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M. Bakri Musa

Seeing Malaysia My Way

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Location: Morgan Hill, California, United States

Malaysian-born Bakri Musa writes frequently on issues affecting his native land. His essays have appeared in the Far Eastern Economic Review, Asiaweek, International Herald Tribune, Education Quarterly, SIngapore's Straits Times, and The New Straits Times. His commentary has aired on National Public Radio's Marketplace. His regular column Seeing It My Way appears in Malaysiakini. Bakri is also a regular contributor to th eSun (Malaysia). He has previously written "The Malay Dilemma Revisited: Race Dynamics in Modern Malaysia" as well as "Malaysia in the Era of Globalization," "An Education System Worthy of Malaysia," "Seeing Malaysia My Way," and "With Love, From Malaysia." Bakri's day job (and frequently night time too!) is as a surgeon in private practice in Silicon Valley, California. He and his wife Karen live on a ranch in Morgan Hill. This website is updated twice a week on Sundays and Wednesdays at 5 PM California time.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Insights On The Mind: They Make Me Do it!


Insights on the Mind:  They Make Me Do It!

M. Bakri Musa


Asch experiments showed the powerful influence of social and peer pressures. In his experimental setting, the peer pressure came from fellow college students. Imagine if they had been not fellow students but authority figures with power over you. How would your decisions be influenced if not controlled by them?

            For this we go to Milgram’s experiments in the 1960s, also at Yale, and Zimbardo’s at Stanford a decade later. Milgram's studies gave us insights into the dynamics of what makes otherwise ordinary human beings do terrible things on account of their blind obedience to authority. We saw that in Nazi Germany, where being a “good German” meant obeying your superiors to do terrible things.

            Milgram had his subjects, also college students, randomly assigned to be “teachers” whose job was to administer increasingly painful electric shock upon a “learner,” who responded with an incorrect answer to a word-pairing test. Except that the learner was part of the experimenter’s team. For every wrong answer given by the learner, the teacher who was in a separate room but could hear the learner would give an electric shock to the learner, increasing the voltage with every wrong response. Except that the “shocks” were all pretend, and with the learner purposely giving the wrong answers! One of the learners, as planned, also told the teacher that he (learner) had a “heart” condition, just as a reminder.

            In his first set of experiments, 26 of the 40 teachers (65 percent) administered the maximal potentially lethal dose of electric shock, despite the moaning and groaning as well as the desperate banging on the wall by those “suffering” learners who gave the wrong answers. Some of the teachers protested, nonetheless they continued administering the potentially lethal punishment.

            Milgram’s experiments had been repeated in other settings and across cultures but the results remained consistent.

            A decade later, the Stanford psychologist Phillip Zimbardo paid volunteer college students to take part in an experiment where they would be assigned randomly to be wardens or prisoners in a mock prison. He had the cooperation of the local police to make it realistic, as with arresting the students and booking them at the local police station. It did not take long for the wardens to take their “job” seriously, too seriously it turned out. The experiment had to be terminated prematurely as those wardens became in short order unduly sadistic, inflicting gratuitous punishment on their “prisoners”–their fellow students.

            The insights from Zimbardo’s experiments shed light on the dynamics of the obscenities of Abu Ghraib prison scandal three decades later.

            Returning to Milgram, imagine if the “experimenter” was not a mellow Yale professor but a top army general fully bedecked with medals and ribbons, or a charismatic leader with power over you, and the “learner” is not your fellow Yale undergraduate but a member of a minority with whom you have minimal sympathy or harbor prejudices of being “dumb and lazy.”

            Or, imagine the Inspector-General of Police standing over you, a forensic pathologist or police investigator on government payroll, as you make your official report on former Deputy Prime Minister Anwar’s infamous bludgeoned black eye incident. With the “Kami menurut perentah” (I follow orders) and, “Saya di arahkan” (I am directed) ethos of the civil service, Anwar never had a chance.

            As Milgram observed, “… [O]ften it is not so much the kind of person a man is as the kind of situation in which he finds himself that determines how he will act.”

            One is tempted to agree with Milgram. However, it would be arrogant and wrong to assume that we could explain the full spectrum of the complexity of human behaviors based on the elegant studies of some imaginative scientists.

            Consider Asch’s experiments; there were subjects who resisted the peer pressures; likewise with Milgram’s. Two British psychologists, Alexander Haslam and Stephen Reicher, repeated the Stanford Prison Experiment but with a twist. Their results were completely different and raised more questions.

            The British experiment showed that it would take more than just putting someone in a subordinate position and then have an authority figure command him to commit evil deeds, or subject him to a group situation where “everyone is doing it.”

            Milgram and Zimbardo focused only on those who continued with the experiments, not those who resisted and thus excluded from the studies and not factored in the conclusions.

