This is an academic paper by Mohamed Imran Mohamed Taib presented in a seminar I attended last Saturday (1/10/05). In his paper, he identifies the latent potentiality of youth are a force of progress and change, and discuses the three hindrances which impede the development of youth as agents of change, namely religious obscurantism, middle class mentality and media representations. The lack of social idealism among youth, evident through surveys conducted by the National Youth Council, is a pressing problem which needs to be addressed critically and wholistically. He analyses the problem through the “socialisation process” of youth, emphasizing the role played by independent groups and institutions in addressing the problem.
Initially, I was put off by the lecture simply because it didn’t interest me at all (I attended the seminar more for the discourse on Islam, when my friend told me that a professor from the American University of Cairo was lecturing). But upon reading the essay and listening to his presentation, I found it bore an uncanny resemblance to the Malay Marginality issue and that I agreed emphatically with his arguments, especially those made on religious obscurantism and middle-class mentality. I was also pleasantly surprised by his level of intellect (knowing how little I have interacted with the more critical and intellectual of the Malay population) and motivated to learn more about what he has to say. His credentials are certainly very laudable, but I am unable to fully list them in full since I did not take them down during the seminar.
He identifies most prominently that religious obscurantism is one of the factors that impede the “socialisation process” of youth, due to its tendency to “devalue the present world and reduce it to a sense of anomie”. It causes the individual to be “overly and overtly preoccupied with the otherworldly dimensions to the neglect of their present social situations and needs”. The reason he gave for this was the traditionalistic religious orientation in the Malay religious scene. To what extent this is true, I can’t possibly judge, since I am not an Ulama of Islam in Singapore. But I was very amused when I read this:
“At the juncture of facing a high divorce rate amonst Muslims in Singapore, such [religious] books seek to divert attention from concrete societal problems by discussing issues such as whether a human being can marry a jin and who can solemnise such contracts”
It is true that Islam (from what I learnt from weekly weekend Madrasah lessons) emphasizes a lot on the afterlife, that the trials and tribulations are mere tests for the world after. This can be justifiable seen as Islam seems to have failed on most fronts in uplifting the socio-economic status of the Muslim community and stay relevant in today’s modern world (some view that we are permanently stuck in the middle ages). While we can argue that some Muslim countries have progressed, such as Turkey and Malaysia, the most of the Middle east have been continuously plunged into a state of political chaos and social instability. Can anyone safely proclaim they have met an ustaz who pragmatically seeks to deal with real problems such as poverty, divorce and drug abuse without quoting off-hand quranic verses or hadith which sometimes does not adequately solve the problems of today? I am not saying we must be secular and throw Islam altogether. Islam must not cloud our perspectives towards solving critical issues of today.
“In short, religious obscurantism renders religion as a non-functional in the midst of contemporary problems and reality; it imbibes in adherents a sense of false consciousness that hinders his ability to grasp reality.”
I thought his “middle class mentality” argumentation had several echoes to the “inequitable” meritocratic ideals espoused by the state, as previously proposed by Ms Lily Zubaidah Rahim in my previous entry, with specific reference to the Malay marginality dilemma. Mr Imran however uses the phrase “the language of exclusion” when the middle classes rationalise their success purely due to their hard work, whereas denounce the lower classes who are simply lazy and lethargic. He has a very low opinion of the middle classes (which I presume to be that of the thrifty and hardworking Chinese community) who are unable to view reality in its totality, with the existence of structural inequalities. This is the similar line of argumentation by Ms Lily Zubaidah Rahim who provides the example of how the PAP consistently relies on the cultural deficit thesis to explain the lacklustre development of the Malay community.
I found his idea on the culture of “assistencialism” very profoundly true (why didn’t I realise this before!) on solutions towards poverty, especially since we are entering the month of Ramadhan tomorrow (we are encouraged to give money to the poor during this month).
“To what extent, for example, will giving food packages during the fasting month of ramadhan assist the poor move out of their poverty cycle? What is even more saddening is when middle-class mentality disguises its own needs to absolve themselves from guilt of consumption and took it upon themselves to ‘give back to society’ through misguided notions of charity.”
In conclusion, Mr Imran poses the challenge to the intelligentsia to solve the lack of social idealism among youths. One of the problems which he cites as problematic to the intelligentsia – the “mass-man mentality” (as identified by Mr Ortega Gasset in his book, The Revolt Of the Masses) can also be argued to have plagued the whole Malay community at large. Essentially, what this means is that the intelligentsia have no notion of excellence and refuses to go beyond what is common and above others. I was, at this point during the seminar, virtually jumping up and down, wanting to scream to him that this is the Malay problem! I didn’t had the opportunity to ask him the question though since there wasn’t much time.
I felt very enlightened by his lecture. I will attend more soon!