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Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Malaysian Universities need decolonization, relook the ratings & rankings!

Decolonization of universities begins with us

PETALING JAYA (June 30, 2011): They were knocked off their pedestals just as rudely as Saddam Hussein statues were pulled down from their mountings after the Americans and their mostly western allies overran Baghdad in 2003.

Among them are such gods of science and mathematics as Sir Isaac Newton, famous for his law on why apples fall.

He was pilloried for allowing his fear of the Church of England to deter him from publishing some of his best discoveries – his true masterpieces.

Others who were knocked down included people like Keppler, Descartes and Einstein. And so was Galileo who invented the telescope but was in trouble with the Catholic Church when he could see too far into the heavens.

All these bashings and the questioning of the assumptions on which human knowledge is based took place during the three-day International Conference on Decolonising Our Universities that ended on Wednesday in Penang.

It was the fourth in the series of Multiversity Conferences organised by Citizens International and Universiti Sains Malaysia.

Nicolaus Copernicus is remembered mostly as a mathematician and an astronomer but few know that he is also a monk and it was because of this that his claim that the earth moves around the sun and not the other way round as was originally believed was easily accepted by the church.

But the conference was told that he was not the revolutionary scientist he has been made out to be.
He was a just a common plagiarist. He merely translated the work of Ibn Shatir of Damascus.

It was also told that few academics, scientists, mathematicians, astronomers and other researchers were really free of the influence of Christian theology because for centuries the church was the key consumer of the products of the western university system and therefore had to remain loyal.

The conference was told that anyone who challenged the church had to suffer and it was for that purpose that the Inquisition was instituted.

Rival institutions also suffered and this was the fate of the great university complex of Alexandria, of which the famous library was a part.

Many wondered aloud whether Christian theology still influences western academicians and brought up the brilliant Stephen Hawkings whom most Malaysians know only as the writer of a small book, A Brief History of Time.

Hawkins wrote many other books and some contain quite a bit of Christian propaganda. He even attempted to reconcile the Big Bang of a few billion years ago with the Bible story of creation in seven days some 6,000 years ago.

Many other gods of science and mathematics, as the world know of them, were also called liars. The great 16th century cartographer Gerardus Mercator whose maps and charts helped the Europeans to reach the East was so fearful of the church that he did not acknowledge his non-Christian and especially Muslim sources.

Another great god of science and mathematics, Albert Einstein, was dragged down from his Olympian heights when it was disclosed that his formula on the theory of relativity was corrected by Indian scientist and mathematician C. K. Raju recently.

The expose by the scholars and participants from 20 countries help to convince those who were still hesitant about the need for efforts to decolonise universities – still very much Eurocentric – in Asia and Africa that the knowledge they had been “brainwashed” into believing as being universal was not universal at all and based on false assumptions.

It was also meant to provoke re-thinking about the assumptions they had made based on discoveries and ideas of western scholars published in western academic journals, that nothing should be accepted as universal truth without careful scrutiny.

Students have often assumed calculus, the subject they learn in mathematics, is of western origin.
Nothing is further from the truth. It was stolen from India by the Jesuits, said Raju who said the mode of calculation was important for navigational purposes.

It helped Vasco da Gama to reach the Cape of Good Hope and Goa.

According to Datuk Shad Saleem Faruqi, emeritus professor of law and legal adviser, Universiti Teknologi Mara, who is also visiting professor at Universiti Sains Malaysia, the Europeans think nothing of falsifying history.

He said everyone seems to think that the Johannes Gutenburg’s printing press, developed in the 15th century, was the first in the world when a number of western scholars were aware that Pi Sheng had already developed one in 1040 but little is said of him.

Likewise, the West seems reluctant to acknowledge scholars from India, China, Africa and those from the Muslim world and promotes the idea that the Bologna monastic school was the first university.

Thus, few know about the great universities of Taxila, Nalanda, Zaytuna and Nanjing which preceded Bologna.

On legal education, he said, it is still very much western-centric and lamented that despite the existence of local law programmes since 1972, the Legal Profession Act continues to recognise foreign (mostly UK) law degrees and qualifications.

On the Act’s permission to foreign lawyers to be admitted on an ad hoc basis to argue special cases, he was cynical to the idea of inviting Cherry Blair as a human rights expert when there are hundreds of local ones.

Fortunately, the judge was not an Uncle Tom and he rejected her application.

Because of this, the conference agreed that while the physical colonisation is long gone – hopefully so, said some – the mental colonisation is very much alive.

Thus the call for the need to purge the “West in us” before efforts to decolonise can truly begin.

VC: Relook varsity ratings


GEORGETOWN: Rankings promote intellectual hegemony and there should be a different method of appraising universities, said Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM) vice-chancellor Prof Tan Sri Dzulkifli Abdul Razak.

“The rankings are designed to ensure that universities remain on top, tapping into the best brains of developing countries in the process.

The aging population has resulted in tremendous demographic shifts in certain Western nations and their universities need bright foreign students to fill up the gaps,” Prof Dzulkifli told The Star.

Prof Dzulkifli added that USM was one of the six core members of the Alternative University Appraisal (AUA) initiative which seeks to identify the strengths of participating universities.

Instead of ranking the universities, the initiative encouraged participating universities to leverage their strengths and share best practices for mutual benefit.

At a press conference after delivering the inaugural address at the International Conference on De-colonising Universities yesterday, Deputy Higher Education Minister Datuk Saifuddin Abdullah told academics not to “blindly ape the West.”

Saifuddin said hegemony was reinforced through subtle ways and the promotion of university rankings was one such move.

Earlier in his speech, Saifuddin encouraged greater collaboration among Asian varsities.

