Appreciation for History: Safeguard or Disregard
On a clear and chilly Wednesday afternoon in the final days of autumn 2018, an esteemed historian was scheduled for a talk at a university that stands in a slightly remote city within Turkey called Isparta or so it says, on one of the many billboards displaying the advertised event with yellow hue forming its background and some of the enlarged words stacked on top of the other uttering, “9. Cumhurbaşkanı” (9th President), “Süleyman Demirel ve Demokrasi” (Suleyman Demirel and Democracy) & “Prof. Dr. ilber Ortaylı”. I have walked past said billboard too frequent to recognise if it should even strike a chord with me, besides its topic that I presume would interest me if I had a good command of Turkish and so I kept walking nonchalantly without having any care for its speaker or its content.
It was later one day, my lecturer had texted me informing the once-in-a-week session with him is cancelled so he could attend this talk hence, I cannot but surmise through this fact that the weight this Ortaylı guy holds must be profound. Mind you, I had already arrived on campus which took a 30-minutes walking journey from where I live when I received the notice. That said, I bear no resentment for such incident because I enjoy long walks out of the dormitory being out and about since I am incapable of sweating buckets, unlike when I usually am back home.
On a side note, ever since I was small, I kept asking questions too much I have been told jokingly by my aunt that I may not be allowed to enter libraries fearing I would be kicked out for being loud. To date, I still maintain this annoyance I pose on people and it is a trait I wish not to rid of.
So, no longer able to contain my curiosity, I headed to the auditorium in Süleyman Demirel University’s Cultural Centre where the discourse is being held and to my astonishment, it was jam-packed even from outside the hall pouring to the street to the extent that people were pushing over each other and had security guarding the entrance. The reason for my surprise is twofold; he is ‘merely’ an academician so its triggering my curiosity why the treatment as if he is some sort of a bigshot like we often see in entertainment biz and why is it that even the media personnel had come with their vans fully equipped with humongous cameras and lengthy wires tangled here and there.
Once I was inside of the hall, I looked at the audiences and none seemed to lose focus of what the great intellectual was conveying out his mouth and their eyes glittering with pride to claim him as their own. I suddenly felt a rush of great remorse for what had befallen my fellow Malaysians when it comes to appreciating our historians back in tanah tumpahnya darah.
I quickly recall a moment where Histforium, a club (that I have love-hate relationship with) for history majors in IIUM invited the late Tan Sri Dr. Khoo Kay Kim for a public discourse on history where I arrived a wee bit early to listen to him so I would have a seat and not cramped under the congested crowd. To my dismay, the hall was nearly empty and I could not stress enough that it was close to no one being there except for me and the committee. It’s a complete departure for any hopes of constructing a historically informed society, let alone a history-loving community whether in IIUM particularly, or Malaysia as a whole.
Adding salt to wound is the disintegration of a prestigious intellectual institution somewhere in Kuala Lumpur when its governance changed hands to academics with animosity for its former masters and since then is tainted. In retrospect, one could only experience the physical prestige of the buildings there these days but in spiritual sense or tradition, it has been lost as a legacy for the generic scholarship but inherently for the Ummatic community.
I implore you, my dear Malaysians, to have more regards for history not as something to be looked upon as an obsolete textbook study in schools but to peruse the books as if its ingrained in you as an identity which you ascribe with when reading our history. If you know not anything of a person, how then can you love him or her?
Liaison Officer for Students’ Democratic Alliance (SDA) IIUM.