            With the British experiment the guards were not told how to behave; they were left to work out their problems. Further, those guards who had misgivings were retained in the study. It turned out those dissenters among the guards and prisoners did have a chastening effect on the rest, confirming Asch’s earlier observations.

            The British study was more realistic and reflected the complexities of human behaviors. After all even during the Third Reich there were Germans who resisted the system. Yes, there were the eager participants but then they were the ones who already harbored resentment towards the Jews. Hitler merely provided the justifications and means for them to pursue their bigotry and hatred but with greater intensity and efficiency. Similarly with Abu Ghraib; there were ethical and honest American soldiers who blew the whistle.

            The British study gives us hope. It is not that easy to turn humans into monsters except those who already so inclined. The challenge for leaders is not to provide them the opportunity and justification even if they were to be in the majority. That is a particular challenge in a democracy.

            The greatest fear progressives have of America under President Trump is his seeming tolerance if not encouragement of those inclined towards bigotry and chauvinism. They could reaffirm the findings of Asch, Milgram, and Zimbardo on the effect of peer pressure. On the other hand, the outpouring of protests against Trump by ordinary Americans reflects the optimism demonstrated by Haslam and Reicher.

Adapted from the author’s book, Liberating The Malay Mind, published by ZI Publications, Petaling Jaya, 2013. The second edition was released in January 2016.

Tuesday, February 07, 2017

The Free Mind: Perspectives From Human Pyschology Studies

The Free Mind: Perspectives From Human Psychology Studies
M. Bakri Musa
www.bakrimusa.com


The last source of insight on the understanding of the mind comes from studies on normal human beings. First are the various experiments in human psychology and second, from the newer imaging techniques of the brain, in particular, functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (f MRI). I will review some of the classics of the first to illustrate particular points.

            One is Asch’s famous conformity studies. In the 1950s Solomon Asch had his Yale students partake in an experiment of “visual judgment” where they would compare the length of a line. The test was done in a group, and they had to answer verbally. Unbeknownst to the subject, all the other members of the test group were part of the experimenter’s team.

            The results were startling. In nearly a third of the time, the subjects would give obviously wrong answers simply because of pressure from the other “test subjects.” The subjects may express reservations or protest but in the end they voted with the group, clearly demonstrating the powerful effect of peer pressure. This insight is fully exploited by advertisers and propagandists in getting their message accepted. As the Chinese proverb would have it, three men would make a tiger.

            There are many variations to the basic experiment, like varying the size of the “consensus” group, pairing the subject with a “trusted” partner and seeing the effect when that partner disagreed, and having a dissenting member among the experimental collaborators. This last variation is the most intriguing. It seems that having even only one dissenting member in the “collaborator” group would greatly reduce a subject’s propensity to conform.

            This persuasive power of a dissenting minority of even one to disrupt group consensus has great social significance. That power would be greatly amplified if the dissenter were to be particularly assertive or otherwise vocal and influential.
It is this that motivates me to continue writing and express my views knowing that mine is in the minority, I hope only initially. If expressing my views would make others examine theirs and encourage them to be more open-minded, then my mission is accomplished.

            Today there is diversity of viewpoints, political and otherwise, among Malays. That is healthy, although it makes the work of government propagandists that much more difficult. It is not a surprise that the government endlessly exhorts us to be “united.” To the authorities, especially those with an authoritarian bent, any expression of dissent is viewed as a threat to our “unity” and equate that with being disloyal or treasonous.

            This potential influencing power of even a lone dissenter to disrupt consensus could be put to good use. When working on collaborative projects, insightful leaders would often assign a particular member to be the designated critic, to poke holes in the group’s decisions and deliberations so as to anticipate possible errors and misleading conclusions because of “groupthink.”

            As another Yale psychologist Irving Janis observed, “The more amiability and esprit de corps there is … , the greater the danger that independent critical thinking will be replaced by groupthink [and] … likely to result in irrational and dehumanizing actions against out groups.”
           
            Examples abound of bad decisions made as a consequence of groupthink. In America, there was the failure to anticipate Pearl Harbor and the Cuban Bay of Pigs fiascos. President Trump is today using this same particular technique of surrounding himself with only those who already agree with him. He goes beyond, to demonize those who disagree with him, including judges who ruled against him, to great effect.

            From my perspective, conformity is a manifestation of a closed mind. It is conformity or peer pressure that makes us believe the smooth mullah over the braying donkey despite the donkey braying in our face.

