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M. Bakri Musa

Seeing Malaysia My Way

My Photo
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, September 09, 2009

Towards A Competitive Malaysia #120

Chapter 18: Beacon for the Malay World

Malays inhabit the Malay Archipelago and beyond; to the west as far as South Africa, east the Taiwanese islands, north Cambodia, and south the Christmas Islands. Those are the Malays of the anthropologist, our commonality being our genes. Through the quirks of history, most Malays are Muslims, but there are significant numbers who are Christians (from the staunchly Catholic Filipinos to the Protestant tribes of Sumatra), as well as Hindus (the Balinese).

It is a curse on the power of religion that Malays of different faith share minimal sense of kinship. In America I am regularly mistaken for a Filipino; strangely, I share minimal sense of bonding with them. The colonialists (the British for me, Spanish and Americans for the Filipinos) and missionaries (Muslim traders for me and Catholic priests for the Filipinos) succeeded in severing long standing biological and cultural ties. Not only do Malays of different faith lack bonds of kinship despite our common biological heritage, we have definite antagonisms towards one another. Each group feels that the other has been “misled,” and each feels compelled to “correct” the wayward ways of their brethren.

The only difference between Muslim Filipinos in Mindanao and their Catholic kin elsewhere in that republic is their faith. Stripped of the crucifix hanging from their necklace, you could not tell apart the Catholic Filipinos from their Muslim compatriots. Stripped of their pants, their difference would be exposed, at least for the men (Muslims being circumcised). Yet that did not stop them from massacring each other. Their hatred for each other is on the same scale Jewish Israelis have for Palestinian Muslims. Muslim Malays show greater bonding with and affinity for the ethnically alien Arabs than we do for our Christian or Hindu brethrens. Islam proves a stronger bond.

To the political establishment and by statute, you are Malay if you are a Muslim, speak Malay, and habitually practice the Malay culture. Left unstated is the place of domicile. A Bugis from Sumatra or a Chiam from Cambodia could migrate into Malaysia, and if he speaks Malay (his mother tongue anyway), professes to be a Muslim (his faith anyway), and practices his culture (which is no different from Malaysian Malay culture), then he is considered a Malay and would enjoy all the special privileges accorded to Malays in Malaysia. As Usman Awang ruefully noted in his widely acclaimed and frequently recited poem, Melayu (The Malays), the Javanese and Bugis, as well as the Jakuns and Sakais, together with the Arabs and Pakistanis are all considered Malays. Even a recent convert, after he is properly circumcised, of course!1

The resentment of non-Malays to this legal quirk is understandable. Before they go ballistic and cry discrimination, non-Malays should remember that this is the norm in many parts of the civilized world. You could be a third generation Korean in Japan, but a recent ethnic Japanese arriving from Peru would enjoy more privileges than you would. Similarly, an ethnic German who had lived for generations in Poland would immediately become a “real” German on immigrating into Germany. The principle of jus soli (right of territory—you are the citizen of your place of birth) is practiced by only a few states, notably France and United States. Others do not recognize this, opting instead for jus sanguinis (right based on blood or heritage).

To put the matter into local perspective, Malaysian Chinese moving to China today (not that many would choose that option) would immediately enjoy all the privileges that currently would be denied to the Uighurs who had lived in China since time immemorial. Those Uighurs would not dare complain; they learned through bitter experience not to!

Malaysia thus has good company for its policy.

The Indonesians constitute the largest group of the Malay race, followed by Malays in Malaysia, then Southern Thailand, the Mindanao provinces of the Philippines, and smaller numbers in Singapore, Brunei, and elsewhere. The Malay-speaking world is thus nearly a quarter billion people.

Numbers by themselves matter little, rather economic and market power. There are hundreds of millions of Africans, but their influence and power globally are nowhere comparable to the 50 million Germans. The combined GDP of Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei is nearly half a trillion dollars (US$500 billion)—substantial.2 This figure overstates the Malay contribution as a significant chunk of Malaysia’s GDP is the product of non-Malays. On the other hand, the figure does not factor in the contributions of the Malays in Singapore, Thailand, and Mindanao.

From the perspective of economic, educational, and other achievements, Malaysian Malays lead the group. They must therefore assume the mantle of leadership for the greater Malay world. If Malaysian Malays were to fumble, then Hang Tuah’s rallying cry that Malays shall never disappear from this earth would forever remain forlorn.

By right the Indonesians should be the natural leader. Indonesia achieved its independence a decade earlier than Malaysia, and thus had a head start. It is also considerably larger and thus potentially has more talent. Unfortunately that poor wretched nation can hardly keep itself together, much less be a leader. Malaysian Malays still refer deferentially to the Indonesians as the older, supposedly wiser, and more experienced brother, the beloved Abang who could do no wrong. Seeing the sorry track record of this struggling and failing elder brother, increasingly the younger sibling is ignoring though still respectful of him.

During the 1960s, Malaysia pushed for the exclusive use of Malay language in its schools and universities. When many expressed reservations because of the shortage of teachers and textbooks, champions of Malay language blithely dismissed those concerns and suggested recruiting Indonesian teachers and using their textbooks. Had those nationalists scrutinized the Indonesian quality, they would not have been as enthusiastic.

With that sorry experience and many others, Malaysians now are less likely to cite Indonesia as an exemplary model. Still, the old Malay culture of deferring to those older dies hard.

Next: Malaysian Malays’ Competitiveness


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Doc,

You should read a book, "Ahlul Bait Rasullullah saw dan Kesultanan Melayu".

A very good book, high in historical facts and most importantly, it has an answer to the malaise that has infested the malayus. Try get one and read. Worth it!

Thank You

anonymous@org-lama@budak ma-layu@The MIND!!!

6:08 PM  
Anonymous Miguel said...

"Stripped of their pants, their difference would be exposed, at least for the men (Muslims being circumcised)."

- Before you write something racist moron, try a little more research. Filipino Catholics are circumcised and being uncircumcised IS a source of stigma. IGNORANT.

Coming from a Catholic Filipino who is also circumcised himself.

12:31 AM  

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