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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.

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Mahathir Should Scour The Field For His Ibn Jabal

Mahathir Should Scour The Field For His Ibn Jabal
M. Bakri Musa


The current favorite political speculation is on Mahathir’s choice of a successor. At 93, Providence may not give Mahathir the luxury of an unhurried pace, and Malaysia can ill afford a leadership chaos now.

Mahathir can learn much from our Prophet Muhammad, s.a.w. One narration has the prophet sounding out his young companion, one Mu’adh Ibn Jabal, for the governorship of Yemen, a pivotal appointment. It goes something like this (approximate rendition):

            Prophet:  “How would you govern?”
            Ibn Jabal:  “According to the Book of Allah!”
            “What if you do not find it there?”
            “Then in yoursunnah(traditions and pratices of the prophet).”
            “What if you do not find it there either?”
            To which Ibn Jabar replied, “Then I will strive for my own judgement.”
            
            The prophet was most pleased by that response.

            Everytime I hear this hadith cited, regardless of the speaker, audience, or venue, the discourse would be long on Ibn Jabal’s vast knowledge of the Koran and his ability to discern halal from haram, together with embellished accounts of the prophet’s love and praises for the man. Many of the accounts, if we can believe the narrators, bordered on the homoerotic.

Then there would be the recitations of the various versions with their excruciating details, as if the prophet’s utterence of over 14 centuries ago had been recorded verbatim.

            Rarely would one hear of the hadith’s wisdom, or how it could be applied to contemporary challenges. The fetish, then and now, is in displaying one’s Arabic fluency and memorization prowess.

            Tradition has it that the prophet had earlier sought out other candidates. When Abu Bakar volunteered, the prophet remained silent. Then Omar Khattab offered himself. Again the prophet fell silent. When Ibn Jabal responded, the prophet was most pleased.

A measure of Abu Bakar and Omar Khattab is that both would later succeed the prophet. Yet he bypassed them. You could say that the prophet practiced meritocracy and fast-tracked Ibn Jabal. This insight of the hadith is rarely recognized or recounted.

Note, the prophet did not inquire whether Ibn Jabal had paid his zakat or gone to Hajj. The prophet was interested only in that one quality most crucial in a leader–his judgement. That insight too is often missed.

Had Mahathir heeded this in his first go as Prime Minister, Malaysia would have been spared much grief. So would he. Now in his second time around I hope that he would be more diligent. Scour the field wide for his Ibn Jabal and bypass his Abu Bakars and Omar Khattabs if need be. Mahathir’s potential Ibn Jabal may not even be in the cabinet now.

Ponder that hadith again. Imagine, the prophet reminding Ibn Jabal that he may not find the answers in the Koran orseerah! Tell that to those whose rote response to today’s complex problems is to endlessly chant, “The Koran (or seerah) has all the answers!”

We degrade the Koran when we reduce it to a how-to manual; worse, a talisman or a Muslim’s lucky rabbit foot. Soak a verse of Surah Yaseenin your tea and that would protect you from illness. Chant this Ayat72 times and your debt would magically dissipate, or there would be no need to be vaccinated. Plaster a verse on your dashboard and that would protect you even if you were to text while driving. That simple!

They chose to ignore the other prophetic tradition:  First tie your camel securely, only then pray it does not escape.

Martin Luther observed that a Christian cobbler would best demonstrate his piety not by making shoes decorated with fancy crucifexes but by making them cheap and durable so the poor could afford them. Likewise, a Muslim engineer would best demonstrate his imannot by carving Koranic verses onto fancy arches but by being diligent in his calculations and meticulous in his construction so the bridge would not collapse with the first rainstorm.

Today the Koran and hadith are being exploited to end a discussion rather than illuminate it. “The Koran (or hadith as narrated by Bukhari, Muslim, Termidhi, etc.,) says . . . ,” the ulama would assert with arrogant certitude, as if his interpretation is the only valid one. Koran and hadith should stimulate discussions, not close them.

