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Defend yourselves, ‘Rome Statute academics’

The forum on the Rome Statute drew intense public interest - Photograph: JD Lovrenciear

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Mustafa K Anuar discusses the absence of the four opponents of the Rome Statute at a much-followed public forum over the weekend.

A politically significant forum to discuss the Rome Statute and its related issues was held in Kuala Lumpur on 27 April 2019.

This forum was announced weeks ago and yet, [on the eve of the forum] there was not a squeak to indicate that at least two of the four academics, who reportedly made a presentation to the Malay rulers at the beginning of this month, would participate in the public forum. The other two had declined the invitation to the forum.

In their hushed presentation, the academics apparently cautioned the Malay rulers that signing the international treaty would have dire consequences for them and others as well.

This incident, as we know it, gave rise to the sudden scrapping of Putrajaya’s plan to ratify the Rome Statute.

The withdrawal from ratifying the international treaty obviously reflects badly on Malaysia, especially in the eyes of the international community. Such flippancy is frowned upon because this is not akin to changing your mind about buying a diamond ring.

Apart from the academic outfit Malaysian Academic Movement (Gerak), the National Patriots’ Association (Patriot) had also rightly urged these academics to come forward to defend their stand on this important matter in the forum, which was organised by a few civil society and academic organisations.

Surely, it did not warrant the academics concerned being dragged, kicking and screaming into a public debate as this would have been beyond the pale.

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Academic convention would expect them to have taken up this challenge in their stride because engaging in debates should be part and parcel of academic life. To be clear, a meeting of the minds normally does not bring about colossal head damage.

Indeed, it was a dereliction of duty for these academics to shy away from this forum, especially when the topic is a hot-button issue.

To reiterate, it was incumbent on them to present and defend their position on the subject matter because their controversial justification for their criticism of the Rome Statute has been of public interest and curiosity.

Similarly, it would have been instructive for the public to know the arguments that would have been marshalled marshalled by the opposite side, ie Emiritus Prof Shad Saleem Faruqi and Attorney General Tommy Thomas, regarding the Rome Statute.

A deafening silence from these four academics was not an option and neither was it elegant. In fact, such an act of stonewalling would adversely affect their academic standing and accountability.

Worse, it smudges the image of the institutions to which they’re attached, if not the reputation of all public universities as well.

The spectre of “professor kangkung” – a locally known derogatory buzzword for lecturers whose academic integrity is suspect and mockable – has already made its rounds through the grapevine as a result of the public conduct of these academics.

Keeping mum presents a bad example to their students and others who are supposed to look up to them for intellectual leadership and moral courage. If nothing else, surely, the familiar refrain of “Untuk negara, bangsa dan agama” (For country, race and religion) would nudge them to rise to the occasion.

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Certain segments of society, especially those who are not fully aware of the role of academics, would appreciate the fact that academics are expected to challenge ideas among themselves and with others in the pursuit of truth and knowledge.

It would go a long way towards promoting academic rigour and intellectual integrity in the country if the academics concerned (and others as well) are willing to stand up and be counted.

Source: themalaysianinsight.com (The original has been slightly edited to update it to the present.)

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