Slightly over 200 years ago, Napoleon Bonaparte said, “I fear four hostile newspapers than a thousand bayonets.” Napoleon Bonaparte was an emperor and a military genius of his time. He faced impossible odds during his military conquests. He had fought 25,000 Ottomans with 6,000 French troops in Egypt and had also confronted the combined Armies of Austria and Russia in Austerlitz. His empire stretched from Spain, Northern Africa to the borders of Russia.
Yet, despite all that, he feared editors. Why? Because editors can control and influence ideas, words and debates. He feared domestic dissent. He wants full control. He even said that, “I want to create an educational body that will steer the way the French people think!”
Napoleon went on to establish public schools in an effort to further craft and dictate how the French would think and act. What Napoleon did through public schools is effective but he undermined and put a stop to human creativity and intellectualism. The same concept was later adopted by the French, as far west as the Americans, and eventually by the whole world
Freedom of Expression Towards Critical Thinking
Are Malaysians being dictated and controlled on how to think and act too? Do we, as a moderate and progressive nation, understand the meaning of freedom, justice and democracy?
I believe we need to think, question and engage first, in order to understand the purpose of certain jurisdictions, rulings or systems. Safe platforms that encourage intellectual discourse and allow Malaysians to think out of the box, beyond definitions from schools, societal norms and the Government, should be put in place.
On the surface, this may seem like encouragement to partake in unnecessary rebellious activities threatening public safety. But consider the reverse psychology and unintended moral hazard that prevails; it is often when oppressed that people side with the opposite, even when the opposing side may not be the truth or most ideal.
The younger generation especially, will easily be influenced by any idea, regardless of its validity, purely because it is against the mainstream. This is not healthy. We need to liberalize intellectual discussions and arguments. The marginalized and the oppressed should be given room for dialogue and debate. Ideas should be contested in the public sphere.
Evidence has shown that liberalizing ideas and thoughts sparked Britain’s Industrial Revolution. Malaysia too should embrace “Enlightenment” beyond superficial prosperity, through Critical Thinking.
The industrial revolution and the great age of invention could only have happened when people were given the freedom to think for themselves. Then only can human achieve the impossible where even the sky was no limit and even the moon was within reach.
A Story of Social Mobility through Education
My grandfather was a testimony to how Education can uplift generational social mobility. He hailed from Telok Panglima Garang, located far from the bustling city of Kuala Lumpur. In his formative years, he did best in his school and was offered a scholarship by the British Resident at that time. He completed his study then with the Victoria Institution, and became a journalist working with the newspaper Majlis.
Growing up, I always remember how he emphasised education and awareness as key towards great human civilisation. He worked hard and made sure all his children and by extent, his grandchildren managed to complete tertiary education. I remember how he told me he had no regrets as all his grandchildren are well educated.
Many have written on how Malaysia should escape the clutch and trap of the middle income. We have been stuck as a Middle Income nation since 1996. The only way forward is through Education. History of First World nations have time and time again, shown us how powerful the power of education is in founding civilizations and uplifting societies’ quality of life.
When I embarked on my doctorate journey, it was my hope that I could create awareness and contribute to society through my thesis and articles. The first piece of article produced during research became part of a book entitled “Rich Malaysia, Poor Malaysians”.
The book provided the public with insight into the day-to-day operations of Petronas being the country’s largest cash cow and how Petronas contributed to Malaysia’s growth. I then continued to write on socio-economic realities of Malaysia, particularly Education and Volunteering. I tried to spell out benefits accrued from education; dangers of the middle income trap; widening income inequality and the ensuing social upheaval. Most importantly, wanted to stress how an inclusive educational system helps in bringing about inclusive socio economic results, thereby helping to alleviate poverty and increase the nation’s well-being. The argument is finalized with the call for policy makers to adopt a “One Graduate One Household” target.
Admittedly, I touched on a multitude of areas. But in sum, education is one of, if not the only, most important solution to all the problems that we are facing today. My war will not be against a thousand bayonets. My war will be against the lack of education and awareness. I strongly believe that only through education that Malaysia will prosper. I strongly believe that education is an enabler to solving if not all, most of our socio-economic woes in the country. True education teaches us to think, not to blindly obey.
Creating Awareness Together
One can only do so much; even seemingly an inconspicuous speck of dust – yet here I am, with my ideas. However, this speck will only gather steam if many individuals group a collective effort for all Malaysians.
If we allow thinking to flourish, it will turn into dividends for our small sovereign nation, still grappling to understand the true meaning of growth, modernity and human development. If we keep suppressing and fail to encourage thought, Malaysians will be left divided and haphazardly finding meaning amidst global external influences.
Thoughts have not only fuelled revolutions and counter-establishment movements, but have also shaped academia, society and influenced leadership, policy-making, and ultimately mankind’s general livelihood.
As a developing nation, Malaysia is approaching the last but toughest hurdle in achieving wealth and prosperity; that is a knowledge-based society, driven by intellectuals and thinkers. Read, understand, think and take action!
Let’s inculcate reading and critical thinking culture among Malaysians, promote a love for knowledge, care enough to uplift our socio-economic status and strive for a better prosperous Malaysia.