What Happens When Professors Are Lacking In Intellectual Capacity?

About the writer: Azhar Kurai Ahmad is a trained biochemist, turned art dealer. A keen observer of Malaysian politics, where he sees uncanny similarity with how the local art scene develops.

By Azhar Kurai

The media is integral in shaping public opinion. In the fight to control mainstream media, the winner holds the upper hand in setting the narrative to suit their agenda ~ be it political, cultural, or economical. Although the rise of social media provides alternative outlets, for instance, a single tweet from tech billionaire Elon Musk can make or break the stock market, the importance of mainstream media still can’t be refuted.

For the longest time, the mainstream media in Malaysia used to be in the hands of the government. But as we go through society changes, including a couple of government switches already, what used to be black and white, has turned into several shades of greys. Is TV3 supporting Mahathir or Muhyiddin or Najib or neither? How Malay is The Malay Mail nowadays?

People say we always deserve what we get. When it comes to politicians, the corrupt ones reflect who we are as a society, always ready to bribe the policemen to get our way out of a traffic summon, or offering kickbacks to government officials to get that big contract of a lifetime. Likewise, as a society, we deserve to get the media we have, with our penchant for only reading headlines, and sometimes completely ignoring the content, and worse, never bothering to dissect, debate, and respond to the issues at hand intellectually.

Which brings us neatly to the topic in hand, on the role of intellectuals in shaping public opinion through the media.

But first, who are these intellectuals in our society? Perhaps this is best described by that giant of Malaysian intellectual himself, the late Professor Syed Hussein Alatas in his 1977 book, “Intellectuals in Developing Societies”. He said, “an intellectual is a person who is engaged in thinking about ideas and non-material problems using the faculty of reason.” The possession of a degree does not make one an intellectual, although they often coincide. On the contrary, a person with no academic qualifications can be an intellectual if he/she utilises his/her thinking capacity, and possesses sufficient knowledge in the subject of interest. Bill Gates, by this definition, is an intellectual, although he is devoid of a college degree.

A Clear Distinction

Professor Syed also made a clear distinction between intellectuals and intelligentsia, the latter referring to those who have acquired higher formal education by modern standards.

In short, all professors are part of the intelligentsia of a society, but not all professors are intellectuals. Allow The Umpire to demonstrate this clearer with the following two exhibits.

Exhibit 1: Professor Syed Hussein Alatas is an intellectual. Here was a man who was regarded as one of the founders of sociological investigation in South East Asia, was instrumental in drafting the Rukunegara, and formed GERAKAN as a political vehicle for him to effect positive changes to our society. All that, and on top of writing books such as, “Myth of the Lazy Native”, his own rebuke to imperialism.

In contrast, Professor Tajuddin Rasdi is not an intellectual. He is merely a part of the local intelligentsia. This is Exhibit 2.

Tajuddin is currently a professor in Islamic architecture at one of the local universities here in Kuala Lumpur. He was given plenty of column inches in mainstream media ever since he narrated his story of growing up in Taiping, studying in a Chinese secondary school, which to his mind, made him an expert especially in the Malay-Chinese dynamics of this country. To the agreement of plenty from the Chinese community who see him as the model Malay: subservient to the Chinese agenda.

Take for example, his continuous support for the UEC to be recognized. To the uninitiated, the UEC is the standardized exam for private Chinese schools here. While everyone else sits for SPM, which is the golden standard for the national curriculum, and a mandatory requirement for admission to our public universities, UEC students are happy to sit for an exam that is simply outside of the national curriculum. They do so, while fully aware of the risks, knowing there are a number of foreign universities that recognizes the UEC. However, things get complicated when they can’t get into those foreign universities, so immediately they play victim, and is asking for the government to now recognize the UEC so they can get into local universities. The UEC is a betrayal to the national education syllabus, but Professor Tajuddin defends it, insofar to suggest it is the future of the country.

In another one of his pieces, he ranted, “I see no more hope for this country. The Malays will eventually destroy itself and others with it. The only hope for the idea of a Malaysia lies in the nations of Sabah and Sarawak. If these two quit the partnership, then the idea of Malaysia is just a joke.” Here, his frustrations seem to boil over because the majority of the Malays are completely ignoring him, even though in his mind he is the best Malay intellectual out there. Also notice how he already called Sabah and Sarawak as nations? Instigating the secession of Sabah and Sarawak from the federation is in the DNA of DAP, a party he left to pursue more column inches, to give a semblance of neutrality to his writings. However, clearly the DAP DNA never left him. No wonder then, that he always say that Chinese unity, where everyone supports DAP, is necessary for their survival, whereas Malay unity is simply racist, and will destroy the country.

A Self-Hating Malay

Professor Tajuddin has shown time and again, that he is just a self-hating Malay, and is using his professor title to get traction in the mainstream media, to push for the Chinese agenda. Some of which are detrimental to the well-being of the country.

Let’s be clear, though. Having differing opinions and political leanings to The Umpire certainly do not make one less of an intellectual. However, when one is incapable of “thinking about ideas and non-material problems using the faculty of reason”, as we have argued above, we found Professor Tajuddin as guilty as it gets.

Professor Tajuddin is never an intellectual. He is simply a part of the local intelligentsia. While intellectuals such as Professor Syed Husin worked hard to effect positive changes to our society, Professor Tajuddin is pushing hard to destroy it.

And when non-intellectuals like him are given plenty of access to the mainstream media, to push forward their agendas to shape public opinions, they can be extremely dangerous. For so long, non-intellectuals like Tajuddin have been hiding behind their professorships, and it is just timely that The Umpire is roaring out and calls a spade a spade. – New Malaysia Herald

The opinions expressed in this article is that of the writer’s and do not necessarily reflect the stand of the New Malaysia Herald.

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