Malaysia Under Mahathir, Again: A Performance Review On Education And Sustainability – OpEd


Glad I am given the opportunity to contribute to an intellectually engaging forum, Eurasia Review. I hope to continue to share my views and analyses pertaining to politics in the Southeast Asia region, educational philosophy and practice, and critical social perspectives on society in general.

Glad too that I am given the strength and will to continue writing about the country I grew up in, Malaysia and of which I have been a keen observer of for the last 30 years. This is perhaps the best time to talk about a forthcoming book on Malaysian politics I had the chance to author. It is my eight in a series of political-economic-anthropological-philosophical writings on a country known as a “moderately-Islamic-hypermodern nation-state” with all the complexities and contradictions of a neo-colonialist political construct.

In my forthcoming book, I analyzed the performance of the coalition party headed by Dr. Mahathir Mohamad, 94 years old, who has had control of the country since 1981. Through Machiavellian and master-puppetry as his twin strategy, he continues to hold on to power, refusing to let go—for reasons known to many. Mistrust and the fear that losing power will mean losing the ability to orchestrate dynastic shifts after he dies.  In “From High Hopes Shattered Dreams?: The Second Mahathirist Revolution A Year Later”, through 43 essays I wrote about the issues plaguing the new government,  and the inextricable link between critical consciousness and education as twin-forces much needed to have the country, any country for that matter, regenerate, renewed of its existential beingness vis-a-viz nationhood, and to flourish with a renaissaniance feel of progress.

"From High Hopes Shattered Dreams?: The Second Mahathirist Revolution A Year Later",  by Azly Rahman
“From High Hopes Shattered Dreams?: The Second Mahathirist Revolution A Year Later”, by Azly Rahman

In this collection of 43 essays on a year of the new coalition “Pakatan Harapan”‘s rule, I presented essays on radical change and hope. It is a “Freirean-Freudian” musing, after the work of two thinkers, the Brazilian thinker Paulo Freire and the Austrian psychologist and father of psychoanalysis Sigmund Freud. The former wrote Pedagogy of the Oppressed in the 1980s, the later wrote Civilization and Its Discontents sometime in the 1930.  Both wrote about how we think in an age of mental derangement.  So, how do we educate people to think critically on religion, the state, and a hybrid of totalitarianism these days.

Especially in Malaysia.

Below I reproduce the preface to the book. Although the names and references to Malaysian politics seem alien to readers of Politurco, the theme is familiar: power and how it is used and abused and its inextricable link to globalization, political-economy, ideology, spirituality, education, and the future of education. The tension between religion and liberalism, decadence and democracy, authoritarianism and altruism, and the “halal-haram” matrix in power relations, consumption, and economic development – all these are applicable in any country one is analyzing. Especially in so-called Islamic countries such as Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Iran, Iraq, Pakistan, or Afghanistan.  In my almost 15 years as a columnist for Malaysiakini (, an award-winning widely read Southeast Asia online news and views portal, I addressed these issues extensively.

Here is an excerpt from my latest book, the eighth in my continuing analysis of hyper-modernizing Malaysia in an ever-changing complex world.

“… It is April 22 today, as I continue to work on the compilation. It is Earth Day today here in the United State, in the New York city area. A reason to celebrate our fragile earth and a planet in critical condition.  The two most important issues the world today are climate change/ecological destruction and the rapid advancement of “dehumanizing technologies”. But there is also another perennial issue that destroys Humanity: terrorism of what the need for Peace Education I have alluded to in many of the essays in this collection.

This week, as I was writing this, is a week of sadness as well. The recent horrible massacre of hundreds of Christians in Sri Lanka, by Islamic absurdist-fundamentalists, hurt me emotionally as an educator, especially after reading about the 50 Muslim worshippers gunned down in Christchurch,  New Zealand a few months before that, and the attack and killing of Jews in a synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania the year before that  – all three of these diabolic and despicable acts of terror committed this year, by terrorists by any name or religion.