            Asch’s experiment, like all good ones, raised more questions than it answered. Foremost is that he used simple or objective judgments, as with estimating the length of a line. There is little emotion, cultural value or serious consequences to the decision-making process. Imagine if one were required to make judgment with significant emotions attached, like whether a person is a security threat or not. In post 9-11 America, it would not be at all difficult to get a unanimous judgment on whether a Middle Eastern-looking young man with a beard and turban is a security risk, even if Canada’s Defense Minister has a beard and a turban.
           
            Today, with Trump’s team groupthink it is not difficult to get a consensus that those from Muslim countries pose a significant threat to America.

            Referring to my earlier story of the mullah and his donkey, it is apparent that the social environment can be a very powerful influence on whether we believe the pious mullah or the braying donkey.



Excerpted from the author’s book, Liberating The Malay Mind, published by ZI Publications, Petaling Jaya, 2013. The second edition was released in January 2016.

Thursday, February 02, 2017

It's Important To Fight Noxious Seeds of Hatred


Morgan Hill City's 'Statement of Support' The Right Thing To Do

M. Bakri Musa

On December 14, 2016, The City Council of Morgan Hill, a community at the southern tip of Silicon Valley, California, under the leadership of Mayor Steve Tate issued a Statement of Support and Assurance to its residents. Acknowledging that many of the city’s residents are foreign-born and thus fearful that changes in immigration rules or its enforcement could separate families, the city reaffirmed that among other things, its police force will not be used for federal immigration law enforcement. Instead its priority is “to maintain the trusting relationship  … [the force has] with our community.” It went on to declare in no uncertain terms that the City would not tolerate any hate crimes, and that foremost among our community’s ethical values is respect.

            The full resolution is appended below.

            The City’s resolution was issued on December 14, last year, long before the tumultuous national events of the past week. Since then the Mayors of other cities including Boston, New York and San Francisco have issued similar declarations; likewise, the Governors of California and Washington State.

            As a longtime physician in Morgan Hill, I was inspired by my civic leaders’ reaffirmation of and recommitment to our shared core values. Below is my commentary, published in the Morgan Hill Life, February 1, 2017 issue.



            At this time in U.S. history, it's important to fight 'noxious seeds of hatred'

M.Bakri Musa

At a time when our nation is gripped with fear and hysteria, some of the leaders in our nation's capital are content letting the noxious seeds of hatred and distrust take root in and soil our beautiful landscape. Our founders had anticipated this, hence their wisdom in asserting that the government closest to the people governs best.

            Testament to that wisdom is the City of Morgan Hill's “Statement of Support and Assurance to the Morgan Hill Community” voted on unanimously by council members Dec. 14. It reaffirms the commitment to making our city “well respected and inclusive.” Respect for all our residents is foremost among our values.

            The board members of our South Valley school districts have also unanimously passed declarations affirming human rights for immigrants. The Gilroy Unified School Board voted January 26 to declare that its schools are in “a sanctuary district,” and the Morgan Hill Unified School Board voted January 17 to adopt a resolution declaring its schools are “safe havens” for students and their parents.

            Having lived and practiced as a surgeon here for nearly four decades, I, like many others, have taken those values for granted. And rightfully so. We demonstrate every day those values of tolerance and inclusivity, both as individuals as well as a society.

            When the young girl Sierra LaMar disappeared, we shared in the grief. Many volunteered in the search and to support her family. They still do, years later. When our high school marching band won national awards, and performed in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, we shared in the reflected glory. We congratulated those talented students and their dedicated teachers.

            Our community has an active interfaith organization, well represented with members and leaders of the various faiths, that meets regularly. We build bridges, not erect walls between us.

            As individuals and as a community we do not claim to be angels, nor have we been angelic at all times. Nonetheless, when we see the noxious seeds of hatred and bigotry attempting to sprout, we act fast, as we did with the race-tainted hooliganism at our school.

           The crucial message was sent out quick and clear to the young and adults alike. Our community will not tolerate such nonsense even if manifested as a prank.

            Neither we nor our nation claim to have it right all the time. A casual reading of our history would disabuse us of that smugness. We dehumanized a subset of humanity in our midst because of their skin color. We disenfranchised half of our citizens based on their sex. More recently, we incarcerated a whole group of people based only on suspicion because of their ethnicity and national origin.

            In all those instances, there were elegant and sophisticated contemporary commentaries defending those odious actions. Their sophistry could not hide nor justify the basic inhumanity and ugliness of those deeds.

            While we may not have done everything right, there is one ideal we are committed to. That is “to strive for a more perfect union,” as stated with such elegant brevity in the Preamble to our Constitution, and to give full inclusive meaning to that other simple phrase, “We, the people.”

            Those ideals notwithstanding, never underestimate the ability of one individual to wreak havoc. An idiot with a matchstick could burn down a whole town, what more a leader with access to the nuclear code.

