Dzulkifli Abdul Razak
Within weeks before the new government took over the administration of the country, I wrote to express my concern about what could be a lifelong threat to our youth community, bearing in mind this generation would be instrumental in swinging the votes in favour of change.
They took the bull by the horns as it were by organising themselves worldwide against all odds. And to everyone’s pleasant surprise, it worked a miracle!
On the anniversary of the feat, it is useful to drop a reminder of the top three concerns, namely, mental health like depression, vulnerability to screen devices, and last but not least, drug addiction which has been plaguing us for more than 50 years.
The drug war is yet to be won at the expense of innocent lives wasted in the millions, especially of our youth. To me this includes the use of tobacco, often dubbed as the “gateway” drug that allows users to experiment and eventually get hooked on hard and fatal drugs.
Going by the frequency and size of the drug busts reported in the media, they point to a mere tip of the iceberg. In other words, drugs are easily obtained once one knows who or how to seek them out. With the more recent daring actions and policies to curb smoking and vaping, it gives some new hope that the gateway to hard drugs can gradually be dismantled, as demonstrated in countries with more stringent tobacco control programmes.
But it is not going to be easy now because the “decriminalisation” of ganja is knocking on our doors. Substance-related addictive disorders, involving alcohol, tobacco, stimulants, marijuana (ganja) and opioids have been enlisted in the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5).
The issue is, if we cannot do a good job to control tobacco use openly, how can we do better to control any of the other hard drugs that are clandestinely supplied, unless we go the Philippines way! Otherwise, the drug addiction scene will worsen with ganja now “readily” available, if not accessible.
Linked to this is the second life- threatening issue — screen devices which is the “new” tobacco as it is also a “gateway” to other “addictive” behaviours. Gaming is obviously one of them. In fact, it is the only behavioural addiction (as opposed to substance use) in the DSM-5 as identified by the experts. Implying that with indiscriminate use one can get hooked to it as evident in several countries that are fully wired up.
The analogy to unregulated tobacco use cannot be mistaken. The more the usage, the more vulnerable one gets to becoming addicted with symptoms like preoccupation with gaming, the need to spend more time to satisfy the urge, and the inability to reduce playing (texting), or unsuccessful attempts to quit gaming. Of late, the World Health Organisation (WHO), as though an endorsement, announced something similar in its International Classification of Diseases (ICD, 11th edition).
There are also evidences that some of the algorithms used in gaming are similar to those for gambling in casinos — meant to gradually hook the unsuspecting players based on frequency of use!
Hence, it is not surprising to see advertisements everywhere encouraging more usage by cutting down rates or other gimmicks to stay talking (read “smoking” for tobacco). So much so, as we see an increase in traffic, the content or quality remains poor, if not harmful. Still many just cannot do without it as portrayed by the world of social media, especially among the youth community.
Let it be known that the tobacco companies knew of the “addictive” properties of tobacco decades before, but chose not to share it with the users. Instead, they used it to gain “loyalty” to the product through addiction. But as mentioned no one cares.
Not until something tragic happens like the recent “Instagram-suicide” of a 16-year-old Sarawakian. Mental health is the greatest toll in a world of loneliness that surrounds most of those who tend to live “helplessly” via the e-devices. Devoid of any mechanism to cope, that is, the ability to appropriately participate or understand what the techno-centric world is all about — one would suffer slavishly at the altar of technology in harm’s way.
The Instagram suicide is just one of many cases that caught our attention. There are thousands of others who are trapped by similar dilemmas that we know nothing about. It is therefore time to stop procrastinating, and dig in deeper by deconstructing the “myths” that have been deliberately created to hold technology as the “new” tobacco in our lives.
History will repeat itself, unless we had better (re)learn as to what could be done to avoid the same consequences before the so-called “technology takeover” become widespread. By then it might matter not any more because it would be too late. The game is already over. It is one avoidable death too many if only we stop procrastinating!