Today these are my thoughts as I prepare this set of vignettes of a “performance review summary of the Pakatan government. I had high hopes that turned into something different than what I expected. Religion, race, and royalty dominated my commentaries on my “Freirean-Freudian Observations and Documentations” as they relate to Critical Consciousness and Education of this nation.

Inching towards the Islamic State




That Terrorist attack against the Christians in Sri Lanka!!!

Those words were written in my mind as I read about it before my Monday morning lecture on Global Issues. Every news of suicide bombing should make each country think of de-radicalizing schools of extremism and deporting mad preachers.

I’d say to this to any government, including the Malaysian government: Please don’t take lightly the power of radical preachers and preaching to turn followers into suicide bombers! In Christchurch my condolences the Muslims, in Sri Lanka to the Christians especially. Such a horrific scene!

Every country must prepare to deal with urban terrorism and to curb religious fundamentalism. Every religious teaching must be sprinkled with a heavy dose of liberal ideas, to soften and eliminate violent strands. I cannot understand how people can feel enlightened sitting in a mass preaching session of some radical Mumbai preacher!

After ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) “defeat” in Syria, the business did not end there. The new theatres are wider: South and Southeast Asia. Preachers trying to prove each other’s religion wrong, “People of the Book” attacking each other. What is wrong here?

Internal politics of a country will invite external powers and supra-national movements to intervene, through mass violence too. Since young, I have always been suspicious what Islamic preachers from India/Pakistan are bringing to us in Malaysia. Jihad?

I read about the organization involved in the massacre of Sri Lankan Catholics, predominantly.

“Jemaat Tawhid” as suicide bomber? What in the world is that concept? Deport all those preaching strange Islamic teachings! “Jemaat Tawhid” loosely means “Congregation of Unity of Oneness”. To do what? One-dimensionalism of jihad?

My weekend started with dinner with my Jewish friends, greeting Easter to my Christian friends, ended with reading about Sri Lanka! Lectured on nationalism, trans-nationalism, supra-nationalism, and millenniarist movements in our world today re: Sri Lanka.

Children in the Islamic Tahfiz schools need a new compulsory subject: Philosophy for Children. Malaysia brings home formers ISIS followers and soldiers, gives refuge to most despised hate preacher. Horrible policy!

In the name of racial survival, the government of Malaysia is inching towards the Islamic State if it does not know how to control its direction, endangering future generations. With the blessings of the Ministry of Education, more universities may host that hate speech monger. Absurd! Weak in critical thinking, Malay university students easily fed with nonsense vomited by Wahabi-Salafist televangelist preacher.

Malaysians, deport any radical Islamist preacher. Before it is too late. Government: have the guts to maintain peace! ISIS is not dead. Their soldiers are merely returning home to carry out / orchestrate a localized-global war. In Asia.

“What would you die for?”  I asked this question in a lecture to American students in discussing Global Issues re: Terrorism. One must not die for anything. Not even for religion. Not even for God. One must live to know oneself. To know God.

We must re-conceptualize the idea that Religion is all there is to life. No. Spirituality reigns supreme. Even over the “self”. The lack of and ignorance towards the meaning of “Liberal Education” paved the way to the surrender of oneself to Jihadists.

Matriculating into Educational Malaise

“High Hopes, Broken Promises, Shattered Dreams” That’s probably the theme of this government’s one-year performance –

In the Matriculation Quota Issue, what major change has been done? Or merely a stubborn continuation of the same old racial policy? Re: harboring radical Islamist-fugitive, what has been done? Government is too weak in face of a nonsense that planted itself.

The Ministry of Education is seeing no value in meritocracy and the fairness for children in a multicultural polity. Addicted to apartheid. The non-Malays cannot hope for change it voted for, because the real agenda is being exposed. Ketuanan Melayu 2.0.