            Back to the idiot, he could only do mischief if he had access to a matchstick, the town littered with dried tinder, and it did not have a functional fire department. As residents, it is our duty to keep the metaphorical matchsticks out of the reach of potential mischief-makers, maintain a clean environment, and have our fire department in top form.

            I have great faith in our civic leaders, institutions and shared values. The city’s statement is testament to that faith. I commend Mayor Steve Tate and the Morgan Hill City leaders for reasserting and reassuring us that our core values remain steadfast.

Bakri Musa is a longtime area surgeon and former president of South Valley Islamic Community.

First published in Morgan Hill Life, February 1, 2017 (www.morganhilllife.com)



At the City Council meeting on December 14, 2016 the City Council affirmed the following Statement of Support and Assurance to the Morgan Hill Community.

To Morgan Hill Residents,                                            

Recent national events have triggered some negative impacts in many Morgan Hill residents; fear and uncertainty about their well-being and their status in our community and country. The Morgan Hill City Council and staff want to reassure our residents that we will stand up for all of them.

Many of our residents are foreign-born and fear that changes in immigration rules or enforcement could separate their families. There are also concerns about proposed federal registries of community members of the Muslim faith. And the recent nationwide spike in hate crimes is causing even more fear. Here in Morgan Hill, we cannot control the events in Washington, D.C., but we can do much to care for each other here at home. We want to assure you that:

Hate Crimes will not be tolerated in Morgan Hill
Our Police Department is committed to enforcing laws against commitment of hate crimes without regard to the immigration status of the victim or reporting party. Please report all incidents to the Police Department at 408-779-2101.

Our Police will not be used for federal immigration enforcement
Changes to immigration laws and enforcement are the responsibility of federal policy makers. Local police should not be involved in federal immigration enforcement and our Police Officers will continue to focus their time on high priority crimes. In accordance with best practices of local law enforcement professionals nationally, we will stay out of immigration enforcement. Our priority is to maintain the trusting relationship Morgan Hill Police Officers have with our community.

Anyone who witnesses or is a victim of any crime can contact the Police Department without fear of inquiry regarding their immigration status.

Your Constitutional rights will be protected
We cannot know if assertions made during national campaigning -- like Muslim registries -- will come to fruition. We will monitor any proposed legislation or executive actions from Washington and work closely with our national, state and local representatives, other cities, and if necessary, the courts, to protect the Constitutional rights of our residents.

Discrimination based on race, national origin, ethnicity, religion, age, gender, sexual orientation, color or disability is prohibited under federal and/or state law. We will protect the rights of all our residents, regardless of background or sexual orientation.

Morgan Hill residents are highly ethical; we have a set of ethical values that are fundamental to the character of our community. Foremost among the ethical values is respect. Because we respect those we interact with, we treat them honestly, fairly and responsibly. In this time of uncertainty and fear, we encourage all our residents to maintain a high level of respect in all their interactions.

Thank you for making Morgan Hill a well respected and inclusive community.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

The Mind: Insights From Science

The Mind: Insights From Science

M. Bakri Musa
www.bakrimusa.com


Much of the scientific insights on the human brain emerge from four sources: “wet labs” on laboratory animals; clinical observations on brain-damaged patients; observing babies and children; and human psychology experiments.

Insights on the mind however, are best gleaned through reading Shakespeare and pondering the philosophers.

  The current popular specie for “wet labs” is the nematode (worm) Caenorhabditis elegans. It is transparent, easily manipulated genetically, and has only 302 neurons (as compared to billions for humans). It would be far fetched to consider that organism as having a brain compatible to that of humans; nonetheless its far fewer neurons enable scientists to study the basic physiology of nerve cells.

Imprinting experiments with birds, specifically geese, give us insights on such concepts as the “critical” period of learning.

Nothing in nature however is clear-cut. If you cut the nerve to the frog’s eye and then rotate it 180 degrees, and then after the nerves have regenerated, observe the frog catching flies. It could not; its tongue keeps flipping in the opposite direction. The explanation there is that the eye had been “hard wired” to the brain in a certain way and that no amount of “learning” could change the situation. In short, no neuroplasticity (the ability of nerve cells to modify its functions) operating there.

If you were to suture shut one eye of a kitten and weeks later remove the sutures, that eye is functionally blind even though it is still receiving the images. The lack of visual stimulation in that eye disrupts the production of the specific factors needed for the nerve cells to grow longer branches (dendrites) and connect to the brain, illustrating the significant role of the environment in brain development.

Baby monkeys raised in isolation with only a fluffy doll as their “mother” grew up to be severely disturbed, again illustrating the crucial role of early nurturing or mothering.
The second source of insight comes from brain-injured patients. One was the case of Phineas Gage who had a crowbar pierced through his skull. He survived, but his subsequent personality changes were such that he was “no longer Gage.”

