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Uninviting Ramli Ibrahim: Suffocating minds, narrowing views

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Aliran is appalled at the news that Universiti Teknologi Malaysia cancelled world-renowned Ramli Ibrahim’s virtual talk “Perkongsian Seni Tarian Merentas Bangsa”, which was supposed to be part of a student-led Tun Razak Arts Week.

Apparently, due to the advice of the UTM Islamic Centre, the subject of a cross-culture dance art was deemed unsuitable.

The UTM management explained that the decision to cancel was based on its guidelines on arts and culture which stated that any programme must be referred to the UTM Islamic Centre and receive its approval. Apparently, the “UTM’s Islamic Centre advice represents the university’s stand, emphasising programme contents that does not offend any parties and balances various aspects of diversity, wellbeing and spirituality”.

This explanation for ‘uninviting’ Ramli Ibrahim does not make any sense. The ambiguous basis of the decision as to who will be potentially offended and how it detracts from encouraging diversity must be clarified.

Otherwise, it would reflect the presence of bigoted mindsets dangerously in place in an educational institution.

How is the country meant to have a thinking generation if each time something new or different from the mainstream surfaces, it is then hidden away, denied to the public or shunned – or worse, investigated by the police. This seems to be happening more and more frequently.

Educators worth their salt would know that to create a thinking generation, it is crucial to expose people to different ideas, different experiences, and different ways of thinking and discussing things. Feeling intrigued with or unsure of something new or different is part of the learning process. How else can the mind grow?

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How ridiculous that a talk on how dance transcends race, at a time where we need to build unity in our country, is somehow suddenly deemed unwelcome and possibly offensive. What is causing such irrationality? What is causing such fear? Who is setting this agenda?

Every time the space for discussion and thinking outside the box is narrowed, we suffocate. Every time a particular narrative is forced down our throats, we suffocate further. Think of the impact on the youth, especially in our society, which has such broad ethnic and religious diversity.

We will end up with an unthinking, intolerant nation at this rate – bleating intolerant sheep following bleating intolerant leaders. This process is already well on its way, judging by what is happening around us.

The Ramli Ibrahim episode is a colossal mistake, a missed opportunity for all of us. When a university shuts down opportunities to think and to learn; when a university exercises non-intellectual control of the choices of what to learn and from whom; when a university blatantly reveals its biases; it will invariably become insular and irrelevant to the world.

Aliran calls on UTM to rethink its decision and consider what it really means to be an educational institution. Local universities must return to their primary role as a place to broaden minds and expand learning, especially in a society as diverse as ours.

Aliran executive committee
8 June 2021
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