The writer, an NST columnist for more than 20 years, is International Islamic University Malaysia rector.
Published in: The New Straits Times, 20 May 2019
Some magical event took place in Sarajevo last week. It was the 10th anniversary of the Sarajevo Business Forum (SBF) that started in 2009, less than a decade after an asymmetrical war was forced onto Bosnia and its people.
Indeed it could be argued that SBF is “inspired” by the tragic incidences that spurred a number of lessons, setting many Bosnians to thinking very hard about their future, if not survival.
One of them is the architect of SBF, Amer Bukvic — an International Islamic University Malaysia alumni and now CEO of Bosna Bank International, who described the forum as an “emotional project” because it took many years to realise the event.
Last week as he spoke at the welcoming session of the 10th SBF at the National Parliament of Bosnia Herzegovina, one could clearly sense the proud moment that SBF bestowed on the nation and region.
It was the largest thus far, commanding the participation of more than 300 projects with over 1,000 participants attending. In addition, 50 countries were represented and spanned beyond Southeast Europe.
Not to be forgotten were the number of dignitaries who were actively involved. One of them was Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, a founding patron of SBF, then and now as the prime minister of Malaysia.
Dr Mahathir in his address was clearly excited to be with SBF again in his present capacity. He urged SBF to seek common purpose and to work together as one region and one economy. This is so as to hedge the current situation and the crossroads ahead.
Another person who appeared outstanding in the evolution of SBF was former prime minister of Turkey, Dr Ahmet Davutoglu. Being a professor to Amer, his influence could not be underestimated as he recounted what could be done to counter the potential challenges ahead.
Like Dr Mahathir, regional reintegration with common policy and shared values covering multiculturalism, multireligious and ethnicity seems to be his strategy to move forward.
In all, SBF for the 10th year exhibited a high level of maturity and readiness which was clearly evident through the panel discussions held. Apart from the usual subjects of leadership roles and issues of brain drain/gain, sustainable development (SD) featured well as the “new” agenda that straddles between the two.
This means that the leaders of tomorrow must be conversant about SD which could also be a factor in reducing brain drain, if not to improve brain gain. What is apparent is that “unsustainable” (counterpoint to SD) development could encourage brain drain because of the natural tendencies to seek “greener” (pun intended) pastures when all seems to be beyond reach (unequitable prosperity).
Thus, it has direct implications to the goals of SD in creating an ecosystem that is fair, just and balanced. This is what escapes many businesses today, that look at SD as another “incremental” tool rather than a “transformational” model that changes everything before it has any meaningful impact on sustainability.
For example, the language used is no longer about a linear growth economy but that of a circular one; “eco” in the conventional economy is all things “ecological” as a counterweight to economic imbalances of the past in safeguarding the one and only planet and all of its inhabitants to co-exist in a harmonious balance.
This means that the leadership role in an heirachical pyramidal structure is not sustainable due to its rigidity and top-down tendencies. Instead it has to be organisationally flatter and networked like that of nature where it is more connected at the roots and thus truly borderless and sustainable. Are businesses moving in this direction as a global trend in adopting or adapting to SD?
In other words, SBF 10 has opened up new vistas to thinking afresh, instead of merely tinkering with the same old ways to jump start. To quote Amer in his opening remarks: “History will be judging us” — is indeed apt as a reminder that the SBF has clearly raised the stakes for all those present at the forum with clear signals that the days ahead are extremely bright.
Also, not to lose focus over is the “brightened” common path to the collective future, and not to be gullible over the many distractions that take away the higher sense of purpose, blinded by the same bright lights that veil the vision ahead.
Issues like the fourth industrial revolution could be just one if artificial intelligence is allowed to overshadow and reign over human primodial intelligence (the fitrah) beyond the technological “singularity” as it stands today.
In summary, the next SBFs will face even more difficult tasks ahead in “humanising” technology through business unusual, if history is indeed to judge us favourably. Therein lies the vital lesson of magic of the recent SBF.
