The Political Assault On Intellectualism In Malaysia


From Syerleena Abdul Rashid
In recent years, a disturbing trend of anti-intellectualism has taken root in Malaysia, driven by certain political opportunists.
Education is fundamental to propelling any country to greater heights, and this trend poses a grave threat to our nation’s progress. Instead of fostering a culture of critical thinking and knowledge, some leaders resort to fear-mongering tactics, effectively dumbing down the populace for political gain.
The controversy surrounding Universiti Teknologi Mara (UiTM) is a prime example of anti-intellectualism in action. When Malaysiakini columnist Andrew Sia criticised UiTM, the hasty response from Umno Youth chief Dr Akmal Saleh was to call for action against Sia.
This exemplifies how such leaders target intellectuals who challenge institutional practices or policies. Instead of engaging in constructive debate, the response was to vilify the critic, discouraging open discussion and intellectual scrutiny.
The political motivations behind such tactics are clear. By controlling the narrative and keeping the population compliant, leaders can maintain their grip on power.
Educated citizens, equipped with the ability to think critically, are seen as a threat because they are more likely to question decisions and demand accountability.
Moreover, fear-mongering tactics are employed to distract the public from critical issues like the declining quality of our public education system, economic mismanagement, and social inequality.
By emphasising external threats or internal divisions to create a sense of crisis, these leaders are able to position themselves as necessary protectors, thereby consolidating their power and controlling the political narrative, no matter how absurd it may be.
When a population is not encouraged to think critically, it is far more vulnerable to manipulation and propaganda, eroding democratic values and perpetuating systemic injustices.
Without a well-informed citizenry, progress in economic development, social justice, and technological advancement is severely hindered.
History vividly demonstrates this: Nazi Germany’s propaganda machine and educational control led to widespread acceptance of atrocities, and present-day North Korea shows how suppressing critical thought and controlling information enable regimes to maintain power, propagate harmful policies, and suppress dissent, resulting in severe societal consequences.
As Malaysians, it is our heartfelt duty to combat the spread of misinformation by nurturing a culture of critical thinking and fostering informed discussions within our communities.
Education is fundamental to a nation’s development, hence, equipping Malaysians with the skills and knowledge necessary to contribute meaningfully to society must be given the utmost priority.
A well-educated populace is better positioned to drive economic growth, foster social cohesion, and engage in the democratic process. When political leaders undermine education and intellectualism, they sabotage the nation’s future, preventing us from reaching our full potential.
As Aristotle once said: “It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.” This quote summarises the importance of engaging thoughtfully with diverse viewpoints.
Engaging in constructive debates allows us to present and challenge ideas while fostering a deeper understanding that encourages intellectual growth. The ability to counter points constructively not only sharpens reasoning skills but also encourages mutual respect and openness to diverse perspectives.
There is no doubt that thriving democracies rely on the active participation of citizens in open discourse and the critical examination of ideas.
For Malaysians, embracing these principles is crucial for achieving positive outcomes that protect the integrity of our institutions and ensure a better future for everyone, regardless of religious beliefs, race, or political affiliations. - FMT
Syerleena Abdul Rashid is the Bukit Bendera MP and an FMT reader.
The views expressed are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of MMKtT.

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