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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, May 18, 2008

Kampong Don Quixotes And their Enemies

M. Bakri Musa


Leaders of Kongress Permuafakatan Melayu (Malay Solidarity Congress) are obsessed with fighting imagined enemies of so-called Ketuanan Melayu. These kampong Don Quixotes are consumed with slaying foes that exist only in their florid imaginations. Like the deluded knight-errant de La Mancha, these leaders are oblivious to the fact that the world mocks them with undisguised contempt.

It saddens me that this Congress was led by Ismail Hussein and Osman Bakar, intellectual giants for whom I have the greatest respect. Ismail was the long-time head of the Malay Studies Department at the University of Malaya, while Osman was a former professor at Georgetown University.

It seems that every few years the Malay elite, as well as those who think that they belong there, go into spasms of agony and feel compelled to gather and pontificate on what ills our people.

The pattern is also predictable: a flood of shrill press releases, followed by an elaborate congress officiated by some “has-been” leaders, and the ensuing slew of high-minded resolutions calling on the government to “do something!” The hue and cry would persist for a few weeks, at most.

A few months later and all would be forgotten. Give a few more years and those same issues would again be resurrected, and the whole pattern repeated.

A few years ago there was the Badan Tindakan Melayu (Malay Action Front) led by Ghaffar Baba, after he lost his chance to be the country’s number one. A few years prior to that, there was the Forum of Malay Professionals.

Not-So-Hidden Hands

This latest congress was sponsored by GAPENA, the Malay acronym for the National Writers Association. Despite its pretentious “national” label, GAPENA is essentially a Malay entity.

Writing is not exactly a well-paying profession, more so for Malay writers. So for GAPENA to sponsor this event at an upscale facility and pay for the accommodations of the attendees must mean that it had a sugar daddy. Even the Bar Council, the body for a more lucrative profession, depended on the government to pay for its recent gala dinner for Prime Minister Abdullah and the fired judges.

Reading the papers presented and resolutions adopted, I am persuaded by the wisdom, “He who pays the piper calls the tune.” It is obvious who funds these pipers at the Congress. The papers and resolutions were so shamelessly pro-UMNO that they could have been ghost written by its operatives.

The congress attracted over 200 Malay NGOs. Many were sham organizations created overnight so their “president” and “secretary” could enjoy a three-day paid syok sendiri (self indulgence) stay in Johore Baru.

The more than two dozen resolutions adopted dealt with Islam, politics, education, as well as Malay language and culture, among others. These folks obviously confused the problems of Malays with those of UMNO. Or perhaps this was a clumsy attempt by UMNO to use politically naïve and all-too-willing academics to advance its cause.

The participants obviously did not ponder a simple thought. If after over five decades of UMNO rule the “Malay problem” is getting worse (as this congress tried to impress upon us), would it not make sense now to let others take over?

This Congress also decided to set up a permanent secretariate, Majlis Muafakat Melayu Malaysia (4M) – Malay Solidarity Council of Malaysia. They initially decided to form “3M” without the “Malaysia,” but seeing that the famous trademark was already taken, they belatedly added the fourth “M.” In so doing they also revealed their insularity, for the problems afflicting us are also shared by others in the greater Malay world.

Their amateurism again showed when they failed to flesh out important details like how the secretariate would be funded.

My Resolutions San Congress

Malays do not have to create phantom enemies out there; our problems are real, and right in front of and within us. Peruse the daily headlines of abandoned babies and rampaging Mat Rempits, as well as the statistics on child and spousal abuses, school dropout rates, and other socioeconomic indices.

Besides, nobody is suggesting doing away with Malay sultans, language, or culture. Abolishing Malay special privileges – the mortal and eternal fear of these folks – would require a constitutional amendment. The votes are just not there, now or in the future.

These congresses serve only to divert our attention; they offer no thoughtful solutions. For contrast, I offer my own resolutions, san an expensive elaborate congress.

Resolution # 1 Education: On the evening of every school day, I would turn off the television set, help my children with their schoolwork, and read to them at bedtime. I would attend parent-teachers’ conferences and other school events. On special occasions like Hari Rayas, I would give gifts of books.

The cost of my proposition ranges from zero (bedtime reading) to modest (books); the benefits, immense and everlasting.

Resolution #2 Islam: I would teach my children the tenets of Islam. The central message of our faith is, “Command good, and forbid evil!” The rest is commentary. I would have them strive to live, and not merely recite, the words of the Quran.

Before undertaking a pilgrimage, I would first make sure that my children’s education was taken care of, my debts paid, and my old age provided for so I would not be a burden to others. I would not sell my land to fund my pilgrimage.

Instead of undertaking an umrah or another pilgrimage, I would donate the funds to an orphanage. I do not know whether Allah would consider this to be more meritorious, but I am certain those orphans would benefit greatly.

Resolution #3 Halal and Haram: I will teach my children to follow the injuctions of the Quran, to discern halal from haram. For example, if they get paid a dollar, they should give three dollars worth of work; one dollar to cover the salary, another for the overhead, and the third for the employer’s profit. Anything less and they would be earning gaji buta (“blind salary”), and that is haram. Corruption is also haram, and so too breach of faith and cheating your customers.

Resolution #4 Economy: To be economically successful we must emulate those who are. Meaning, we have to save and invest, individually and as a society. When we spend, we have to be mindul of its opportunity cost and earning equivalent. Would it be better to spend RM50,000 on your daughter’s ostentatious wedding or on a payment towards her first house? At a societal level, is it better to spend the billions of Wang Ehsan to host the Monsoon Cup or build a university? That’s opportunity cost, or foregone opportunities.

As you smoke that expensive Cuban cigar in a posh restaurant, ponder how many days a villager would have to work to pay for it. As most high-flying Malays today are only a generation removed from the grinding poverty of the kampong, that thought ought to restrain their flamboyance. This earning equivalent is also what bankers consider before giving out loans, as for example, mortgage payments not exceeding a third of your income. That is being prudent. It will also save you from the lethal clutches of the Ah Longs.

My resolutions do not require a permanent secretariate or a massive bureaucracy; each of us can implement them. My resolutions would also go a long way in ameliorating the “Malay problem,” and certainly more useful than those hifalutin ideas thrown about at this and previous congresses.

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