‘Sister Listen’ Video Sparks Anger in Malaysia
Teo Cheng Wee – Straits Times
Kuala Lumpur. A forum moderator who gained infamy for relentlessly berating a student has defended her actions, after a video of the event went viral and sparked outrage in Malaysia.
The episode also led to renewed criticism of the public education system, and raised questions over the independence of Malaysia’s public university education system, which has been slipping for years in global rankings.
Sharifah Zohra Jabeen has been nicknamed “Kak Listen” (Sister Listen) after she used the word “listen” 11 times to interrupt law student K.S. Bawani, who was in the middle of asking questions during a political forum at Universiti Utara Malaysia (UUM) in Kedah last month.
Saying this was “our program,” Sharifah also asked Bawani — who called on the government to provide free higher education — to leave Malaysia if she did not like it here and “go to Cuba, Argentina, Libya.”
Sharifah remained combative in her first public response, which was posted on YouTube on Sunday night.
In the seven-minute video, she accused “irresponsible” parties of blowing up an incident that was only “a communication issue between two people.”
“I apologize to the people of Malaysia on the phenomenon which was intentionally caused by irresponsible entities and which was totally out of my control,” said Sharifah, who heads an NGO called Suara Wanita 1Malaysia. She was also a former member of the Malaysian Indian Muslim Congress, an associate party of Umno.
“I’m just a normal person without any positions or stakes in any political parties,” she said.
“I appeal to the Malaysian public not to let yourselves be trapped in the game of hatred.”
During the forum, Sharifah had hit out at electoral reform group Bersih and its leader Ambiga Sreenevasan. Students were made to pledge to “oppose culture detrimental to the society,” including street demonstrations, in an apparent reference to public protests held by Bersih.
“An extremely sad state of affairs of education in Malaysia,” one person wrote on an online forum on the Malaysiakini news website.
“We lost generations of balanced critical thinking education.”
The strong public reaction to Sharifah’s actions spooked the authorities, who were quick to dissociate themselves.
UUM said it only provided the venue for the forum, while Higher Education Minister Khaled Nordin said the government did not organize the program or direct Sharifah to “control the minds of the students.”
The Malaysian Chinese Association said Sharifah’s statement shows that she still “misses the point.”
“Sharifah had denied and continues to be ignorant of the right of undergraduates to hold an opinion on education and other issues,” said MCA’s National Youth Education Bureau chief Chong Sin Woon.
Separately, Sharifah denied news reports that she would be sharing the stage with Bawani at another forum on Tuesday.
Reprinted courtesy of The Straits Times