The writer, an NST columnist for more than 20 years, is International Islamic University Malaysia rector.
Published in: The New Straits Times, 20 April 2019
Little did I expect, soon after my last column on March 9 questioning the “intellectual dishonesty” of the ranking system, there is an ongoing elaborate report of something similar, but far more toxic than what one ever suspected.
It relates to university admission scandals implicating some of the well-ranked so-called ‘world-class’ universities in the US, no less.
Names that were often bandied about as the places to aim for are now caught with their pants down publicly in a very compromising situation unbecoming of their ‘famed’ status as education institutions where lying and cheating have no place, yet these are done almost unsuspectingly.
This has been rumoured for many years now, but hard evidence is difficult to come by, not until this fiasco emerged that is, dubbed the nation’s worst.
We had our fair share of ‘fake degree’ scandals, but they are no where near this one.
When I mentioned this recently in a meeting that deliberated on quality issues, it was quickly brushed off as unlikely as though such tendencies cannot happen in other places outside Malaysia!
How prejudiced can one be, just because they have some foreign degrees somewhere?
So here are some of the bare facts:
(a) Yale, Stanford, USC and Georgetown are among the top names reported to be involved. Meanwhile, five Harvard alumni were arrested and charged with conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud in a nationwide scheme to secure admission for their children to top universities through millions of dollars in bribes and falsified standardised test answers.
(b) Those involved are allegedly very wealthy, famous and ‘white’. Previously, though, Asians and blacks were the ones who bore the brunt of such allegations. There is an ongoing “lawsuit against Harvard alleging it discriminates against Asian Americans in its admissions process.
“It was revealed that the college’s admissions office maintains a secretive ‘Dean’s List’ and ‘Director’s List’ which comprised donors’ relatives and others with special connections to the university.”
(c) To date, fifty people (seven of whom are Harvard affiliates), including 33 parents and athletics coaches, have been charged.
(d) Almost immediately, one Hollywood celebrity was dropped by a TV network, accused of paying US$500,000 in a scheme that involved cheating in college entrance exams and bribing athletic coaches to help her daughter and her sister get into a university in Southern California, according to court documents.
(e) This is said to be the largest known college admissions scandal in US history. US federal prosecutors claimed one company made about US$25 million by charging parents to secure spots for their children in elite schools, by cheating in the admissions’ process.
The situation is so dire that reportedly students and parents are suing the prestigious universities over the massive scandals and bribery, and for deceiving them about what actually took place. Consequently, there is a growing sense that degrees from such institutions are now grossly ‘devalued’.
So, what do we say of the rankings game that we are so engrossed in? Is it not ‘devalued’ too? After all, doesn’t it rank some of the trusted top players that are now embroiled in scandals?
Are they not privy to such ‘underhanded’ techniques, or otherwise choose to ignore them in the hope that they would remain undisclosed?
Could the rankers, too, have used similar ‘underhanded’ techniques when they aggressively solicited participation from unsuspecting institutions?
Evidence to this effect has long been suspected but nothing much has been done about it. So it is time to dive in and clean up the act once and for all.
It is certainly timely, taking a cue from the US scandals, for the relevant authorities and ministries to truly evaluate the worth of the ‘ranking game’ which has remained largely opaque and ‘shady’. Especially when education is viewed as ‘private’ goods which can be bought and sold to the highest bidder. Even to the extent of buying seats in university boards on the pretext of giving lucrative donations and sponsorships.
Meaning, there can be a greater tendency to collude, and deceive students and parents. Maybe it is time they sought clarification from the universities about how much money is spent (or wasted)?
To quote one of those who allegedly paid tens of thousands of dollars to secure a place for her son: “I know this is craziness, I know it is.” It must stop now before it gets worse!
The writer is a Fellow of the Centre for Policy Research and International Studies, Universiti Sains Malaysia, and rector of the International Islamic University Malaysia
Published in: New Straits Times, Tuesday 26 March 2019
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