Claude Alvares,Shad Saleem Faruqi
Decolonising the University: The Emerging Quest for Non-Eurocentric Paradigms (Penerbit USM) by Claude Alvares,Shad Saleem Faruqi Summary
This book of essays is a sequel to the ‘International Conference on Decolonising Our Universities’ held in Penang, Malaysia from June 27 to 29, 2011. The Conference was jointly organised by the Universiti Sains Malaysia and Citizens International in cooperation with the Higher Education Leadership Academy of the Malaysian Ministry of Higher Education. At the Conference, speaker after speaker pointed out that education in Asia and Africa is too Westcentric. It blindly apes European universities, European curricula and European paradigms. The papers in this volume examine possible ways of overcoming this problem of intellectual enslavement in Asian and African citadels of learning. It must be pointed out at the very outset that this book is not meant to be a tirade against the West. Its aim is not to ask Asian and African universities to shut out Europe and North America or to be insular or to wear blinds. Its aim is positive – to make Asian and African tertiary education truly global and at the same time socially relevant. This cannot be done unless the intellectual monopoly of the West is broken and European knowledge is made to make way for the review, teaching and expansion of the vast knowledge of other societies and cultures. European knowledge may supplement, but never replace, other valid knowledge systems and traditions. The book is divided into eight parts. Part I creates the setting, provides an overview of the state of our universities, reflects on decolonisation of our intellectual heritage and explains how colonial education was used to assault our cultures. Part II contains a wish-list of the decolonised university. There are essays on the philosophical basis of an African university and about how the sacred and the secular can be integrated and how the community can be brought back into the university. Part III critically examines the promise and performance of UNESCO in decolonisation of Asian and African institutions of higher learning. Part IV discusses eurocentrism in social sciences, in mathematics and in science curricula. Part V highlights the state of social sciences and the law today and provides an alternative discourse in social theory, history, psychotherapy, psychology, law and language education. Part VI discusses regional decolonising initiatives in the Philippines, Taiwan, Turkey and Iran. Part VII provides insights into some experiments in transforming academic pedagogy. Finally, Part VIII contains some personal journeys in decolonisation of the self. This book of essays is meant to coincide with Malaysia’s Independence Day on August 31, 1957. The hope is that the timing will underline the point that the stains of cultural and intellectual imperialism do not end with the attainment of political freedom. Freedom is a state of the mind and, regrettably, throughout Asia and Africa, the enslavement of the mind has continued long after the coloniser has gone back home. This humiliating state of affairs must end, not only to give meaning to political independence but also to improve the quality of our education by giving to our students a better panorama of world knowledge and thereby to increase their choices. Decolonisation of our universities is not an exercise in flag-waving nationalism. Its aim is ameliorative. Diversity and pluralism of knowledge systems are vital for meeting many of the moral, social and economic challenges of the times and for avoiding the frightening economic, educational and cultural consequences of Europe’s near-total intellectual and educational monopoly over Asia, Africa and Latin America. For example, Western models of development have proved to be a nightmare and have not served Asia and Africa well. Economic theories from the West have brought the whole world to the brink of an environmental catastrophe. Asian universities 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 on a fragile planet. The humiliating story of intellectual enslavement in each field and in each region is best told in the words of the authors. What must be noted is the ways in which this subservience manifests itself. 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. This may indicate a pervasive inferiority complex or ignorance of the contribution of the East to world 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. Despite decades of political independence, the framework assumptions of our law, politics, economics, education, history, science, art and culture remain dictated by our former colonial masters. Our concept of the good life and our views on human rights have very tenuous links to our indigenous traditions. Our cultural values, domestic relations, music, food and dressing – indeed our whole Weltanschauung is constructed on a Western edifice of knowledge. Our concept of beauty has been socially constructed by Hollywood media. In our professions, most of the icons we look up to are Western. In our universities, the syllabi we draft, the books we prescribe, the theories we blindly ape, the new abodes of the sacred we worship have very