Then there are those who would dispense entirely with hadith. To them, Prophet Muhammad, s.a.w., was but a human fax machine, a robotic intermediary mouthing whatever God had placed in his vocal cords. Once you received your message, the fax machine is superflous.

Hadith scholar Jonathan Brown put it best. When we read the Koran, we implicitly put on the lens of the holy prophet. Like lens, hadith enhances and clarifies the Koran as well as helps us focus. We could only achieve that if we are not preoccupied with and distracted by the chain of narrators, or argue endlessly on the authenticity of what was uttered a millennium-and-a-half ago.

If the prophet had to remind Ibn Jabal that the answer may not always be in the Koran or hadith, we too would be wise to follow that precept.

Sunday, November 04, 2018

A Collective Malay Shame And Tragedy

A Collective Malay Shame And Tragedy
M. Bakri Musa
www.bakrimusa.com


Reading the US Department Of Justice’s (DOJ) criminal indictment of November 1, 2018 relating to 1MDB, as well as its earlier (July 2016) civil forfeiture lawsuit on assets allegedly linked to it, I am struck by three singular observations.

First is the appalling avarice of the alleged culprits; second, the utter impunity with which they conducted themselves; and third, the sheer stupidity of the man without whose authority those shenanigans would not have been possible–Malaysian Official 1, as referred to in both charges. The world now knows him as Najib Razak. While he is not facing any DOJ charges as yet, in Malaysia he faces three criminal ones that could put him in jail for the rest of his life.

This 1MDB heist is by far the most complex and largest in terms of monetary value. The sheer hubris of the perpetrators to think that they could get away with it. As for Najib, he is not terribly bright, just wily enough to know that his fellow ministers and UMNO leaders could be bought cheaply with the loot from 1MDB.

As for his rise in UMNO, that too is more the consequence of Malay culture. Malays are suckers for terhutang budi, an excessive sense of gratitude. With Najib, it was for his father, Malaysia’s second Prime Minister who died unexpectedly while in office in 1976.

Had Najib not been a Bin Tun Razak, he would be but a middling civil servant, at best. At worse, he would have been flogged and jailed decades ago for “close proximity.”

Think of it; had those religious police in Port Dickson been in their usual zealous mode then and ignored his Bin Razak status, or the powerful had not been terhutang budi, Malaysia would have been spared much grief today, and a whole lot less debt.

The trail of financial liabilities of 1MDB, though massive and painful, is at least quantifiable. Not so the associated lost opportunities. Had the billions not been squandered on luxuries in London, Beverley Hills, and New York or funding soft porno movies, but on improving national schools and FELDA settlements, we would be that much closer to the goals of Ketuanan Melayuand Vision 2020.

This being Malaysia, the dangerous race factor is never far from the surface. That is the most pernicious and consequential legacy of 1MDB. Already there are ugly rumors, and not just within UMNO but also other segments of the Malay community, blaming those smart, greedy Chinese once again taking advantage if not outright cheating sweet, innocent Malay leaders. Even Najib is now distancing himself from Jho Low. This potential explosive component is the most dangerous and incendiary, and one that cannot be unquantied.

Even uglier and more painful to express publicly is this:  Malays are downright ashamed by the outrageous behaviors of their corrupt leaders. Not stated but obvious is that all those charged in Malaysia are Malays, not ordinary ones but top leaders.

Malaysians must thank Mahathir for appointing Tommy Thomas as Attorney-General. It is amazing what you can achieve when you put a premium on honesty, integrity, and competence. Yes, there were many Malays who complained of Thomas not being a Malay or Muslim, as well as on his less-than-polished Malay. Regardless, he put to shame his predecessor, Apandi Ali. He, together with Najib, Zahid, Azeez and others, is but an unmitigated disaster and gross embarrassment to Malays and Muslims, bar none.

By normal reckoning, Apandi should have been impeached. Again in a perversion of values, Najib made him a Tan Sri, and the Agung agreed. Like it or not, to many non-Malays as well as Malays, the likes of Najib and Apandi represent the best that our community could offer. That hurts! As for those other champions of Ketuanan Melayu, their goals would be achieved that much faster and more efficaciously if they would first get rid from their midst these characters.

