Referring to the Chinese proverb – it is better to light a candle than curse the darkness, John F. Kennedy once said, “The times are too grave, the challenge too urgent, and the stakes too high to permit the customary passions of political debate. We are not here to curse the darkness, but to light the candle that can guide us through that darkness to a safe and sane future.”
Instead of harping on the draconian law in the guise of Sedition Act 1948 (the Act); instead of pointing to the persons who deserve to be bitten by the Act; and instead of fearing the consequences of the recent charges against Dr Azmi Sharom on academic freedom, I write this to share what kind of a lecturer and a person Dr Azmi Sharom has been to me.
Dr Azmi teaches two elective courses to the undergraduates of the Faculty of Law, University of Malaya. I chose Conflict of Law as my first elective course back in my second year, simply because I wanted to learn from the lecturer whose writing in The Star attracted me.
The choice was not based on my interest in that area of law. Nor did I intend to practice in that field in the future. Quite irrationally, I chose because of Dr Azmi.
In his first lecture, he informed the students that his lectures would only last for 45 minutes instead of one hour as stated on paper. He knew that being able to focus and enjoy the lectures was more important that drumming in knowledge.
I thoroughly enjoyed his animated jokes which he interlaced with his teachings. I also enjoyed how he poked fun at other lecturers, showing me that wit wins hearts, and I must not treat myself and others too seriously.
When he reached the boring bits of the law, he would flip through his notes, look at his watch and continue teaching with as much passion. When the going gets tough, we persevere. We help others to prevail.
As with any university course, the real learning takes place during tutorials. When I gave an imprecise answer, he did not point to the inaccuracy. Rather, he brought up other principles that I had missed.
Or he would ask others for their opinions. When their views differed from mine, he wanted me to respond. He wanted me to polish my own answer. He wanted me to be bold and brave in my own thinking.
At the heart of my experience with him was his kindness. Once, the air-conditioners of the lecture hall for my Competition Law class had broken down. We switched to another hall, unaware that it had been booked for Dr Azmi’s class. When he came in, he volunteered to use the stuffy lecture hall.
He was aware that it was tedious for me to transfer. He was aware of what others had to go through. He was aware of what others felt.
I do not know Dr Azmi personally. In fact, I doubt if he remembers my name, because when we pass by each other at the faculty, he would say “Hey chap, how are you doing?”
Yet if his students resonate with what I experienced, it is illogical that Dr Azmi intends to incinerate the fabric of society; to incite hatred behind the name of democracy; and to invoke ill will against the monarchy.
A “Walk For Freedom” has been organised to assemble the law students and lecturers of my faculty in solidarity for Dr Azmi Sharom. Unfortunately, I will probably not participate, and I concede that I am overly cautious for my own health.
Yet this does not mean that I do not fight for academic freedom. I am a firm believer that there is a time to retreat, and there is a time to advance. This is the time to advance. But I am advancing in what I do best – share my life experience, be a light and hopefully inspire.
“It is better to light a candle than curse the darkness.”
#Solidarity4AzmiSharom will take place on 10 September 2014, 1 – 2 pm at the main bus stop at University of Malaya (old speaker’s corner).