kekasih. Minggu lepas, imej PAS yang keras anti-Valentine tetiba menunjukkan celah yang lebih lembut. Ketua dewan pemuda PAS, Nasruddin bin Hassan telahpun menetapkan satu garis panduan yang sangat teperinci bagi mereka yang ingin meraikan Hari Kekasih. Tetapi tahap keterperinciannya agak melucukan. Ya, Hari Kekasih itu bukan dalam Taqwim Islam, tetapi Hari Pekerja dan Hari Kebangsaan juga bukan dalam ajaran Islam tetapi kita tetap menyambutnya. Hari Kekasih adalah satu sambutan yang telah lama menjadi satu acara konsumeris yang melibatkan pembelian hadiah-hadiah dan perbelanjaan lumayan (dan bukannya hari peringatan seorang santos Nasrani).

Walaupun asal-usul Hari Kekasih ada hubung kaitnya dengan seorang santos Romawi bernama Valentine, ia mula dirayakan atas dasar percintaan pada zaman pertengahan Eropah di kalangan seniman dan penyajak Inggeris. Ini membuktikan bahawa sambutan Hari Kekasih dari titik permulaannya adalah sekular dan tidak mempunyai unsur-unsur agama Kristian langsung. Jika PAS dan seangkatannya benar-benar berpijak di alam nyata dan pernah merasai cinta (meskipun saya meyakininya 30%), mereka akan sedar bahawa sambutannya hanya satu ritual jiwangan konsumeris yang melampau dan jauh sekali daripada pesta seks bebas.

Saya cukup hairan dengan sesetengah kelompok yang mencurigai erti dan pengalaman percintaan orang lain. Kerajaan negeri Kelantan telah mengumumkan bahawa Hari Kekasih akan digantikan dengan Hari Suami Isteri, lantas menyempitkan erti cinta dan kasih sayang. Alasan utama adalah untuk membendung umat Islam daripada pergaulan bebas sempena Hari Kekasih yang, tanpa bukti kukuh dihubung-kaitkan dengan isu-isu ibu tunggal dan penderaan rumahtangga. Kerajaan negeri Kelantan begitu terobses dengan ikatan pernikahan, sampai menawarkan pembiayaian mas kahwin dan sebagainya sambil cuai daripada sedarnya kadar penceraian dan kejatuhan rumah tangga yang tinggi di Malaysia. Penyelesaiannnya bukan Hari Suami Isteri yang diraikan setahun sekali, tetapi keadaan kewangan, pekerjaan tetap, dan hubungan yang stabil sebelum berkongsi kehidupan bersama.

Tidak pernahkah mereka yang begitu asyik menbanteras Hari Kekasih itu fikirkan bahawa kelahiran anak luar nikah dan kes pembuangan bayi itu bukan hasil daripada pergaulan bebas, tetapi daripada kurangnya pendidikan seks, maklumat tentang pengguguran janin yang halal, dan budaya yang menjatuhkan stigma ke atas ibu yang belum bernikah? Bilangan ibu tunggal bukan gejala sosial tetapi membayangkan realiti bahawa ramai pasangan suami-isteri belum bersedia mendirikan rumah-tangga kerana kurang mengenali satu sama lain, masalah kewangan, dan lain-lain. Pihak yang mengusungkan pemansuhan Hari Kekasih itu tidak pula menyedari masalah yang lebih besar daripada gejala sosial yang kononnya menjerat masyarakat kita mungkin terbit daripada kurangnya rasa cinta dan kasih sayang dalam masyarakat, dan bukan hanya antara suami dan isteri.

Mungkin tindakan UMNO untuk berdiam diri sahaja tentang Hari Kekasih adalah yang paling wajar dan tepat di saat yang genting ini. Kerajaan Malaysia sudahpun dicemuh di mata dunia dengan keputusan menghantar wartawan Saudi Hamza Kashgari kembali ke tanahairnya. Kerajaan Malaysia dan Najib Razak sendiri dikritik tidak berperikemanusiaan dan tidak mempunyai rasa belas kasihan terhadap seorang pemuda yang mungkin akan dihukum mati di Saudi Arabia walaupun telahpun meminta ampun atas kesilapannya.

Boleh dikatakan pihak berkuasa di Malaysia, daripada yang teratas hingga ke kuncu-kuncu bawahannya, sudah lali pada nikmatnya rasa cinta dan kurang upaya untuk menunjukkan kasih sayang sesama tetangga dan keluarga rakyatnya. Soal cinta dan kasih sayang tidak perlu dipolitikkan untuk menunjuk kuasa dan kealiman pihak-pihak tertentu. Biarkan rakyat Malaysia terutamanya umat Islam meraikan percintaan dan kasih sayang dengan cara tersendiri, dan jangan jadikan fikiran lucah satu dalil hipokritikal untuk menyekat kebahagian orang lain.

Laki-laki feminis, sila tampil ke hadapan

Dalam kolum saya di Merdeka Review baru-baru ini, saya membincangkan tentang tanggungjawab kita sebagai sebuah masyarakat dalam menangani isu misogyni (atau pembencian wanita di bawah dan atas sedar) di Malaysia. Hari ini, saya ingin menjemput pembaca untuk memikirkan tentang peranan lelaki dalam menangani seksisme dan penyertaan mereka dalam gerakan feminisme. Boleh dikatakan bahawa tanggungjawab yang lebih besar dalam membasmi wabak seksisme di Malaysia terletak di tangan lelaki. Mana tidaknya? Lelaki adalah pemangsa wanita dan kanak-kanak dalam kebanyakan kes gangguan dan keganasan seksual.