little connection with our own intellectual and moral heritage. It is fashionable in Asian universities to import expatriate lecturers, external examiners and guest speakers exclusively from North Atlantic countries. Asian scholars are generally not regarded as fit for such recognition. The underlying assumption is that Asians and Africans matter little and in all aspects of existence we need civilisational guidance from the overlords of humankind in Europe and America. How did we fall into such depths of enslavement and reverse racism? An essay in the volume points out that the colonisers conquered our mind by dismissing and deriding our cultures, alienating us from our roots and putting us in awe of the culture of the masters. They used the colonial education system for the production of a competent but submissive class. They replaced local languages with the English language extinguishing along with local languages, the cultural and moral nuances and perspectives that surround a language. The colonisers falsified and obliterated historical records of intellectual achievements by Asian and African scholars and inventors. They borrowed extensively from the East but shamelessly failed to acknowledge that debt. In many cases they Latinised Eastern names to make them sound European. The world does not know that during the European Dark Ages, scintillating educational developments were taking place in Asia and Africa. While Europe slept, China, India, Persia and Egypt practised science, invented algebra, furthered mathematics, metallurgy, law and logic. They conducted complex medical operations, invented rockets, wrote treatises in philosophy, sociology and astronomy. A more recent form of Western hegemony is the yearly university ranking lists. Western education, Western science and Western achievements are subjected to evaluation on criteria that are rigged in their favour. A host of Western consultants and experts unabashedly glorify American and European achievements and certify and celebrate the unique quality of their education system. A recent claim was made that American society symbolised ‘the end of history’ implying thereby that no further human progress was necessary anywhere else. The book’s ultimate aim is to discover what needs to be done to liberate our minds and our souls; to end this academic colonialism; to restore our dignity and independence. We must shed the slavish mentality of blindly aping Western paradigms. We must stop sucking up to the Western academic system. We need to send Columbus packing back home. Not only the Columbus outside but also the Columbus within. We need to rediscover the suppressed knowledge of our civilisations and to reconnect with our rich heritage. We must embark on a voyage of discovery of our ancestors’ intellectual wanderings and rediscover the wonders and heritage of China, India, Persia, Mesopotamia, Egypt and other Eastern and African civilisations. We must combat the many fabrications and plagiarisms of Western ‘innovators’ and we must give credit where credit is due to those in Asia and Africa who pioneered the ideas. It must be clarified that it is not part of our agenda to ask European and American universities to include the treasures of the East in their syllabi. Whether their world-views should be enriched by the insights and reflections of the East, or whether they should remain insular and wear blinds, is their own problem. Further, it is not our aim to shut out the West but to end blind and exclusive reliance on it. We need to root our education in our own soil; to tap our own intellectual resources first and to make our education relevant to our societal conditions. No amount of imported academics or theories can do this, only us. We are aware that our endeavour will be mocked by many in the West. We will also be opposed by many elites in the East who believe that ‘West is best’ and whose capitulation to Europe perpetuates Western intellectual hegemony. Such opposition to the basic thesis of this book will only serve to confirm the phenomenon of ‘legitimation and false consciousness’ whereby the oppressed are so brainwashed that they cooperate with their oppressors. ‘It is the final triumph of a system of domination when the dominated start singing its virtues.’ In preparing this volume, we received invaluable help from many individuals and institutions. Universiti Sains Malaysia and Citizens International provided the funds for publication. Ayesha Bilimoria helped with the editing of the bulk of the pieces. Jenessey Dias performed brisk transcription of the presentations from the DVDs. Shafeeq, Sameera and Noor Aini Masri gave secretarial assistance. Professor Dato’ Dr. Md Salleh Yaapar and his team from the USM Press did everything else with great courtesy, speed and professionalism. Citizens International’s S.M. Mohamed Idris and Uma Ramaswamy assisted with the printing. To all of them we owe a debt of gratitude. We hope that this book will highlight what is on any measure a shameful condition and that it will inspire at least some Asian educators to think afresh, to chart new directions, to search for the best in their indigenous traditions, yet to keep the windows of their mind open to the world.