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Stop intimidating and harassing academics!

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We, the Malaysian academic movement Gerak, condemn the criminalising and ‘policing’ of academic opinions.

The recent opening of a police investigation file on emeritus professor Teo Kok Seong is an affront to academic freedom. It is also an insult to intellectual discourse, and critical and independent thinking in the country.

Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim has on numerous occasions called on schools and universities to encourage critical thinking. He has mentioned in several public statements that critical thinking is necessary to curb extremism.

In a 2023 speech, for example, Anwar rationalised that when people fail to reason and be intellectually critical, extremists and intolerant elements fester in society. Such elements create ethnic and religious divisions, which would ultimately destroy any hope for patriotism and ethno-religious cohesion.

Prof Teo’s comments about the existence of vernacular schools and the growing ethnic divisions in our society and his opinion that the former perpetuates the latter are his opinions.

If anyone disagrees, engage Teo in a rational and critical debate. Counter his opinions with logical rebuttals. Malaysians should use their intellect to counter such views rather than resorting to feeble-minded attempts and lodging police reports.

Even though Gerak does not agree with the professor’s opinions, we uphold his right to express differing views. We stand by the need to uphold academic freedom in the country, rather than to silence dissenting views simply because politicians and others may disagree with them.

As such, Gerak condemns the blatant investigation of Teo under both the Penal Code (Section 505) and the Communications and Multimedia Act 1998 (Section 233).  

Gerak firmly believes that vernacular schools are not the reason why our society is facing a severe erosion in national identity and ethno-religious cohesion. 

Rather, it is clear that the presence of vernacular schools in Malaysia offers growing opportunities for intercultural dialogue and understanding, which are fundamental in building a multicultural and cohesive society. 

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We believe that by encouraging students from different ethno-religious backgrounds to learn about and appreciate each other’s cultures, we can foster greater empathy and solidarity among Malaysia’s diverse communities.

Unfortunately, the growing polarisation in Malaysia is due more to the political system, which is characterised by ethnic-based political parties and the clamour among politicians for vote-banks based on ethnicity and religion.

Also, politicians in the country today are increasingly rejecting the value of healthy debate and critical thinking and failing to uplift mature, fact-based and rational discourse in society. Instead, they prefer to stifle dissenting opinions. This is an assault on the right to think.

Teo’s right to air his views on vernacular schools or the Chinese community is his prerogative as a scholar. His right to express an alternative opinion because he is a thinking human being should be celebrated, rather than condemned.

The knee-jerk reaction to lodge police reports among certain quarters in the public and among politicians, further divides, rather than unites the country.

Gerak will continue to speak out against the incessant intimidation and harassment of all academics.

There has been a history of such harassment in the past, when scholars such as Azmi Sharom, P Ramasamy, Mohd Ridhuan Tee Abdullah, Mohd Faizal Musa (also known as Faisal Tehrani) and Syed Husin Ali were subject to intense harassment and intimidation. This must stop.

Ultimately, the respect for academic freedom is paramount for the development of a cohesive, and an informed and intellectually mature society.

Scholars must be free to speak the truth based either on empirical evidence or to offer opinions which are informed by rational, mature and critical thinking. – Gerak

The views expressed in Aliran's media statements and the NGO statements we have endorsed reflect Aliran's official stand. Views and opinions expressed in other pieces published here do not necessarily reflect Aliran's official position.

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