            It is good to be reminded that with DOJ’s filings, a pivotal defendant in its criminal case has already pleaded guilty; with its civil, at least two have agreed to settle.

Much can be deduced from the local reactions, and even more so from the lack of same among some notable quarters. It is not surprising that simple kampung folks still believe Najib despite those charges as well as the boxes of gold and cash hauled from his residences. They still believe that the money was for them!

What stretches one’s credulity is that UMNO leaders too bought Najib’s snake oil, and they included many lawyers and accountants, as well as an Oxford graduate and even an Ivy League PhD!

Then there is the stunning silence of the ulama and sultans. Sly Najib had diverted some 1MDB crumbs to fund free Hajjs. I imagine the same dynamics work with the sultans, except that crumbs would not do it for them. That is the greatest Malay shame and tragedy.

Sunday, October 28, 2018

Liquidate 1MDB And Appoint A Special Prosecutor


Liquidate 1MDB And Appoint A Special Prosecutor
M. Bakri Musa


With former Prime Minister Najib, his wife, Deputy, and other former top officials now facing dozens of serious charges, the Mahathir Administration can no longer be accused of focusing only on the small fries in its fight against corruption. There is however, a price to be paid for that.

This 1MDB mess consumes an inordinate amount of attention and resources from the Administration to the detriment of its other responsibilities. I suggest liquidating 1MDB and appointing a special prosecutor (or extend the terms of the present one) to investigate and prosecute all matters pertaining to 1MDB. That should free up the government.

For all its frenetic activities and high profile arrests, no financial institution has as yet had its license yanked or anyone convicted. At least Singapore and Switzerland have shuttered a few banks and sanctioned the individuals involved. Singapore even jailed a few. America meanwhile has seized hundreds of millions of assets allegedly linked to 1MDB.

            1MDB is a humongous mess, with labyrinthine international tentacles stretching from Cayman Islands to London and New York. Its transactions flout the borders of legality through its multiplicity and complexity. Regulatory agencies have proven themselves woefully impotent.

Malaysia must get to the bottom of this and punish those culprits, and do so severely to deter others from even thinking about committing those same offences. If Malaysia succeeds in unraveling and exposing this grand robbery scheme, she would make a significant contribution towards making complex international financial dealings more transparent and thus less subject to corruption.

            Mahathir was wise in enlisting a distinguished private attorney to lead the prosecution. I hope that prosecutor would seek lawyers, accountants, and forensic experts from the private sector to help him. Bypass the tainted, incompetent civil service with its “Saya menunggu arahan” (I await directives) mindset.

Najib’s Attorney-General, the now disgraced Apandi Ali, had destroyed what little credibility and professionalism there was in the local public prosecutors’ office. Besides, many of those remaining were Najib’s enablers. They could sabotage the investigations. Indeed if not for their earlier collusion, or if they had been a wee bit professional or faithful to their oath of office, this boondoggle would not have happened in the first place. Najib is not that smart to have executed this massive heist on his own. He was smart only in recognizing and exploiting the fact that his ministers and top civil servants were dedak-dependent.

Beyond expanding the powers of the current special prosecutor to investigate all matters pertaining to 1MDB, Mahathir should also liquidate the company and its myriad subsidiaries and associated entities.

            A special prosecutor would be far more efficient and effective than a Royal Commission. With the former, charges could be brought in as soon as sufficient evidence is adduced. With the latter, we would have to wait for the full report, which could be months or years. With a special prosecutor, the investigations and interviews would be private. The evidence would be public only during a trial.

            I would livestream the trials and give running commentaries in Malay so kampung folks and others would be apprised of the scheming of their leaders and institutions. These crooked leaders have betrayed citizens’ trust in them. A public trial would expose them.

            Liquidating 1MDB would contain and minimize the financial and other liabilities. The trial would also be a splendid teaching moment, educating citizens on the associated massive “lost opportunity” costs.