Lelaki, yang secara lazimnya adalah ketua-ketua keluarga dan agama, atau seorang lelaki yang rasa dirinya lebih alim, cukup asyik menguasai pergerakan wanita dan melarang itu dan ini. Wanita seolah-olah dibelenggu lelaki yang suka menindas atas niat jahat dan ‘baik’ yang tidak bertempat. Bukan tanggungjawab perempuan untuk menjaga diri bila melangkah keluar dari rumah, tetapi tanggungjawab lelaki untuk menjaga pandangan, tangan, organ kemaluan sendiri dan tidak memperkosa siapa-siapa.

Di negara Malaysia, kaum perempuan memang sudah tentu merendahkan pandangan mereka. Di tempat awam di mana wanita sering diganggu, ditegur dengan cara kurang menyenangkan oleh lelaki yang tidak dikenali, ramai orang perempuan hanya boleh menunduk ke bawah dan berpura-pura gangguan tersebut hanya khayalan semata-mata. Lelaki melihat, perempuan dilihat – itulah ketidakadilan struktural yang implisit dalam masyarakat patriarkal.

Seorang perempuan yang ‘membalas’ pandangan lelaki akan mempegunkan dan mencabar sang penglihat. Ya, dilihat secara intens oleh orang-orang yang tidak dikenali amat tidak menyenangkan. Ini adalah satu kenyataan yang hanya orang perempuan akan memahami kerana keselamatan kita di mana-mana selalu terasa tergugat. Untuk mengatakan bahawa kaum lelaki juga menduga masalah gangguan dan keganasan seksual maka keselamatan wanita sahaja perlu dititikberatkan adalah tidak sensitif dan memperkecilkan masalahnya.

Mengapa harus kita galakkan penyertaan lelaki dalam menangani gejala seksisme? Kerana lelaki mempunyai kuasa dan kebolehan untuk mengakhirnya. Tetapi masalah terbesar dalam penglibatan lelaki dalam perjuangan isu-isu wanita adalah kecendurungan lelaki untuk memimpin wanita-wanita dan mendominasi wacana feminisme. Ini adalah kerana lelaki yang feminis dianggap sangat istimewa bagi kita, dan juga kerana lelaki feminis biasanya mempunyai intelek tinggi dan bakat menulis dan berpidato.

Tetapi faktor ternyata yang ‘mengistimewakan’ lelaki feminis ialah cara bagaimana lelaki disosialisasikan dalam budaya kita untuk mempimpin, dan melindungi wanita (yang lemah). Disebabkan ciri-ciri ini, lelaki feminis sering dijadikan ‘spokesman’, atau jurucakap yang mewakili suara kita sebagai kaum perempuan. Wanita juga terlibat dalam mengagungkan laki-laki feminis; seringkali kita sendiri melantik lelaki sebagai pemimpin kita, walaupun memang kita mengakui wanita jarang diberikan pucuk kepimpinan. Realiti penuh dengan pelbagai paradoks, dan cakap tidak semestinya serba bikin.

Kita sebenarnya tidak mahukan lelaki untuk mewakili perempuan dalam mana-mana bidang yang melibatkan perempuan secara langsung. Contohnya, isu reproduksi, gangguan dan keganasan seksual terhadap perempuan adalah isu yang dialami oleh kaum perempuan dan lelaki tidak akan sesekali boleh meraih peranan ‘pakar’ dalam isu-isu seperti ini. Mengapa kita perlukan pula lebih penglibatan wanita dalam arena lain yang sudah tentu dikongsi wanita dan laki-laki, seperti politik, polis, agama, media, dan undang-undang?

Ini adalah kerana sudut pandangan perempuan adalah unik, dan kerana sudut pandangan laki-laki sering dikaburi keistimewaan atau kelebihan lelaki (male privilege). Sebagai contoh, kelebihan lelaki memberikan mereka keberanian menaiki pengakutan awam atau berjalan bersendirian pada waktu malam tanpa merisaukan risiko rogol. Kelebihan lelaki memberikan kelapangan daripada kerumitan dalam mengimbang tugasan rumahtangga dan kerjaya; kerana wanita (yang berkerjaya mahupun yang tidak) secara ‘semulajadinya’ mengangkut tanggungjawab yang lebih berat dalam mengasuh anak-anak, memasak, dan mengemas rumah. Kelebihan lelaki adalah mereka tidak perlu memikirkan tentang hal-hal seharian yang menyulitkan wanita – kerana mereka tidak mengalaminya sendiri.

Jika lelaki yang bergelar diri feminis terlalu gentar untuk menampilkan diri, sekurang-kurangnya mengecam seksisme dalam aktiviti seharian. Seksisme merendahkan martabat perempuan sebagai objek seks dan kilang bayi semata-mata. Seksisme juga menormalkan status wanita yang idak setaraf dengan lelaki. Akhir kata, wanita sangat perlukan sokongan laki-laki dalam perjuangan feminisme, bukan sebagai wakil atau pelindung, tetapi sebagai anggota keluarga, rakan, dan kekasih dalam perjuangan.