Maybe this government is an ideological transitionary regime, a mask of the old, the next wave of change is coming? Changing educational policy re: equality & equity should be made as fast as prosecuting former Prime Minister Najib and the 40 thieves. Why so slow?

People love to use the word “deep state” these days. Trendy. Classy. But it’s merely a case of greed, ignorance and incompetency.

Continuing Privatization policies and the strengthening of the Government-Linked Companies are mere recipes of disasters of previous corrupt entities. Today’s top CEOs of American companies making 1000 times more than the regular worker. Disease of global free enterprise spreading.

In the 21st. century nobody wants Absolute Monarchy. Unless you desire submitting yourself to mental slavery. Absolute monarchs are those rulers who think they could swallow tons of gold daily and make themselves powerful and holy.

Can we expect a just society to evolve if those in the government are too busy fighting to install family-dynasties? But it’s not about quota in education that’s only of essence, it’s the quality of thinking too that is of concern.

Sustainable Mentality needed

Maybe the government does not understand holistically the word “sustainability”, running across the entities? Or maybe it is just a one-term coalition meant to give way to a more sensible social-reconstructionist governance to come into being? One that deliver the promise of Tunku Abdul Rahman’s Malaysia?

Against the backdrop of today’s issue in Malaysia, in my one-year observation of the performance of this regime I offer my thoughts in tow interlocking areas: Critical Consciousness and Education. … “

There are two themes in this collection of 43 essays: critical consciousness and education. They are inextricably link in any analysis of a society and the goal of a sustainable state is to achieve a satisfactory level of both and in the end society will be defined by its education system that takes pride in producing citizens who possess critical, creative, ethical, and futuristic skills in order for the term “truly independence, sovereign, and sustainable” to be applied.

In the first set of reflections, I address the idea of critical consciousness as it impacts the issues I have analysed in the first year of the Pakatan Harapan rule.

In the second set of reflections, I address the hope and promises of education, broadly defined, and how the promises of equality, equity, and equal opportunities are not met and in fact not in the interest of the Second Mahathirist regime, to carry out. This is not out of incompetency, I believe, but out of the both the entrapment and the comfort provided by the UMNO and Barisan Nasional ideology, adopted by the current coalition party.

In the third section, I concluded with three essays that address the analytical and global aspects of the need for a new consciousness post-Mahathirism and how education should play the role of enabler of this mega-cognitive and structural change.

Sustainability as perspective and practice

In these three sets of essays, I have in mind the idea that society can only progress when Sustainability is held both as a perspective and as practice. By sustainability I mean the ability to endure what is ethical and practical in the way policies are crafted and carried out and how the members of society take ownership of what is to be done and passed down to the next generation.

Sustainability is an evolving concept that requires constant improvement and revision as well as the abandonment of practices that are culturally disabling. The concept should be made to permeate all spheres of living: from education to environmentalism, nation-building to economics, spirituality to the adoption, creation, and utilization of technology. Sustainability is both a process and a product and a path to be taken in the evolution of society and the nation-state.

In the case of Malaysia, it is the idea of living the life of a multicultural polity and how all the moveable and stable parts of governance and operations need to operate within that paradigm. It is a perspective most useful and meaningful when understood as well as the grassroots level.

In these sets of essays, I have taken the perspective of Sustainability to illuminate such a goal of the level of progress Malaysia ought to be pursuing. In doing that – setting the standards – I have presented issues and instances that are sustainable and how they are bringing the country steps backwards, contrary to the promises made by the winning coalition party led by Dr. Mahathir Mohamad.

Dr. Azly Rahman

Dr. Azly Rahman is an academician, educator, international columnist, and author of nine books He holds a Columbia University (New York City) doctorate in international education development and Master's degrees in six areas: education, international affairs, peace studies, communication, fiction, and non-fiction writing. He is a member of the Columbia University chapter of the Kappa Delta Pi International Honor Society in Education. Twitter @azlyrahman. More writings here. His latest book, a memoir, is published by Penguin Books is available here.

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