            This colossal disaster did not arise out of the blue. The climate incubating it had long been nurtured. It began during Mahathir’s first tenure as Prime Minister. He cannot escape the blame and responsibility. There had been many mini 1MDBs in his time, from the London Tin debacle to the Bank Bumiputra flop. Because those were tolerated and the responsible individuals not punished (neigh, they were amply rewarded!), we have this current massive scandal.

However, were Mahathir to be successful in punishing those responsible for 1MDB, and introduce laws that would prevent future recurrences, he would have expiated to some extent his earlier sins. He has started that process just by getting rid of Najib. He should go further and ensure that Najib is thrown into the slammer for good.
            
            It is human to make mistakes. However, refusing to learn from them would be the depth of stupidity. Liquidating 1MDB and appointing a special prosecutor would be the first step in this much-needed learning process.

Sunday, October 21, 2018

Liberating The Malay Mind (Updated Edition 2018)



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Liberating The Malay Mind
LCCN - 2018910760
ISBN – 978-1726415965
       $19.50
398 pages; fully indexed. 
Available on Amazon.com and all major on-line outlets.


Liberating The Malay Mindanalyzes the perversity that despite Malaysia’s over sixty years of independence, with Malays in control of the government and other major levers of power, as well as granted special privileges to boot, our community still trails the others.

First published in January 2013, this updated edition covers the electoral upset of May 2018 that saw the long-entrenched UMNO and its Barisan coalition booted out of office. That monumental achievement would not have been possible without a segment, albeit only a small one, of the Malay electorate being freed from the indoctrination of UMNO leaders, and the sultans working in cahoots with them.

Non-Malays have long rejected UMNO though they find its leaders useful to cultivate for their power to dispense lucrative public contracts. Non-Malays also covet royal titles and other flattened bottle-cap chest decorations for their social and commercial values.

The vast majority of Malays meanwhile remain imprisoned underneath their coconut shell, shackled by feudalism and the attendant unbridled blind loyalty to leaders. They in turn abused that trust. Many still defend former Prime Minister Najib despite the boxes of cash hauled from his private residences, a scene associated only with drug kingpins. As for the sultans, Malays regard them as Islam’s pope, due unquestioned authority and obedience.

In short, the challenge remains huge for Malays, and thus Malaysia.

Special privileges have narcotized Malays, like opium to the Chinese of yore, making them oblivious of the harsh realities of the world. Now those privileges have become an existential issue. Tamper at your own risk!

Many, and not just non-Malays, have called for dispensing with race-based policies. However, if there are racial differences to such mundane matters as how we dress and what (or how) we eat, imagine the divergences and variations on substantive matters, as what we aspire to and value. We ignore those at our peril.

For another, those now much-maligned initiatives were remarkably effective during their first few decades. They transformed a rural, agrarian, and traditional Malay society to one with greater urban presence and increased participation in modern education and the private sector.

It is its later corruption and lack of refinement that have degenerated the program to its current massive entitlement scheme. It is this, not the underlying assumptions or objectives, that needs correction.

The greatest obstacle to this critical re-examination are Malay leaders. We cannot and should not expect ordinary Malays to give up their special privilege crutches when their sultans have their glittering golden ones.

Liberating The Malay Mindexamines Malay values and aspirations that are inimical to progress. Our “follow-the-leader” feudal mentality aside, there is our misguided interpretation of Islam and the failure of our institutions, in particular the schools.

This “frog underneaththe coconut shell” smugness prevents Malays from leveraging special privileges to enhance our competitiveness. Instead that initiative has degenerated into a false security blanket, or worse, an amulet for our ills. Toppling the shell in itself is no panacea. Unprepared, the wide open world would be far from exhilarating. Instead it would intimidate us, prompting us to retreat and find another shell.

Nonetheless this coconut shell must be toppled. Free flow of information, dispensing with oppressive laws, respect for due process, and strengthening weak institutions are proven instruments towards this end. Schools should treat the young as knives to be sharpened, not bins to be filled with dogmas. They should emphasize STEM, second language (preferably English), critical thinking, and communication skills.