Another patient, HM, had a scar surgically removed from an “old” part of his brain (hippocampus) to control burdensome seizures. After the surgery he had severe anterograde memory loss; he could not remember events occurring afterwards. He still had his “old” memories of events before the surgery. That led to the insight of different memories. Certain medications can also cause this distressing side effect, fortunately only transiently.

In the 1960s Sperry studied patients who had their corpus callossum severed to prevent epileptic seizures from spreading from one hemisphere of the brain to the other. The corpus callosum is the thick tissue that sits at the base of and binds the two hemispheres. After surgery these patients would behave like any other normal person, with no impairment of speech, walking, or other activities.

Through studies on these patients Sperry was able to demonstrate the lateralization of brain function, with the right more visual and able to process information in an integrative and intuitive way while the left, more verbal and adept at processing information in a sequential and analytical manner. Popularly expressed, the left-brain is rational and analytical while the right, emotional and creative, a neuro-scientific variation of the Yin and Yang theme. Women tend to use their right brain more than men. The implications of Sperry’s insight go beyond differences in how boys and girls learn; it also explains why men and women differ in their views on social issues.

In 1966 at the University of Texas, Charles Whitman shot and killed 13 people while wounding another 32 before he was shot dead. Whitman left a suicide note, admitting that he had been bothered by irrational thoughts and requesting an autopsy be done as he suspected that there was something wrong inside his brain. They did, and he was right. They found a tumor pressing on his amygdale, the part of the brain controlling emotions, especially fear and aggression.

These and other dramatic if not tragic examples challenge our concept of free will and culpability.

At that time there were no CAT scans or MRIs. Today an enhancement, f MRI (for functional) scan, is an important tool in brain research; it shows which part of the brain is ‘lighted’ or active during dynamic studies.

Another research involves patients with parts of their nervous system damaged from birth and then restored later in life. An example would be congenital cataracts. In developed countries these children would be treated early, with minimal if any eyesight loss. In the Third World these children would remain blind, with all its tragic consequences.

Recently a fortunate few in India were operated on through the surgical intervention of Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Prakash Project. Contrary to the findings of the earlier experiments with kittens, those treated children were able to see following their cataract surgery. However, they do not “see” immediately, nor is what they see initially the same as what people with normal vision would see.

While we see Holstein cows munching leisurely in the lush meadow under the cloudless blue sky, those children would see blotches of black and white over a green background under a blue patch. They would not see what we see until their brain has learned to interpret those images, a process that could take days or weeks. The images transmitted from their eye to their visual center of the brain (optical cortex) are exactly the same immediately after surgery as well as later, but the brain has not yet learned to see, or interpret those images properly until much later.

The third source of insight comes from observing babies and children. A baby’s brain is neither a blank slate nor an adult one in miniature. A remarkable feature is its steep learning curve, unseen again at any other time. A baby has to learn to recognize its mother and get her attention, process the sights and sounds of the world, as well as learn to crawl, walk and control its sphincters.

This learning predates delivery. The baby in utero learns to recognize the sound of its parent’s voices and the movements of its mother. If the father is absent, then little of this pre-delivery bonding would take place with him.

After birth there is the all-important filial bonding and imprinting. The baby learns to recognize its mother. It can do this within a few days but that recognition is fragile. If the mother were to later wear a scarf for example, the infant would treat that face as that of a stranger. A similar “make strange” response would occur if the mother were to approach the baby from its head, thus presenting to the baby an upside-down image. Only much later does the baby learn to recognize its mother’s face from every angle.

The fourth source of insight comes from the study of normal, healthy human beings. These human psychology experiments contribute much to our understanding of the human brain, and thus the mind. I will devote the next two chapters to reviewing some of the insightful ones.

Excerpted from the author's book, Liberating The Malay Mind, published by ZI Publications, Petaling Jaya, 2013. The second edition was released recently in January 2016.

Sunday, November 06, 2016

Dancing Dragons Have No Partners, Only Prey

Dancing Dragons Have No Partners, Only Prey

M. Bakri Musa
www.bakrimusa.com


With Prime Minister Najib Razak dancing with the Chinese dragon, it is worth reminding him and his admirers that dragons have no dance partners, only prey.

Najib is using the old and dangerous game of playing the major powers against each other. During his latest visit to Beijing he railed against the Americans for lecturing him on lapses in his leadership, specifically his corruption and trampling on his fellow citizens’ human rights. Najib then went on to poke America’s eyes by putting out a joint declaration with his Chinese counterpart calling for no outside interference in the brewing South China Sea crisis.

