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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, June 01, 2008

Kosovo's Independence and Pak Lah's Impotence


[First appeared as my column Seeing It My Way in Malaysiakinini.com on February 24, 2008.]

The inexplicable and highly noticeable silence of the Organization of Islamic Conference to Kosovo’s declaration of independence on February 17 reflects the organization’s irrelevance in contemporary world affairs. It also reflects the impotence and incompetence of its leader, Abdullah Badawi. Not that we need yet another demonstration of those glaring deficiencies!

As an association of Islamic political entities, OIC should be concerned and engaged with Kosovo. This after all is an organization that counted the Palestinian Liberation Authority as its member even before there was a Palestinian state. More importantly, considering what the people of Kosovo suffered while under the rule of the dominant Serbs who were intent on “ethnic cleansing,” international organizations like the OIC should take the lead in liberating Kosovo.

While secular (and non-Islamic) Western states like America and the EU are supportive of Kosovo’s independence, the OIC chooses to remain silent, an irony that defies my comprehension. OIC’s silence and non-involvement means only one thing: It condones or at least remains blind to the demonstrated atrocities of the Serbs.

OIC specifically and the world generally should support Kosovo’s independence even if the Serbs were Muslims and the Kosovans, Christians. Injustices and tyrannies recognize no religion or race; they should be universally condemned regardless of the race or religion of the oppressors and victims.

The largest Muslim country, Indonesia, joins China and Russia in opposing Kosovo’s declaration of independence. They do so not on the merits or demerits of the issue rather because of their own fear of secessionist movements within their borders. They are assessing Kosovo based on their own selfish political considerations without any regard to the greater overriding humanitarian issues. China is burdened by problems in Tibet and elsewhere; Indonesia still has unresolved matters in Aceh.

Kosovo is not the only glaring blind spot for OIC. This organization under Abdullah Badawi’s leadership is deaf to the crying tragedies plaguing the Muslim world. From the continuing humanitarian catastrophe in Darfur to the endless ravages of war in Afghanistan and Iraq, OIC’s silence is reprehensible and morally indefensible. It goes contrary to everything our Holy Quran holds supreme, and to the teachings of our Prophet Muhammad, s.a.w.

It is yet another irony lost on the greater Muslim world that most of the charitable and humanitarian relief works undertaken in Darfur and elsewhere in the Muslim world are being done by Western non-governmental entities.

The Appropriate Lessons from the Balkans

Since Tito’s death in 1980, the old Yugoslav Republic had been fractured, violently and repeatedly. Countries like China and Indonesia that oppose Kosovo’s independence are drawing the wrong lessons from the Balkans.

Ethnic, religious, language, and cultural differences are not unique to the Balkans. Today as a result of globalization, as well as previous mass migrations as a consequence of wars and economic dislocations, few countries have culturally or racially homogenous populations. Such diversities are fast becoming the global norm.

States that refuse or have yet to accept this reality are sitting on a political time bomb. They are the Yugoslavias of the future, their fate sealed in inevitable brutal Balkanization.

Those countries that tolerate – and merely tolerate – the diversity within their midst will survive, but merely survive. Only the few enlightened nations whose wise leaders embrace this new reality of plurality and leverage it as an invaluable asset will thrive, and thrive well in this increasingly globalized world.

The lesson from the Balkans is not to try to homogenize or “purify” your society. The more efficient and disciplined Germans tried it under Hitler, and they paid a horrific price on themselves as well as on their victims. Decades later and not far away, Milosevic and his band of bearded thugs too tried it in their own barbaric ways.

In contrast to the old Yugoslavia, America and Canada have many minority groups, including aboriginal natives who have yet to join the economic mainstream. America counts many prominent minorities among its elite. Indeed America is currently looking to vote for its first black president. That aside, visit Washington, DC, and you see many black and brown faces in Congress as well as in the permanent establishment. There is no secessionist sentiment in predominantly black Washington, DC, or the Virgin Islands. Indeed, Hispanic Puerto Rico is clamoring to be the 51st state of the union.

Likewise, Canada was once afflicted with a secessionist movement in its predominantly French province of Quebec. Today with the whole of Canada embracing bilingualism and biculturalism, as well as economic and other developments in Quebec, the once powerful Parti Quebecois that advocated for Quebec’s separation from the rest of Canada, is now an irrelevant force.

Then consider Canada’s aboriginal populations. While Australia has merely apologized for the maltreatment of its first citizens, Canada has gone further. It has granted greater autonomy to its northern territories so that now Canada has legislative and other bodies run almost entirely by the native population. Rest assured that they have no desire to separate; they feel very much a part of greater Canada. They are also very proud of that fact.

Yugoslavia was once united and peaceful under Tito’s brand of communism. With the fall of communism and the emergence of democracy, the country quickly disintegrated. Milosevic may have given democracy a bad rap; more accurate however is that he and many other despotic leaders are merely wrapping themselves under the cloak of democracy and freedom. They view democracy not as a system that would guarantee freedom for their people rather as a license to inflict the tyranny of the majority upon the hapless minority. In short, their brand of democracy is nothing more than a pseudo sophisticated mob rule. Mob rule is still mob rule regardless whether it has been sanitized through the ballot box.

As per the Quran, our freedom is our God-given right. It is definitely not the gift from some enlightened colonialists or our benevolent leaders. It is ours to begin with, our inherent rights. In a democracy we willingly give part of that up to the state for the common good, and only for the common good. We certainly do not give up our freedom so our leaders could oppress us. Only through freedom could humans come together. We cannot be coerced to come together; Tito’s success was only a mirage.

Malaysia is a plural society. The relevant lesson from the Balkans is that we should embrace and leverage our diversities to our common advantage. Malaysia also has much in common with other plural societies like America and Canada. There is much that Malaysians can learn from these two countries. I just hope that Malaysia – its people and leaders – would draw the right lessons from the Balkans as well as from America and Canada.

It is already too late to demand this of our present generation of leaders as exemplified by Abdullah Badawi. However with the many new young faces as candidates from all parties in the upcoming general election, it is appropriate for us to ask them the lessons they have learned from Kosovo. Even if they were to respond that they have never heard of Kosovo or the Balkans, that in itself would be highly revealing.

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