Meanwhile the massive resources poured into state enterprises would be better diverted to enhancing Bumiputra human capital.

Malays must be disabused of such fanciful myths as Ketuanan Melayuand our privileged “sons (or daughters) of the soil” status. We waste precious time, effort and opportunities when we seek scapegoats and attribute our ills to globalization, pendatang, neo-colonization, and other phantom enemies.

Most of all, our singular failure is our inability to leverage special privileges to enhance our competitiveness

Sunday, October 07, 2018

Religious Barriers To malay Participation In Commerce

Religious Barriers To Malay Participation In Commerce
M. Bakri Musa
www.bakrimusa.com

Third of Four Parts

It is the supreme irony that Islam, a faith started by a trader, would today consider capitalism and trading “un-Islamic.” Islam and trading have always gone hand in hand. That was how the faith entered the Malay world.

This hostile turn began during colonization, not surprisingly, with our equating capitalism with colonialism and the West. It accelerated when Edward Said’s Orientalism led Muslim scholars to the fad of “Islamization of Knowledge” in the mistaken belief that there is a uniquely Islamic version of it. Again no surprise there as the vast new knowledge that emerged then (or now) came from the West.

Those scholars ignored this centrality of Islam. That is, all knowledge comes from Allah. As to why He chose to impart the insight on the concept of zero onto a Hindu, the secret of gun powder to a Chinese, and the causative agent of polio to a Jew is not for us to question but to learn and benefit. Early Muslims learned from and later added the body of knowledge of the ancient Greeks. And those Greeks were atheists and polytheists, the kafirof kafirsas it were!
A pernicious product of this Islamization fad is Islamic economics, with Islamic banking its most malignant manifestation. In his voluminous critique of socialism and capitalism, Iktisaduna(Our Economics), the Shiite Iraqi scholar Baqir al-Sadr tried vainly to pave a third choice, or what he thought to be one.

The consequence to Sadr’s thinking is that today millions of Muslims are paying unnecessarily more, in many cases considerably more, for their banking and other financing needs. The other is that the vast majority of Muslims, including those in his native oil-rich Iraq, are still trapped in abject poverty.

Meanwhile across the continent, Deng Xiaoping, no intellectual, was consumed not with finding a “third way” but with emancipating his people out of poverty. He adopted Western capitalism, tweaked its evident weaknesses, and labelled it “capitalism with Chinese characteristics.” Never mind that his version of capitalism had non-existent personal property rights or had massive state intervention in the marketplace. Nonetheless with that he lifted hundreds of millions of Chinese out of poverty in just one generation. That is unprecedented in human history. That remarkable success story is not over yet.

The essence of Deng’s strategy? Engaging his people in trade, including and especially with China’s hitherto archenemy, America, reminiscent of what Prophet Mohammad, s.a.w., did in early Medina. Deng’s other genius, no less monumental, was that he succeeded in persuading his people to adopt capitalism, a full 180-degree turn in belief! By contrast, for Muslims to adopt capitalism would be less daunting.

Deng’s acceptance of capitalism was remarkable for yet another reason. Like Muslims, the Chinese too had been humiliated by the West. Thus they could be excused had they rejected anything Western.

The biggest single stumbling block to Muslims’ acceptance of capitalism is ribaa. No other word, Arabic or in any other language, has caused so much misery to so many and for so long. Ribaais haram; the Koran and hadith said so in no uncertain terms. However, just because some semiliterate-in-English medieval scholars translated ribaaas interest is no reason for Muslims today to be trapped by that interpretation. Words change meaning with time, usage, and culture.

Borrowings during the prophet’s time were exclusively between individuals, and with rates that today would be considered extortionate. Failure to repay would consign you and your progenies to perpetual servitude. In contrast, with today’s capitalism loans are rarely between individuals but between them and banks or other institutions, and between corporations. Meanwhile debtors’ prisons went away in the 19thCentury. The worst penalty for a debtor today would be bankruptcy. It would be folly both conceptually and operationally to equate ribaa of the prophet’s time to today’s interest.

