'Just stop it'

Professor Tan Sri Dato' Dzulkifli Abdul Razak
Opinion - The New Strait Times
January 5, 2018

050119

Make ‘adab’ a part of today’s education.

NIKE has a well-known and allegedly most recognisable tagline: Just do it! Plain and direct to the point, it has been described as “the living, vibrant symbol” brand valued at more than US$25 billion. Accompanied by a swoosh — clean and simple, it is persuasive. No wonder millions chose to get swooshed too.

More recently, however, on the home front, we read of something similar but the converse: Just stop it! Can this post a challenge to Nike? Equally persuasive, it is also awakening as most are taken by surprise given its unlikely context. For this we must thank Datin Paduka Marina Mahathir for putting things into perspective when uttering the same. Coming just before the New Year celebration, it is a reminder to all to keep our adab (good manners or morals) firmly rooted in the search of a “new” cultured nation based on a dignified set of values.

Over the last year, this was clearly amiss. We are introduced to a corrupt culture where everything has a price tag, and therefore, can be bought and sold to the most gullible. In so doing, all kinds of unethical practices were tolerated and creatively introduced, especially for those who were ambitious in exploiting the situation for their own benefit. Though this is often crafted for mutual benefit (claimed as for the nation, no less), some regarded it as a public relations exercise — I scratch your back, you scratch mine — also known as the desperate art of self-survival. That is as long as the benefits are guaranteed both ways, the end justifies the means. And as soon as it proves otherwise, then one is free to leave and look for another “back” to scratch. It is crudely likened to a form of “prostitution” by some, with the aim to climb the social ladder as far as it can by scratching the right “back”.

In other words, the closer one is to the source of power, the better. So there is a rush to get there first by hook or by crook.

No doubt there are certain risks involved in doing so, but to the thick-skinned, it is all worth it (think of the chameleon that changes colour to suit the environment). For these chameleon-like people, it is as simple as Nike’s Just do it! Some have become so good at it that the risk can be “managed” (or “manipulated”) as often done in the business sector.

So until Marina’s abrupt intervention, it was fair game to all, with some noted personalities unabashedly sucking up to the powers of the day with promises of innovation, creativity and technology that money can buy. The idea was to impress with as many accolades as possible (including dubious ones), or high academic titles, some globally-linked if unashamedly created as one of its kind.

Adab is not even factored in since it is already “included” in the price tag. As long as the objectives are accomplished, adab is sidelined without any qualms. Like risks, it can be managed through public relations and branding that not only serve to distract, but more worryingly, to create a false impression of greater public gains, which largely proved otherwise.

Rakan Muda, “Tak Nak” Anti-Smoking Campaign and the National Service Training Programme, to name a few, are instructive examples that have disappeared after billions have been spent to “promote” them. In the last couple of years, many “other” examples can be cited where logos after logos were introduced — at times like putting old wine in a new bottle. It is rancid!

Many do not realise that adab is an institution in its own right as far as the true meaning of the word goes. From adab, we can conceive a peradaban, or a civilisation, with its own sets of values, norms and nuances within the local context. Hence, only those who are adept in the relevant language(s) and semantics can discern its subtleties and sublimity. It is about values — deeper values that dignify and not about price tags that do otherwise. In other words, it is not for sale, which is why “Just stop it!” makes perfect sense directed to the uncultured and thick-skinned. Adab is way beyond public relations or innovative branding as often (mis)claimed. It well exceeds the capacity of a technology that is soulless and numb, like that of Twitter and the like.

Unfortunately, adab is not part of today’s education, no matter how brilliant the “brand” is purported to be. One can be very successful materially (which what today’s education is all about), but remain biadab (uncouth), viz., the lack of adab.

Thus, let this be a lesson for the future, beginning from the very first day of 2019. A bitter lesson perhaps, but all the same — a vital one to swallow whole as a reminder in the days to come if there is to be a “real” Malaysia Baru. Some unlearning must take place before a “new” civilisation based on the institution of adab is to finally emerge. For those who cannot and are unwilling to unlearn because bad habits die hard or because of sheer arrogance, I have only one option left: Just stop it! Period. Don’t ever be biadab!

Emeritus Professor Tan Sri Dzulkifli Abdul Razak is a Fellow of the Centre for Policy Research and International Studies, Universiti Sains Malaysia, and rector of the International Islamic University Malaysia