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Azmi Sharom, human being

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Straits-mongrel interviews Azmi Sharom, who challenges us: If I am a human being, how can I be treated otherwise? Equally so, how can I treat others otherwise?

Photo courtesy of sayaanakbangsamalaysia.net

You know him as the law academic with the semi-tochang hairstyle, those piercing eyes framed in black plastic; eyes that can burn a bigot in a flash. You probably remember his bold pieces in Brave New World, his fortnightly column in The Star (The Real Social Contract, We must never allow the mob to rule, Under Threat? What Threat?).

One of academia’s few good men, many say. He’s a brave one, echo others.

The man rolls his eyes. “What’s so extreme about what I do anyway? Look, the stuff that matters to me – human rights, equality, fundamental liberties – these are values of a human being. I’m just being human. Being human! I don’t carry a bomb, I’m not plotting a coup, I don’t come anywhere near being a threat to national security.”

Welcome to the world of Azmi Sharom, where in crisp humour-laced lines, it’s a given that a spade is called a spade. The main question is what are you going to do about it.

“All too often, we hear racists stepping up to make announcements – tuntutan ni, tuntutan tu – and we get all flustered,” he observes in a frown. “We can’t let these types dictate how we feel. If some bigot says ‘Go back to where you belong’, a whole bunch of us end up moping in one corner and feel all hurt.

“But why should we care?” he asks incredulously, his head slightly cocked.

“It should be ‘We’re born here. We belong here, equally as much as you. Equal, geddit?’ That’s how it oughta be. There’s just not enough of standing up to these people. Take charge of your lives, folks.

“Sure it’s not easy – there’re two tiers where racism is perpetuated. One, it’s in the institutions – it’s embedded in government policies; you’ve read all about them especially in the alternative news. I needn’t elaborate on that; it’s boring. Two, personal attitude. This one’s insidious. It lurks inside so many of us. The very same people who cry out against racism bear racist tendencies themselves. You just need to listen to conversations to know what I mean.

“We can fight both, and we should. We need to take possession of our lives again. And mean what we say, for crying out loud.”

Change: a matter of time

Azmi’s office in the Law Faculty of University Malaya reveals an organised person – books and folders have their place; yet they sit in spontaneous fashion, not ordered like soldiers. Looking about, you also catch the man’s sense of humour and his life’s pace – there’s a South Park 60’s-style alarm clock that shows 11:36 and 46 sec. It’s stopped. On the wall above the door hangs another clock. It’s stopped too. And Azmi doesn’t wear a watch. Time has ceased being a linear arrow, it seems; what’s to hurriedly measure about time anyway?

“These changes we seek, they’re not going to happen overnight. But as more and more citizens get informed about human rights and equality, we will see that ethnicity doesn’t matter any more.

“In my own case, it took me years to burn that away,” says the environmental law specialist. “Today I don’t give a hoot about it anymore. But it took time. I grew up in Penang. My parents are apolitical – there was no politics on the dinner table – but, you know, ethnicity is everywhere. It’s always at the back of the mind, a bothersome bug.

“Of course, the good thing about growing up in Penang is you cannot date if you’re a racist. I mean, Chinese girls were everywhere,” his mischievous side shows.

The dare-to-think side of Azmi we know today was forged on foreign soil.

“My dad sent me to the UK to do my Sixth Form – his personal funds by the way. Two key lessons I learned. I remember the teachers being openly critical of government policies. We were in Economics class, and the teacher was rationally ripping apart Thatcher’s tax policies. I learned that there was nothing wrong with being critical. When rational it is, in fact, constructive.

“The second was getting engaged in honest conversations with other Malaysians of different background. A friend, half-Indian ethnicity, basically told me this: ‘We just want to be equal’.”

Sheffield University, where Azmi would go on to read Law, was also a plough to the young man’s newly-tilled mind. “Sheffield was left-wing. There was a lot of discussion about fundamental justice and human rights issues. I was very exposed to different ‘right’ views with regards to the law. Generally, the premise was there has to be a strong sense of Justice. This I try to apply in my own teaching.”