Muslim scholars make much ado about the equal sharing of risks between lender and borrower to be “Syariah-compliant.” To think that a borrower with a $100K mortgage from the billion-dollar-asset Maybank would be sharing the same or equal risk is laughable if not the height of stupidity. To the borrower, that loan is his entire savings; to Maybank, a minor ledger entry. Some equality!

A few years ago a Muslim couple had such a mortgage with an Islamic bank. Later when they wanted to pay it off, the Bank forced them to prepayallthe anticipated interests of the loan to maturity! Only with the wisdom of a non-Muslim judge in a civil court did the couple prevail. The deafening silence of Muslim jurists, scholars, bankers, and economists to this gross affront to simple justice, if not broad daylight robbery, was stunning. They still are silent.

To me, interest reflects and factors in the two universalities of life. One, a dollar (or dinar) today is worth more than one promisedtomorrow. The economist’s “time value of money” is part of that, quite apart from the fact that the money could depreciate in value through inflation and or devaluation.

Then consider this. When I borrow a dollar or a pot of rice, I deprive my lender of its use. So in lending, the lender is granting me his goodwill, in addition to and quite apart from the rice or dollar. Neither the Koran nor hadith considers lending to be a meritorious act; there is no command that we should lend to others. So when I return only what I have borrowed, I have not reciprocated the lender’s goodwill. To do that you have to add something extra. Interest can be construed as the lender returning the borrower’s kindheartedness in lending to him.

In the old village when we borrowed a pot of rice from the neighbor, on returning it, we would always include something extra, to reciprocate or express our appreciation of the neighbor’s goodwill. If nothing else, that would encourage the lender to continue lending in the future! Interest is thus goodwill monetized.

The other universality is that we are not all honorable, and that include borrowers. Some would renege on their debts. Interest could thus be viewed as the honest borrowers’ share to cover the cost of those irresponsible.

Credit is the vital air of the system of modern commerce. It has done more, a thousand times, to enrich nations, than all the mines of all the world, wrote Daniel Webster. Borrowing is the flip side of credit.

Islam is consistent with and supportive of the ideals and practices of capitalism. One certitude is this: Islam cannot be supportive of atheistic communism or its close cousin, socialism. The egalitarian ideals of socialism may appeal to Muslims and could be construed as Islamic. On closer reading, equality is not the ideal of Islam; indeed that would be against human nature. Allah in his wisdom has created us in all our diversities, with different skin colors, speaking different languages, and having diverse cultures. He has also endowed each of us with different talents and abilities.

Islam emphasizes justice, not equality. We cannot treat an orphan in the same or “equal” manner as the son of the privileged. That would be the height of injustice. There is no greater inequality, to paraphrase Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, than the equal treatment of the unequal.
It is a perversity andtragedy that no Muslim nation is in the top ten based on the “Islamicity Index.” In capitalist America, the poor and elderly get free healthcare . . . in the most expensive system! Finland has guaranteed minimum income.

The path to raising Malaysia’s (and thus Malays’) standard of living as well as increasing our Islamicity Index is to emulate Finland and New Zealand, not Iran or Saudi Arabia. Embrace capitalism. Be like the Mainland Chinese! Don’t bother with Islamizing economics, the banking system, or capitalism. Adopt, adapt, and imbue it with Islamic attributes. Commerce has been part of Islam since its inception. Hajj, Islam’s holiest time, is associated with intense commerce. In Malaysia, during Ramadan many Muslim traders coming out of the woodwork. Why not nurture that to be year round?

Why waste your effort trying to invent a third “pure” path?

Next:  Last of Four Parts:  Soft Barriers to Malay Participation In Commere

Based on the author’s book, Liberating The Malay Mind. Its updated and American edition will be released next month.

Sunday, September 30, 2018

Soft barrirs To Malay Participation In Commerce

Barriers To Malay Participation In Commerce
M. Bakri Musa
www.bakrimusa.com

Second of Four Parts

Soft barriers to Malay participation in commerce include our personal habits and expectations, as well as our social and cultural values. Those barriers may be soft but they are formidable. The others, being more definable as with our lack of skills, necessary infrastructures, and capital, are remediable.