Only the deluded would believe that Najib had an equal or any say in that joint communique. His only contribution was to agree. Najib was there to beg China to bail out his 1MDB, as well as to borrow money. Beggars don’t get to choose.

The world is full of tragic examples of once stable nations now in tatters because their leaders thought they were smart or adroit enough to play one world power against the other. Egypt’s Nasser had the Russians finance his ambitious Aswan Dam, and banked on them to help Egypt against Israel. The humiliation of the Six Day War still haunts the Egyptians. His successor Anwar Sadat reversed course and cozied up to America, and in the process won the approval of the ultimate values gatekeeper of the West, the Nobel Committee, which awarded him the Peace Prize. At least Sadat brought peace to his people, albeit only too briefly. Egyptians today are still being whipsawed from one extreme to the other.

In dealing with others, local or foreign, small or great powers, we must be guided by our internal compass, our values. Those others may or may not share our qiblat. We have for example, no desire to emulate China on how it treats its minorities or dissidents. Nor does Malaysia wish to be treated like Tibet or China’s western Muslim provinces. Although I must admit that at times I wish Malaysia would adopt China’s treatment of its corrupt officials.

Najib thinks that he looks elegant and puffed up dancing with the Chinese dragon. To me, he is more the painted lady on the dance floor of a Vegas whorehouse. We know who is paying for Najib’s services, on the dance floor and afterwards. Najib is paid well to act like an equal and enthusiastic partner, but we know what his role really is, as well as his price tag.

        It is well over RM140 billion. Regardless, a high-priced hooker is still a hooker.

Najib would like us to believe that China is investing in Malaysia, and he has convinced many. The reality is that Malaysia is borrowing those hundreds of billions. That money has to be repaid. The only positive aspect is that some of the money would be for financing infrastructures like the East Coast Rail and Trans Sabah Gas Pipeline, not for skyscrapers and fancy headquarters for civil servants.

Left unanswered however, is how much those projects would have cost had there been competitive international bidding. Nor do we know the financing terms. The 1MDB bonds cost several hundred basis points above the prevailing rates. Another unknown is how much of the Chinese money would be shifted to Najib’s personal account a la the Saudi investor and 1MDB, in gratitude for Najib’s ‘leadership?’

Beijing was generous to Najib. I am reminded of the rich towkay in a Malay village, charitable to his customers, extending them easy credit. Soon he owned the entire village. As we Malays say, Menang sorak, kampung tergadia (win the applause but mortgage the village).

China is an important country, quite apart from it being Malaysia’s biggest trading partner and sharing an extensive and contested maritime border. That relationship should be based on mutual respect and in accordance with international laws and norms, acknowledging that China is a major power while Malaysia isn’t. Being deeply in hock to China is not a good start to that kind of relationship.

The sparkle of Najib’s golf soiree with President Obama in Hawaii during Christmas of 2014 was short-lived, eclipsed by the blasting Malaysian sun. Najib is discovering to his sorrow that America has robust independent institutions. You may be Obama’s golfing partner, but if you indulge in illicit activities, its media will expose you and the Attorney-General will prosecute you. Malaysian officials may be bought with cheap titles and trinkets, not so America’s.

The Malaysian media is Najib’s lapdog, not so foreign ones or local social media. Thanks to the Guardian, The Wall Street Journal, and others, Najib is being subjected to unaccustomed scrutiny. Local alternate media amplify and extend the reach of those foreign news sources to average Malaysians.

There are a few certainties to Najib’s leadership. One, it will end. As for when, how and under what circumstances, the bomohs have as much credibility as the experts. With his echo chambers well amplified, Najib feels invincible. So did Saddam and Ghaddafi not too long ago; they were even more ruthless and in power far longer than Najib. Two, the massive debts through 1MDB and now the Chinese loans incurred by Najib will burden Malaysians for generations. Three, Najib’s rank corruption. Regardless of the outcome of the current US Department of Justice’s 1MDB asset forfeiture lawsuit, it has already put a black mark on Malaysia.

Najib’s future does not interest me. As for the debt load, at least that is quantifiable; not so the soiling of Malaysia’s name. The plastic glitter of Najib dancing with the dragon star, like his earlier soiree with Obama, will also be short-lived. The dragon will not be denied its prey. Najib, and Malaysians, may yet feel the true impact of a tsunami, the Chinese version.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Sultanah Aminah Hospital's Fire Rekindled Old Ugly Memories

Sultanah Aminah Hospital’s Fire Rekindled Old Ugly Memories
M. Bakri Musa
www.bakrimusa.com

Like many, I am saddened by the tragic death of six patients from the fire that started at the Intensive Care Unit of Hospital Sultanah Aminah (HSA) Johor Baru last Tuesday, October 25, 2016. My condolences to their families and loved ones. Those patients came to be treated and instead ended up being killed.

