In Maszlee’s exit, the ‘children’ win the day

The news that Maszlee Malik is vacating his position as IIUM president was hard for me to swallow. Many see this as a kind of triumph of democracy and an indication of power to the people or students.

Many also see this as Maszlee caving in to pressure from his simple-minded peers, a small number of students who do not understand “adab” and certain civil society members whose voices are louder than the sense they make.

I, for one, am greatly disappointed at his decision.

I have 30 years of experience in speaking against the idea of academia for academia’s sake instead of nation-building. I know that Maszlee, as the minister, can do very little to change this culture simply by appointing a vice-chancellor or two.

Finding a professor who shows commitment to nation-building through public discourse is rare indeed. What was required was someone like Maszlee, who has swum deep in the ocean of controversy and public discourse, to implement a top-down approach to revolutionise the sleeping academia of Malaysia.

He had that opportunity as IIUM president because he had the vision and the power to do – literally, magic. Yes, power ultimately corrupts but it is the same power that is needed to jump-start a stalled engine.

I have said before that some “shock therapy” is needed to jump-start the universities in Malaysia. Now, a new president will be appointed at IIUM. The old politics of the vice-chancellor and the president in terms of territoriality will consume everyone’s time and the reform of universities in intellectual culture will be stalled.

Thank you very much to the “unthinking” civil society members and the group of students who epitomise my statements that Malaysian universities produce “artificial intelligence”.

However, the die is cast. I think Maszlee is taking the “Islamic way out” by voluntarily vacating a seat which has no financial gratification and no significant social or political standing.

He accepted the responsibility only with the aim of reforming the university for the true cause of Islam which is being endangered by ultra conservatism and political bigotry.

In Islam, it is part of a Sunnah or the way of the Prophet to tolerate the ignorant masses and retire to a position of meditative contemplation for strategic advancement at a later situation.

When the Prophet was pelted with stones by the young people of Taif, he had the opportunity to wipe the town off the map when he took Mecca. But the Prophet took no vengeance for he says that those who threw the stones and bled his person knew not what they were doing. His magnanimous stand won him a strategic ally in the days to come when the whole Arab world came to kneel to Islam.

To me, there are two lessons to be learned here. Firstly, there are many times when as parents we give in to the pleas and cries of our children despite our own views and settle with the idea of making them happy. After all, they are just children. We cannot expect children to understand the thoughts and vision of adults who have seen more of the world. Children only understand what they want there and then, minus any contemplation of future ramifications.

Secondly, vacating a position does not mean the end of the battle. If one goes to war with only a single battle plan then one is a poor general indeed. What is important is the end objective. Positions are but one factor in the end-game scenario.

Maszlee has just gone through the middle part of his baptism of fire in his post as a minister. Many look upon his inexperience as a liability. I looked at it as an opportunity to tread pathways seldom thought of.

Many are impatient for change, like children in a candy store, but a vision takes time. Arduous efforts are needed before the pieces are placed in battle-ready formation.

It’s okay, Maszlee, let the children win the day… while the adults finds other ways to save them from their own innocent ignorance.

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.