He said many Western theories were being used to address local problems and this sometimes made things worse as the theories were not designed to suit the local context.

Decolonising our universities


Western chemistry had its predecessor in Eastern alchemy, Algebra had African roots, and Arabic was at one time the lingua franca of science and technology.

AN ongoing international conference in Penang is examining the issue of intellectual enslavement in Asian and African citadels of learning. Luminary after luminary are pointing out that education in Asia and Africa is too West-centric. It blindly apes Western universities and Western curricula.

Our university courses reflect the false belief that Western knowledge is the sum total of all human knowledge.

The books prescribed and the icons and godfathers of knowledge are overwhelmingly from the North Atlantic countries.

Titles written by scholars and thinkers from Asia and Africa are rarely included in the book list. Our curricula exhibit lack of awareness of the Asian and African contributions to civilisation.

Any evaluation of right and wrong, of justice and fairness, of poverty and development and of what is wholesome and worthy of celebration tends to be based on Western perceptions.

Eastern ideas and institutions are viewed through Western prisms and invariably regarded as primitive and in need of change.

The imperatives of globalisation have further tilted the balance in favour of the Anglo-American world view.

Encapsulation: It was my privilege to point out that all human beings are encapsulated by time and space. We are all susceptible to narrow religious, racial and communal perspectives.

Our whole life is a process of expan-ding the horizons of thought and adding to the islands of k

On the same score, North American and European world-views are also limited by their own social experience.

However, due to their colonial ascendency (which has not abated and has simply taken on new forms) and due to their military and economic might, their perspectives pass off as universal, transcendental and absolute.

Politically free, mentally enslaved: For instance, legal education in this country is primarily British based.

It is profession-oriented not people-oriented. Despite the Asian context, it does not emphasise need-based programmes.

It does not highlight the burning issues of the times the plight of the marginalised and the downtrodden and issues of corruption and abuse of power.

Students are not trained or encouraged to walk in the valleys where the rays of justice do not penetrate.

The syllabi are fashioned on British LLB and Bar at Law courses. Education is textbook based rather than experience based. The structure of the course, the topics covered, the books prescribed, the icons of knowledge are mostly from outside Asia.

The expatriate lecturers and external examiners are mostly from the North Atlantic countries. Asian books, Asian theories and Asian scholars are generally not regarded as fit for such recognition.

This is despite historical evidence that Chinese, Indian and Persian universities predated universities in Europe and provided paradigms for early Western education. Cultural and scientific renaissance flourished in the East long before the European renaissance.

Everyone knows about the Gutenberg printing press. Very few know that Pi Sheng developed one in 1040. In science, Galileo, Newton and Einstein illuminated the firmament but not much is known about Al-hazen and Nasir al-Din al-Tusi.

Western chemistry had its predecessor in Eastern alchemy. Algebra had African roots.

The philosophical musings of Plato, Aristotle, Kant, Satre and Goethe can be matched by Ghazali, Ibn Rushd, Mulla Sadra, Yanagita Kunio, Shenhui, al-Mutanabbi and Kalidasa.

Durkheim's and Weber's sociology must compete with Ibn Khaldun and Jalal Al-Din Rumi. Freudian psychology had its corrective in Buddhist wisdom. The Cartesian medical model has its Eastern counterpart in ayurvedic, unani and herbal methods.

Very few are aware that Arab Muslims were central to the making of medieval Europe. From the 8th to the 13th centuries, Arab and Islamic cultures were at their zenith and were renowned for their science and learning. Aspiring scholars from all over the world flocked to these citadels of education.

Arabic was at one time the lingua franca of science and technology. A large number of texts written in Arabic were translated into Latin without acknowledgment.

Plan of action: So what should be done? It should not be part of our agenda to try to ask European and American universities to include the treasures of the East in their syllabi. Whether their worldview should be enriched by the insights and reflections of the East that is their problem.

Our concern is that our own universities should first of all shed the slavish mentality of blindly aping Western paradigms.

Secondly, we must embark on a voyage of discovery of our ancestors' intellectual wanderings. We must seek to rediscover the intellectual wonders and heritage of China, India, Persia, Mesopotamia, and other Eastern and African civilisations.

Our aim should never be to shut out the West or be insular. Let the wearing of blinds be the speciality of someone else. Our aim should be to be truly global, to give our students a bigger picture of knowledge and to increase their choices.

In the background of pervasive Western intellectual domination, indigenisation would assist a genuine globalisation.

Also, this discovery of our treasures should not be as an exercise in flag-waving nationalism. Its aim is ameliorative.

Diversity and pluralism of knowledge systems is vital for meeting many of the moral, social and economic challenges of the times.

For example, Asia should offer a critique of the ethnocentrism of Western scholarship by pointing out that a middle class Western lifestyle and what that entails in terms of the nuclear family, the consumer society, living in suburbia and extensive private space may neither be workable nor desirable in the modern world.

Growth for the sake of growth is the ideology of the cancer cell and some brakes on “development” policies and some reconsideration of what amounts to the good life is in order.

Humanity is living on the verge of a precipice, afraid both to climb and to fall. But the ground is slipping beneath us. It is time for a dialogue between civilisations, a mutual process of learning from each other and a building of a garland of wisdom with blossoms from many Eastern and Western gardens.

Shad Saleem Faruqi is Emeritus Professor of Law at UiTM and Visiting Professor at USM.

Check related links:
Penang Conference
Fourth Multiversity Conference
“Decolonising Our Universities”
June 27th – 29th 2011
Venue: Paradise Sandy Beach Resort, Tanjung Bungah, Penang, Malaysia