Having worked at that facility in the late 1970s I have endless fond memories of the place and the many wonderful people I had worked with, as well as the countless grateful patients I was privileged to treat. As a surgeon, that particular ICU was familiar turf to me.

There was something else hauntingly familiar to me on seeing those frightening videotapes of the huge fireballs and the bellowing black smoke. Perhaps it was because I had just been through a massive forest fire in the Santa Cruz Mountains in California that forced my family’s temporary evacuation. More likely it was the familiar bright red bricks of the hospital building, unchanged over the years but for the telltale stains from tropical black molds, that opened the floodgates to my old memory banks.  

Yes, I have many pleasant memories of that place. However, I also remember the more than a few not-so-wonderful ones of all-too-frequent VVIPs' visits. That particular sediment of my memory was stirred by videos of visits to the hospital by VVIPs only hours after the fire. The embers were still smoldering when the sultan and his chief minister as well as the Deputy Prime Minister and his equally huge federal entourage flooded the hospital.

I do not question their good intentions and can appreciate the boost in morale among those visited–patients, nurses, doctors, firefighters and others. Well meaning though those visits may be, they also interrupt and interfere with the immediate and pressing business at hand, that of ensuring the welfare and safety of patients as well as the public. Those colorful videotapes and glossy pictures of appreciative hosts and the genuine concerns expressed by those important guests do not reveal the entire picture.

What you do not see are the crowds of patients kept waiting for their treatment or whose transfer to safety was delayed because their doctors, nurses and other personnel are occupied with the big shots. Nor do you appreciate the consequences of scarce resources being diverted from patient care and services towards hosting those important visitors.

There were also many VVIP visits during my brief tenure at HSA. Two in particular I recall for specific reasons; both happened at a time of acute crisis at the hospital, though not as critical as the present one.

The first was by the Ministry of Health’s then new Director-General who had just taken over from the retiring Dr. Majid Ismail, a former Queens scholar and accomplished orthopedic surgeon.

This new DG had a point or two to prove, one being that he was a worthy successor to his distinguished predecessor. This new official was determined to not only show the flag but also demonstrate that he was not the typical senior civil servant afflicted with the sultan syndrome–departmental heads who behave like detached sultans but clueless as what to do except issue endless edicts.

On the appointed day this gentleman arrived. Late of course, in fact very late. By the time we finished the obligatory long line of introductions, it was decided that since it was close to lunchtime we would retreat to the nearby country club. The rest of the day was a washout.

It was a Thursday. Later I discovered that it was a favorite day for federal officials to visit Johor. With Fridays and Saturdays being the weekends there, those officials had an early start for their weekend of shopping across the causeway.

The second episode was when the state sultan and his consort were involved in a car accident. Both were hospitalized in the royal suite, which coincidentally was just above the ICU. Within hours (and for months afterwards) the hospital was inundated with VVIPs from all over the country.

Late that first night at the height of the crisis, a colleague was called to the hospital to help on a complex case. He had not heard of the accident and on seeing so many strangers loitering and one in his private office, asked him to vacate. Unfortunately, that gentleman happened to be one of Malaysia’s many sultans.

Within 24 hours that good doctor was banished out of state. I heard of the incident the next morning when there was confusion in the operating suites as the doctor’s surgical cases were left in limbo.

Had there been a tipping point to my decision to emigrate, the summary banishment of that physician was definitely one. I saw the basic indecency and unfairness of it all.

No, that specialist was not a pendatang or contract consultant from abroad (not that it mattered); he was “the son of the soil.”

Fires erase memories. The fire at HSA however, rekindled my old ugly ones.


Sunday, September 04, 2016

Luqman Al-Hikmah Versus Najib Al-Kebas

Luqman Al-Hikmah Versus Najib Al-Kebas
M. Bakri Musa
www.bakrimusa.com



Luqman Al-Hikmah (Luqman The Wise) is revered in Islam. There is a Surah (31) in the Koran named after him, chronicling his sage advice to his son. Those are wise words for anyone, anytime, and anywhere.

Legend has it that once as a slave, his master ordered him to slaughter a sheep and bring its best and worst parts to him. Luqman did, and brought the animal’s heart and tongue. Intrigued, the next day the master asked him to do the same thing but this time to bring the worst parts. Luqman brought him again the heart and tongue.

When asked, Luqman explained that when a sheep is halal, the heart and tongue are the sweetest parts. When it is haram, the two are the worst. Likewise with leaders; halal leaders’ words (the consequence of their tongue) and deeds (heart) inspire and bring out the best in their followers. They in turn make the world better. In contrast, the words and deeds of a Hitler agitate his followers and bring out the worst in them. They in turn wreck the world, theirs and ours. Brandishing a ketchup-soaked keris and stretching out a stiff-arm salute are but different deeds from the same heart.

