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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, February 12, 2006

On The Twilight of A Just World

Di Ambang Sebuah Dunia Yang Adil
Selected Essays of Kassim Ahmad
Published by Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia Press, 2006

Foreword by M. Bakri Musa


(Part Two of Two Parts)

I thoroughly enjoy reading Kassim’s essays; I have learned so much both when I agree as well as when I disagree with him. It would be unfair for me to single out my favorites in this collection.

Kassim’s view on Islam is closer to what I profess. In particular, I share his concerns and dismay over the increasing assertiveness and overreaching of ulama in contemporary Muslim societies, Malaysia included. The Islamic establishment in many Muslim countries today is degenerating into the pattern of Orthodox Christianity of Medieval Europe.

The excesses of the clergy class were the undoing of the Catholic Church (helped no doubt by the invention of the printing press and growth of the humanist movement). The excesses of the ulama class today will have the same outcome, as we have seen in Iran and Taliban Afghanistan. The ubiquitous Internet and the spread of mass education will grease the slide.

The religious establishment is working in cahoots with the political authorities in tightening their grip over the ummah (community). The instruments of Islam are increasingly being used not to emancipate the citizens but to oppress them. Friday sermons, that most sacred of our faith’s rituals, have degenerated into yet another propaganda medium for the state. Islam is being abused to justify denying women their rights to vote, to an education, and to their freedom. The height of this perversion of our great faith is seen in Saudi Arabia where women are not allowed to vote, drive a car, or be out of their homes unless accompanied by their husbands. All these in the name of “protecting” the womenfolk! Next door in Iran, with the Mullahs in charge, blatant abuses of basic human rights occur with impunity.
The Mullahs and their likes have conveniently framed the discourse in Islam such that criticizing them is tantamount to criticizing the faith. This is the poison (fitnah) the religious establishment is throwing at Kassim. I am appalled at how freely they throw around such contemptuous labels like murtad (apostasy) and kafir (infidel).
It is a tribute to Kassim’s inner strength and conviction that he is not silenced by such treatment. He has seen and experienced worse.

The powerful (religious and secular) would not indulge in their excesses without the complicity of others, in particular the intellectuals and commentators. It is this lack of effective checks and balances that undermines our nation. Kassim’s plaintive plea to the country’s editors and journalists in to “utter only the truth” (Katakan Yang Benar!) was written more in sorrow, less in anger.

Kassim has every right to be angry at his country. That he is not is a tribute to the man’s basic humanity and inner sense of dignity.
His forthrightness landed him in jail once, courtesy of the intrinsically “un-Islamic” Internal Security Act that permits incarceration without trial. After his release, he wrote his Universiti Kedua (Second University). It makes for painful reading. If I have my way, I would make it mandatory reading for all ministers and civil servants responsible for that inhuman statute.

My political persuasion could not be more different from Kassim; he is a staunch socialist while I am a committed capitalist. To me capitalism has uplifted the fate and living conditions of the most number of humans. Through capitalism, literally hundreds of millions of Chinese have been freed from the clutches of poverty. Yes there are excesses and imperfections with the system; it is after all the creation of mortals, not of God. Many are diligently working towards correcting its imperfections and enhancing its effectiveness. The capitalism of today is far more humane and effective than the raw form that existed during Charles Dickens’ time. The capitalism of tomorrow will be far more fair and superior.
Kassim views those imperfections and excesses as integral to the system; they cannot be separated away. To him, capitalism is inherently evil, exploitative, and destructive.

He extols the virtues and ideals of socialism. Yes, they are laudable; I share them too. Unfortunately they are just that - ideals. No one has yet been able to translate them into a workable and practical system. The collapse of the Soviet system is a tragic reminder of this flawed system. China avoids the fate of the Soviet Empire by “modifying” its socialism. Practically it is capitalism in all but label.

Socialism would more likely succeed if humans were saints, or angels.
It is Kassim’s political views that landed him in trouble with the authorities. They could not discern the difference between communism, which Kassim passionately abhors not least for its atheistic foundation, and socialism, which espouses social justice.
True to form, Kassim is not content with the status quo. Many of his essays explore paths for complementing the ideals of socialism with the pragmatism of capitalism. Kassim’s version of the so-called “Third Way” would be based on and be consistent with morals and ethics of Islam as revealed in the Holy Quran. That is what I find exciting and promising.

In his New Year’s speech welcoming 2006, Prime Minister Abdullah exhorts Malaysians to work with him and the government to solve the nation’s problems. This patriot Kassim has done his part with these and other contributions. I only wish that those in power would heed his words.

It is a reflection of the times in Malaysia today that an establishment publisher, Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia Press, is publishing this volume. There was a time in the not too distant past when many editors would shy away from associating with Kassim. Consequently, some of the essays published here have previously appeared only in foreign publications. I congratulate UKM Press for undertaking to issue this volume. Its parent institution had earlier recognized Kassim Ahmad by conferring upon him an honorary doctorate in letters. It is good when a premier institution honors a premier intellect.

In all these Kassim has remain the same; what has changed, and for the better, is our society. It is now willing to embrace ideas beyond the accepted ones. More importantly, we are now willing and brave enough to ask questions that previously we would not have dared think about. We, individually and as a nation, owe Kassim a huge debt of gratitude for nurturing the Hang Jebat in all of us. That he is successful rekindles my optimism in our people and nation.

M. Bakri Musa
Morgan Hill, CA
January 2006

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