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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 20, 2010

Melayu Bangkit, Cerdek, and Celek

Melayu Bangkit, Cerdek, And Celek!
(Malays Awake, Smart, and Eyes Open!)
M. Bakri Musa


It is commendable that Gertak, the Malay NGO, would have as its mission Melayu Bangkit (to awaken Malays). It should go further and ensure that we Malays are also cerdek (smart), and celek! (eyes wide open!) That would ensure that we would not be forever pelek (puzzled), unable to comprehend events around us and be left behind.

It is not enough for Malays to be awake, for if we still keep our eyes closed (even if we close only one eye!), then we might as well go back to sleep. At least then we could benefit from its recuperative powers. And if we are awake and have our eyes wide open but we remain dumb (not cerdek), that would be no improvement either.

Once we are bangkit, cerdik and celek, only then would Ketuanan Melayu be a reality, and not as now, merely a hollow slogan. Then Article 153 of our constitution would no longer be contentious as it would be of interest only to historians, as its provisions would have become irrelevant.

Now that would be a worthy goal! At least one worth shouting about!


Predictable Behavior

The Melayu Bangkit organizers’ choice of the keynote speaker at their “massive” rally in Kuala Trengganu on June 14, 2010 was revealing. If Mahathir could not awaken Malays when he ruled the country for 22 years and had all the powers of the state at his disposal, there is little hope that he could do so now when he is so much older and without power, especially the power to bestow favors.

The behaviors of those leaders were predictable, culturally. They hewed closely to our aphorism, Bila hilang aleh ka pangkal (When you are lost, revert to the source).

Malays today are at a crossroad; we are lost. However, instead of bravely assessing the choices and moving forward on a course that would best meet those challenges, we have retreated in the hope of reaching the starting point and beginning afresh. That is, to reboot, in computer language.

Alas there is no reboot or reset button. What we should do instead is extract the wisdom of our culture that had stood us well in our daily kampong life and apply that to our current predicament. Those pithy, catchy sayings are just that; they do not help us comprehend our problems, much less solve them.

If we reflect on our days back in the belukar (jungle), when we were lost we would move on, hacking the path forward as best as we could determine. There was no turning back for we knew that the path back would have been overgrown. We would just as likely to get lost in going back as in going forward.

By choosing Mahathir, Gertak leaders were going back. They were clearly counting on him to be the big draw. Just as obvious, they did not have the confidence in the pulling power of their own ideals and mission.

They were half right. They were wrong in thinking that Mahathir would bring in the crowd, but they were right in that they could not sell their ideas, not even in the heartland of Malays.

There are two ways at looking at the poor attendance. One is that Malays were still tidor (asleep), literally, what with the World Cup soccer series going on. If we were not asleep literally, then perhaps we were figuratively. After all it was not that too long ago when we were being led by that sultan of slumber, Abdullah Badawi. Perhaps we have not yet awakened to the fact that the nation now has a new leader. Or it could be that our new leader is no different from the old sleepy head he replaced.

To me, the low attendance was due to more practical reasons. It was a Monday, a working day, and those Malays, like other Malaysians, were busy working. What with the government withdrawing subsidies for such essentials as sugar and cooking oil, Malaysians have to work doubly hard. They do not have time much less inclination to listen to frustrated politicians ventilating. The rakyats are fed up with hot and foul air; the country is sweltering and fetid enough already. Besides, they have heard those promises before.

To the organizers however, Monday is no different from any other day. Being from the rent-seeking class, they do not have to work and thus have plenty of time for berseminar and berkongress.

Contrary to the perception of those Melayu Bangkit boys, we Malays have not been asleep. We have been alert and awake, with our eyes wide open. It is just that we do not like what we have been hearing or seeing.

Mahathir must have an inflated sense of his influence post-retirement, especially after his success in bringing down his successor. I do give him credit in breaking down our taboo of criticizing leaders. However, before he crows or claims credit for Abdullah’s downfall, we need to remind Mahathir that Abdullah was no great trophy. To claim credit would be akin to the weekend hunter bragging of his shooting prowess on bringing down a lame caged kancil (mouse deer). Abdullah would have stumbled anyway, on his own lameness.

It was pathetic to see Mahathir frittering away his still considerable reservoir of goodwill, and soiling the prestige of his former office by associating with the lunatic fringe of Malay extremists and losers. Surely it would not be too difficult for him to find a more select audience to exercise his intellectual and other faculties.

It was also disappointing to see a former prime minister and once the leader of all Malaysians indulging in the same old tired “us” versus “them” rhetoric. Mahathir lamented that while Malays constitute the majority, our political power is divided, with Malays now also supporting PAS and Keadilan. Yes, there was a time when UMNO and Malays were synonymous. What did we get for that? An arrogant, rent-seeking class – the UMNOPutras – grown glutton on the nation’s riches which they think belong to them, and only to them. They are the ones now presuming to “lead” us.

These are not the leaders who will take us to the Promised Land. Judging from the abysmal attendance at the rally, the average Malay is also very much aware of that.


Granting Us Our Merdeka

If these leaders are truly interested in awakening and liberating Malays, in short, granting us our merdeka, then I suggest they focus on two critical areas: education and information.

Good education means equipping us with the necessary language and mathematical skills, as well as the capacity for critical thinking. Make us cerdek! Giving good education is like waking us up (bangkit) and then lighting the pelita (candle). With us now wide awake, the candle would lift the darkness, and with our eyes wide open (celek), we could then find our way out.

You can tell much about a society and predict its future by looking at the schools. When I look at our national schools, especially those in rural areas catering to Malays, I need not bother with the national statistics to tell me about the fate of our people. Yet in those “kongresses” I hear little on how to improve our schools or enhance the educational achievements of our people.

Instead what are often recommended would result in the closing of Malay minds, as with discouraging our young from learning English, deeming it to be the language of oppressors.

Superior education alone is not sufficient, for if we close the world on our people we would succeed only in creating the worse possible combination: a mass of highly educated but deeply frustrated citizens. That would not be good for the ruler or the ruled.

Removing censorship would go a long way in opening the world of ideas to our people. We should do away with such archaic practices as banning books and requiring special permits for publications. Nor should we restrict who can preach our faith. Such restrictions are futile in this digital age. Nations can no more control the flow of information then they could of air.

In this regard I applaud Mahathir’s decision not to sue his critics. Leaders should be willing to accept criticisms, even blatantly unfair ones. Leaders should not abuse the court system to intimidate or silence their critics. Likewise, I applaud UMNO Youth’s Khairy in calling for repeal of the Printing Press Act. My only regret is that he did not pursue that when he had access to the highest power in the land.

The Melayu Bangkit folks should influence us through their ideas, not threats, intimidations, or gertak. Impress us with the brilliance of your brain and the innovativeness of your ideas.

I have been trying to get copies of the papers presented at this and earlier seminars but to no avail. Those presenters are not proud of or keen to have their ideas disseminated. The organizers should have at the very least videotaped the proceedings and posted them on the Web for a wider audience; likewise with their papers. Those folks should not be content only with submitting those ideas “to the authorities.” God knows, that had been done umpteen times before, and we know what the results were.

We should demand more of our leaders beyond their shouting of old slogans, resurrecting of phantom enemies, or fantasizing the good old days under the coconut tree. For them to be leaders, they must first be bangkit, cerdek, and celek. We have no wish to be led by Pak Tidor (Sleepy head), Si Bodoh (Moron), or Mek Mato Tup Soboleh (The one-eyed).

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