Malay society has just emerged from rural, subsistence living. Transiting from an agrarian to the money economy is a transformational event, with the accompanying changes socially disruptive and personally dislocating. Those challenges are not unique unto Malay society; they burden all traditional ones.

The concept of money is alien in such societies. Money is equated with greed and unbridled materialism. To inquire of the monetary value of anything or service was tantamount to insulting its owner or provider. Money is also equated with greed and ostentation. The obscene examples set by Malay leaders like Najib and his wife Rosmah only exacerbate that perception.

Trading in traditional societies is essentially bartering. The worth of exchanging a few coconuts in return for fixing a leaky roof lies not with the monetary value of the goods or deeds, rather the goodwill generated, one villager helping another in time of need.

Imagine the difficulty such societies would have in adjusting to a money economy. If this were to be imposed precipitously and from the outside, as with colonialism, free-flow immigration, or unrestrained globalization, the problems would be compounded.

Often such a society would react in one of two ways. It either withdraws, not wanting anything to do with this alien value system, or else embraces it blindly and uncritically, taking it to the obscene limits.
The first is seen with many Muslim countries, North American natives, and today’s Myanmar. They continue to pay the terrible price–economic stagnation, wasted opportunities, and worst of all lost hope for their people.

With the second, there would be the adoption of only the superficialities and excesses, as in immediate post-Mao China. In mature capitalistic societies there are effective taxation systems with redistributionist elements, an adequate social safety net, and where philanthropy is an honored tradition.

In China you are considered stupid if you do not cheat on your taxes. As for a safety net, don’t depend on other than your kin. As for charity, when Warren Buffet and Bill Gates, two billionaires known for their charitable deeds as much as capitalistic instincts, visited China to interest its newly rich in philanthropy, they were greeted with silence if not derision.

It is the rare society that gets it right immediately. For most, the hope is that they would learn and adapt lest those excesses lead to gross inequities and instability. Even in the West today, the major challenge is not economic development rather inequities.

Today’s leaders of China are aware of the negative consequences to the excesses of its politburo members; hence their harsh and gruesome remedies, as with public executions. There is as yet no comparable abhorrence in Malay society to the corruption and flamboyance of its elite. Despite the boxes of cold cash hauled from Najib’s personal residences, many still defend him. The sultans continue indulging in obscene luxuries, on state expense of course. Najib keeps smiling, and Malays cheer him, as he is being hauled to court facing yet another corruption charge. Tiada maruah! (Amoral!)

To change that cultural value remains Malay society’s biggest challenge.
Only not too long ago Malay society was deep in its subsistencekampungmode where gotong-royong(communal effort) in the barn-raising tradition of the Old West was the norm. Trading of goods and services using money were alien concepts; you helped each other, with no financial considerations.

With independence, Malays were thrown into the money economy precipitously, without any transition or guidance. The immigrants by default and out of necessity had to adapt during colonial rule to the money economy in order to survive. They had no social or physical support system a lathe kampung. This early entry into the money economy conferred significant advantages, a fact not appreciated by Malays as we wallow in our collective self-blame lament. The immigrants’ success, whether in Malaysia or America, owes much to this.

No surprise then that Malays at the dawn of our country’s independence were staunch anti-capitalists. To Malays then, the termkaum kapitalis(capitalist hordes) was derogatory and contemptible, synonymous withkaum kolonialist. That changed with independence when UMNO leaders accumulated untold wealth by becoming capitalists, even if only the crony or ersatz variety.

As in early post-Mao China, Malays absorbed only the primitive or animalistic form of capitalism, its raw exploitative version, its quick-bucks and short-term mindset. Also like China, corruption, collusion, and rent-seeking activities soon became the norm. It is not a surprise that there is no public outcry to the ruthlessness with which the Chinese dealt with their corrupt officials.