With individuals, the same attribute may be venerated in a pious person but detested in the corrupt. Prime Minister Najib values loyalty above everything else in his staff and ministers. Loyalty is the finest attribute you can heap upon a leader, but only when he is halal, meaning honest, competent, and does not betray the faith and trust you have in him. When he is not, then that loyalty is not only misplaced but also your most hideous attribute. You betray not only yourself and your values but also your fellow citizens’ and theirs.

Hang Jebat put it best, “Raja adil raja di sembah; Raja zalim raja di sanggah.”

Najib is confused about loyalty and what it stands for. His staff, ministers and supporters too are confused on whether their loyalty is to the country and its enshrined principles, or to a leader and his unbounded avarice. Had UMNO members been loyal to the person of Datuk Onn as leader back in 1951, Malaysia would still be a British colony today. Although he fought against and prevailed over the Malayan Union, Onn opposed merdeka.

As Prime Minister, Najib should be loyal not to his party, ministers or supporters but to the oath of office he took in front of the King, and to the constitution he swore to uphold and defend. Loyalty to anyone or anything else is misplaced, even treasonous.

In defending his hideous corrupt act with 1MDB, Najib points with pride to the BR1M grants to the poor. Caliph Bakar gave every man, woman and child twenty durham annually, long before economists advocated guaranteed minimum income. Credit Najib for implementing a good idea. However, lest it be forgotten he has also burdened Malaysians with the Goods and Services Tax. GST is the least progressive of taxes, meaning, the poor bears a disproportionate burden.

The 2016 budget for BR1M is RM4.9 billion; the government estimates raking in RM5.6 with GST. The ledger does not favor the rakyat, especially the poor.

If 1MDB funded BR1M, as Najib intimated, consider that the American DOJ alleges an estimated over US$3 billion (in excess of RM12B) have been corruptly siphoned off from that sovereign fund. Thus while Najib gives away RM4.9B in BR1M, Malaysian Official 1 has kebas (swiped off) over RM12B from 1MDB. The ledger again favors him to the tune in excess of RM7B.

So unlike Luqman Al-Hikmah, we have Najib Al-Kebas. Loyalty to Al-Kebas would be the worst attribute in a Malaysian.

Najib fessed up to swiping off hundreds of millions into his personal bank account. It was a “gift” from a Saudi sheikh, he claimed. For Malays, anything from the Holy Land is halal, even its flies and maggots.

Would Najib have received the gift had he not been Prime Minister? Obviously not. Which means that the donation was to his office. Najib admitted as much when he said it was in appreciation for Malaysia’s fight against ISIS. Najib did not fight ISIS alone, Malaysians did. Thus the money should have gone to Treasury, not his personal account.

Even in the days of generous foreign aid no nation ever received such a windfall, except Israel from America.

When Najib’s ‘explanation’ did not sell even to UMNO members, he concocted yet another spin. It was a political donation. That satisfied UMNO “wise” ones, the likes of Shahril Samad and Ahmad Maslan with their MBAs, chartered accountant Wahid Omar, and lawyers Nazri and Azalina. Shahril and Maslan admitted to receiving a million or two from Najib. Crumbs really, but that satisfied them. Wahid was rewarded with the PNB chairmanship. Nazri and Azlina are still ministers. For these characters, loyalty is but a commodity with a price tag. Rather cheap, fitting their characters.

Ponder this. Today Saudis can buy Malaysian elections by financing the party they favor. Tomorrow, Americans to Pakatan? How about China or Singapore to DAP? UMNO is Saudi’s current favored flavor. Tomorrow, PAS?

Why not put up Malaysian elections to the highest bidder? That would simplify things and remove the charade. It would also be clean and transparent, with the rakyat benefitting from the cash. Do likewise with UMNO elections and distribute the loot to the members. At least they would get something. Right now Najib kebas (swiped) all, with only the crumbs falling to the lesser chiefs. Ordinary members are still waiting for the leftovers, if any.

Legend also has it Luqman advised his son to be wary of women with heavy makeup. In today’s parlance, those who resort to plastic surgery and anti-ageing potions. They will end up spending everything you have, he cautioned. When Luqman died, his son ignored that advice. He partied and chased women with heavy makeup. Within a year he was bankrupt.

If as Najib says that he fears only Allah, then heed His advice as revealed through Lukman Al-Hikmah.

I risk flattering Najib and his supporters by mentioning him in the same breath with Luqman Al-Hikmah. Najib Al-Kebas has more in common with Luqman’s son. If Malaysians were to be spared the fate that befell Luqman’s son, then they ought to get rid of Al-Kebas.