Haji Mohamed Idris

Claude Alvares

Gustavo Esteva

Anwar Fazal

Ashis Nandy

Vinay Lal

Shilpa Jain

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The Launch of Multiversity

Inaugural speech of S.M. Mohd Idris
Penang, Malaysia, February 2002

On behalf of Citizens International, I welcome you warmly to Malaysia, to Penang, and to the discussions which, we hope, will lead to the launch of Multiversity. The idea of the Multiversity Project may not be entirely new. It has emerged in the past in different forms, as intention and in practice in several societies in Asia, Africa and South America, whenever and wherever conditions for its manifestation or emergence have been appropriate. These conditions, almost invariably, have had something to do with the deep resentment people in these societies have felt over the continued domination and exploitation of our societies by economically rich nations, and the implications of such domination.

A classic instance is the introduction of basic education schools by Gandhi during the Indian freedom struggle. It cannot be disputed that with the exception of a few minorities, the needs, aspirations and living conditions of the majority of the people on our planet have been subordinated to the wants, aspirations and living standards of very powerful elite groups. This subordination, of course, has had its consequences not only for the body, but also for the mind and the soul of the people who have been thus victimized and vandalised. Our worry is the student community, the future. The world system has perfected a method of training and selection that enables it to recruit for its needs apparently the brightest and the best, and after selection, to use such recruits against the interests of the rest. Called "quality education", it invariably involves pitting thousands and millions of aspirants in a vastly unequal race among themselves to literally fight, by means fair and foul, for the really few places displayed as available for those who succeed. Success is understood as largely conformity in all respects with the requirements of modern life, or the rituals of bourgeois civil society. It involves a sacrifice, a self-deprivation of one's inherent right to question, to revolt, to dissent, to create, to be free.

The creative energy of children and youth, from the age of five till the early twenties, is first frozen by suppression, then allowed gradually to atrophy till it appears to disappear completely from their normal life. This exercise is conducted ruthlessly, I might add, in all societies in the industrialized world. It has the sanction of parents, the State, the ruling classes, whether political or intellectual. It eventually earns the sanction of the victim as well, when he decides that this is the most attractive option available to him if he desires to have recognition and approval of the self. The method through which conformity in ideals is achieved is not even spectacular, on the contrary, it is fairly tedious if not revolting. For a minimum of fifteen years, when the mind functions the best and the spirit wishes to soar, the victim is compelled to read, process and memorise lifeless texts on the grounds that such texts represent science, truth, correct pictures of the real world.

The victim is, as a rule, forced to discount his own experience. Every once in a while, the victim is subjected to certification procedures, in the form of examinations, during which he or she is assessed for their ability to recognize such texts in detail or repeat them from memory. The entire exercise is carried out without much serious examination of content, its validity, its applicability or soundness. During the entire conduct of the certification procedure, there is really no requirement in fact to test the reality component of such "knowledge". Some of these texts are then taken overseas and regurgitated, cut, manipulated, rewritten allegedly for the benefit of people there. Thus, we know that Macaulay laid the basis for the creation of India's education system. Its purpose was overtly stated to be the recruitment of persons of Indian origin to assist the colonial State in the exercise of its power. Similar projects were installed in other enslaved countries as well. These exercises have continued even after the freeing of these countries from the colonial yoke, on the ground that the system could be converted to serving the ideals of what has been called "nation-building", the educated and the trained the building blocks, the nation, "the building". With the collapse of the State today, the training set up from university to management institute to law schools, has become a hunting ground for a global economy directed by the requirements of corporates.

The substitution or subversion of education with training violates the spirit of all that is good with the human race. It violates religious codes, civilisational conduct, and can only be seen as a sign of active degradation of the human spirit. Therefore, we conclude, the so-called modern "education" system must be shaken at its foundations, in very much the same manner as earthquakes are known to shake foundations. The issue is how should this be done? Can it be achieved by asking questions? Like whose knowledge system is this? What is its purpose? If we did not create it, how can we be asked to claim it as our own? How do we reject our own knowledge, result of centuries of experience and valid, for such knowledge? What are its various assumptions? Have these been scrutinized by any of our intellectuals, secular or religious? What about our own knowledge? If it is valid here, why is it not valid elsewhere? Is our knowledge valid only if re-investigated or patented within the perspective of the modern system? These are important questions to ask. We need to demand answers. But whether the answers are forthcoming immediately or not, at the moment at least we are convinced that we cannot continue to function as human beings with borrowed knowledge. Borrowed knowledge can only enable us to lead borrowed or inferior lives.

Gandhi said that anyone guilty of the sin of propagating European civilization should be sent to the penal colony of the Andamans. What punishment can we mete out to educators and parents who commit the indefensible crime of destroying identities, patronize homogeneity and suppress creative freedom? Multiversity is being launched to register our firm commitment to working towards the development of independent intellectual traditions within our societies. It is never too late to commence such tasks which ought to have been taken up when we decided to become free beings during the process of political liberation. I am not suggesting we start from scratch, reinventing the wheel. The European societies never started from scratch either: the inauguration of modern science was facilitated by the import of important contributions from Islam, China and India. It is required of us, however, as self-respecting, intelligent human beings to carefully examine the politics of knowledge generation and dissemination in our academic institutions; to dissect the assumptions behind the sciences we call sociology, psychology, history, political science etc. We should give ourselves the freedom to choose freely, accept after consideration and reject where necessary, particularly all those intellectual disciplines where we may not find the assumptions acceptable to our view of the universe.

Let us draw up concrete plans, if possible, right down to the last detail, of how we can take down our present universities, instigate students to rise against the tyranny of dreams pushed by corporate machines and organize workshops to encourage faculty to rebel against the domination of Western intellectuals and create their own creative universes. We should never allow Multiversity to degenerate into a talk-shop. Thinking that does not lead to action is incomplete thinking. Multiversity must support these plans everywhere, like a banyan tree: plans for the dismantling of borrowed knowledge, the rejection of unwarranted assumptions, the restoration of our absolute right, as human beings, to our own knowledge; the right to learn, not from texts, but from being and from doing, and from simply being ourselves, as God made us.

Thank you

At a Glance:
Mulitversity Related

Recapturing Worlds:
The Original Multiversity

Penang 2002: The First Conference on the Deconstruction
of Knowledge

Dissenting Knowledges Pamphlet Series (ed. Vinay Lal)

Radical Essentials Pamphlet Series (ed. Yusef Progler)

Penang 2004: The Second Conference on Redesigning Social Science Curricula

Special issue of Humanscape on Multiversity (April 2005)

Special issue of Third World Resurgence (2005) on Multiversity

The Dissenter's Library
Essays, Articles, Papers
Kamirithu: The Newsletter of Multiversity
Readers in the Disciplines