With the dearth of successful Malay businessmen and entrepreneurs, one would expect the few successful ones to be deified, or at least be viewed as modern heroes, as in America and the West generally. Far from that; instead they are reviled.

The reason is obvious. In America one could without difficulty discern how Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos get their wealth (by revolutionizing personal computing and shopping respectively). In contrast, the only commonality among successful Malay businessmen is their close association with the political elite. One would be hard pressed to even identify their companies!

These crony and ersatz capitalists in our midst are the ones who drive out the genuine variety.

If those are not formidable enough barriers, then there is the other significant soft obstacle to Malay entry into commerce–our religion, or to be more accurate, our myopic interpretation of it.

Next:  Third of Four Parts:  Religious Barriers

Based on the author’s book, Liberating The Malay Mind. Its updated and American edition will be released next month.

Sunday, September 23, 2018

Barriers To Malay Engagement In Commerce

Barriers To Malay Engagement In Commerce
M. Bakri Musa
www.bakrimusa.com

First of Four Parts

The positive impact on the economy aside, encouraging members of a society to engage in trade and commerce is also the best and quickest way to change their attitude to and relationship with others, both within and beyond that society. Malaysia should leverage this insight.

Specifically for Malays, engaging in commerce would make us view others less as pendatangs out to grab Tanah Melayu (Malay Land) from us but more as potential clients, partners, and customers. That could only enhance race relations. We would also blunt the sharp edges between “them” and “us.” This by far is the most consequential impact of capitalism, quite apart from our contributing to the economy.

            When Prophet Muhammad, s.a.w., set up his community in Medina, the first thing he did was build public marketplaces and trading areas. He did not charge the community as he wanted to encourage them to partake in commerce and thus interact with each other. That was the best and quickest way to integrate the city’s diverse population, between the immigrant pendatangMeccan Muslims (Muhajiruns) and the host (Ansars), as well as between Muslims and non-Muslims (Jews, Christians, and pagan Arabs).

            Note, the Prophet did notbuild ornate mosques to showcase the new faith. Muslims today ignore this implicit important message. Don’t build mosques, focus on the community first.

     Trade and commerce are engines of economic growth, and those in turn bring more than just material comforts. As Harvard’s Benjamin Friedman noted in his The Moral Consequences of Economic Growth, economic growth brings with it greater tolerance of and generosity to the disadvantaged. And both are core Islamic values.

Capitalism does not differentiate between race, national origin, political persuasion, or religious belief. A ringgit is a ringgit, whether it comes from your own kind or foreigners, Muslims or non-Muslims.

Prospects for world peace are enhanced considerably now that both China and America are each other’s biggest trading partners, the current tariff tit-for-tat between the two notwithstanding. Likewise, I am less worried about war between China and Taiwan now that cross-strait commerce has boomed into the hundreds of billions (US dollars) as compared to single digits back in the early 1990s.

The many early irritants between Singapore and Malaysia soon after separation did not escalate because of strong existing trade and financial ties between the two. In contrast, Malaysia went to war with Indonesia in the 1960s, a fellow serumpun (“same root”) state, over much less consequential if not silly reasons. There were no other ties, trade or otherwise, safe for emotions to bind the two. That remains true today. Commercial transactions between the two remain meager–Indonesian maids in Malaysia repatriating their poverty-level pay.

Malay villagers of yore did not boycott the kampung hawkers because they were Chinese. Those villagers would if they were being cheated or sold substandard goods.

This is a long preamble to my central thesis, that is, the answer to Malaysia’s perennial race problem lies not with beating up the drums of nationalism, a common language, or single-stream school, but to encourage Malay engagement in trade and commerce.

The barriers to this are both “soft” as well as “hard.” The former is more formidable and includes our personal habits and expectations, as well as our social and cultural values. The hard ones by contrast, as with our lack of skills, know how, necessary infrastructures, and capital are readily remediable.

Based on the author’s book, Liberating The Malay Mind. Its updated and American edition will be released next month.

Next  Part Two of Four Parts:   Soft And Hard Barriers