More than an education, Azmi also borrowed other aspects of Sheffield U’s bohemian lifestyle. (“Guys, you got to have a life.”) He jams in a band.

“Please, to begin with, I don’t have a band. Rather, my friends tolerate me in the group. But yes, music is a good outlet. I still play futsal too,” says the man who tried one year of law practice and hated it. “I make space for recreation. Maybe it’s easier for me as an academician to find the time, but hey, the lawyers have faster cars. They can get to places faster.”

And as an academic in a public institution, might there be boundaries where he’s prevented from venturing? “Honestly, I haven’t been in a situation where I have to hold back. Of course, you need to know your rights. And your parameters. You need to stay informed.”

And a parting advice for the concerned citizen: “Internalise. Really internalise the good stuff. All those questions about equality, they can only be answered by someone who truly lives by it. It’s as simple as this, ‘If I am a human being, how can I be treated otherwise? Equally so, how can I treat others otherwise?’.”

And you realise there’s really nothing extreme in what Azmi Sharom is saying. It’s all fundamental.

Human being stuff.

Source: http://www.saya anakbangsamalaysia.net/

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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jeffrey kee
jeffrey kee
11 Aug 2012 10.02am

Azmi Sharom the Brave one and you are the FEW GOOD MEN around. Keep up the good work and Malaysia need guys like you to speak out. You have my admiration and respect. Cheers.

16 Jan 2011 12.57am

Expected better from Aliran. Internalise? As in drop it? Can’t without privacy. Can’t heal either without justice. Try mental slavery, mental rape. Psychological war crimes. Some people don’t want to let go of their advantage do they? So they expect others to internalise, while they do the externalising? Double standards if any. Never better to begin with, they never will be better at the end, and worse for any complicity or theft instead of honesty. We do work towards a common goal for everyone else, but these expositions as requested are a Human Right and to presume greater access to what is private over YOUR ‘supposed’ Equals is something you should ask the people at Aliran to consider. This will be the walk of shame not for the victim but the abusers and those who would whitewash. I had expected better, but the techno-fascist benevolent dictator has already over taken what I thought was an ally for liberty and freedom, respect for privacy. It will be no joy working on this without aid I expect from Aliran, but by indulging in such ambivalence, expect the same… Read more »

15 Jan 2011 8.57am

My malaysia is full of asmis.
My malaysia will one day be led by a person like ASMI.
Asmi has the spirit of the soul.People will come together and sing and speak the language of love and music.
MY malaysians are the source of peace and prosperity NOT our so called elected leaders.
My malaysia is multi cultural, tolerant ,peacefull,prosperous and talented.
My malaysia will produce worldwide leaders of greatness who will bring fame and fortune to opur beloved my malaysia.
My malaysia needs stability and groth which should come from ethical and peacefull behaviour from all walks of life.
WHY NOT? after all we are multi lingual multi cultural and multi talented.My malaysia produces brilliant minds.
We have been asleep for 53 years .

andrew lin, sydney
andrew lin, sydney
15 Jan 2011 8.13am

“We’re born here. We belong here, equally as much as you. Equal, geddit?” It’s so soothing to hear such words of encouragement at a time when the country is at the brink of despair as far as race relations go. It’s high time for Malaysians to put a stop to all these daily lethal doses of religious and racial toxic being injected into my minds and hearts. It is pathetic to note that a government, on the verge of a not-impossible defeat at the next general elections, has to pander on such divisive issues to stay alive. There are adequate safeguards in our constitution to protect the rights of all citizens, indigenous or otherwise. Any outburst of a racist nature or provocative behaviour bordering on such inalienable rights must be acted upon immediately by the authorities. A Chinese communalist is no less different from an Indian racialist or a Malay bigot. Similarly any one who takes his religious beliefs to fanatical heights must face the consequences impartially. From the look of things, the transformation of Malaysia can only come about with a change of government. Nothing… Read more »

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