There were two highlights of the two-day event, both occurring on the first day itself. The first one was a keynote address by the Chief Minister, Lim Guan Eng, while the second one was a dinner lecture by Dr Muhamad Chatib Basri who is a former Finance Minister under President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono of Indonesia.
While there were many other interesting talks, what I found most absorbing was the first session on Sunday morning, Penang's software: History, culture, liveability, which covered areas of great interest to me, which are Penang's local history and culture. Thus, I would say that Wong Yee Tuan of the Penang Institute and Ahmad Fauzi Abdul Hamid of the Universiti Sains Malaysia did a more than competent job of educating the audience here.
I was surprised when one of the later speakers of the morning, Muhahid Yusof Rawa, the Member of Parliament for Parit Buntar, was introduced to us as an Old Free. I did speak with him after the conference was over, and he said that he finished his Sixth Form in 1983. "Green House," he said, but he couldn't remember the famous name that was associated with it. "It's Wu Lien Teh," I told him. I asked him about his father too and Mujahid gleefully said that Yusof Rawa had indeed studied in the Penang Free School in the 1930s. He also offered some other snippets of information about his father.
I was actually a bit relieved to hear all that. It just proved that my little entry on Yusof Rawa which shall be appearing in Let the Aisles Proclaim was not wrong. Of course, I am not writing so much about this man in the book but just for common knowledge, Mujahid's father had gone to Mecca after he finished school and worked in an export-import company there. He came back to take over his father's printing company in Acheen Street and later expanded the business. His own company, The United Press, printed religious books for schools throughout the country. He also printed books in Arabic and Jawi. Yusof joined the Pan-Malayan Islamic Party (PMIP) in 1951 and famously unseated Mahathir Mohamad from the seat of Kota Setar Selatan in the 1969 general elections. In 1983, he took over PMIP which by then had assumed the more commonly known moniker, PAS. When PAS joined the Barisan Nasional government, Yusof was appointed the Deputy Minister for Primary Industries. Later, he became the Malaysian Ambassador to Iran, Afghanistan and Turkey, and represented Malaysia at the United Nations. The dark side to Yusof Rawa was that he led PAS down the path of hardline Islam. Within the party that he led, he surrounded himself with the ulamas and adopted the concept of an Islamic state as official policy. The ideology Yusof Rawa spouted, and now adopted by PAS, made him a dangerous man and Malaysia is now starting to spiral down a path that is unpalatable to secular-thinking, democracy-believing people in the country. My regret is that an Old Free had to be responsible for all this.