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.
Interview with Suaris:The Future of Malays, Part 1.
[The original in Malay appeared in suaris.wordpress.com on
January 19, 2013).
Dr. M. Bakri Musa’s perspective may appear alien to some
readers, especially those less exposed to the Internet and the English
language. It is their loss not to have ready access to his clear thinking and
is taking this initiative in bringing to readers especially those versed only
in Malay his commentaries. Born and raised in Negri Sembilan, Bakri represents
the earlier generation of Bumiputras that had been given the opportunity for an
education abroad. Yet he never forgets his roots as evidenced by his extensive writings
and many books. Even though he resides in America, but through his books and
essays we feel close to him.
released his latest book, Liberating the
Malay Mind, published by ZI Publications.
In this interview,
Dr. Bakri Musa discusses a critical issue, the future of Malays in our country.
We are at a critical juncture in many respects, from politics to economics, and
from education specifically to social arenas generally. What is the future of
our people in the decades ahead and how can we best prepare for that future?
Follow the series
in its entirety.
Suaris:How are you doctor? Hope that you and your
wife are healthy and blessed by Allah!
MBM:Great! Healthy! Thank you and praise be to Allah!
you write frequently on the general unpreparedness of our people in meeting
future challenges. In what way and how unprepared are we?
MBM:In my book, Towards A Competitive Malaysia, I put forth this proposition. The
fate of a society hangs on four pillars:leadership, people, culture, and geography. Of the four, only one –
geography – cannot be altered. Whether that society is blessed with abundant
oil and its land fertile, those are the blessings of Allah. Lucky indeed are the
matter how bountiful the land is but if its leaders are corrupt and
incompetent, people uneducated and unskilled, and culture wasteful and
destructive, then eventually that society will decline. We have many ready
examples, among them Brunei
and the Arab states.
On the other
hand, if the geography is less forgiving, the land mountainous and covered with
thick snow, climate cold such that crops could grow only for a few months a
year, but if the quality of leadership and people is high, their culture
progressive, that country will advance. An example is Switzerland.
We are all
aware of the importance of wise, efficient and trustworthy leaders not only in
politics and the administration of the country (ministers and civil servants),
but also in religion (muftis and ustads), society (sultans and rajas), schools
(teachers and professors), and at home (parents and neighbors).
The quality of
our people (human capital) depends on two measures:health and education. If our citizens are
unhealthy (drug addicts, afflicted with dengue or malaria), they will not be
vigorous or diligent. And if our schools are rotten, then our young will not be
skillful and productive.
A citizen is
either productive and contributor to or dependent and a drain on society. If we
have more of the former, then our society will rapidly progress. Conversely, if
we have more of the latter, we will quickly decline.
By culture I
mean the rules and institutions of that society, together with its norms and
values. Consider institutions. Lacking effective and reliable agencies,
considerable time and effort would be spent just to ensure that the house I am
about to buy legitimately belongs to the seller. With trustworthy registry in place,
I spend my time on things that really matter, like whether the house would meet
my needs and the price worth it. Similarly when I deposit my money at the bank,
sans effective regulatory bodies, I would
not be assured that the manager would not abscond with my precious funds.
As for the
values of a society, if it honors its thieves, thugs and cheaters, that would
serve as ready examples for the rest. Before long that society would be like the
Mafia in Southern Italy.
All these four
elements – leadership, people, culture, and geography – interact with and in
turn are being influenced by each other. Enlightened citizens will select or
vote in only equally enlightened leaders; those voters will no tolerate the
corrupt and incompetent. Likewise, wise leaders will formulate progressive
education policies so the young will be skillful and productive.
and citizens will together utilize and protect the environment to ensure
sustainable development. Cancun,
example, was in the 1950s a poor fishing village. The only “tourists” were American
hippies seeking cheap ganja. Through wise leadership and well-trained citizens,
Cancun is no longer that but an affluent and much sought tourist destination.
Its previously poor fishermen now own sleek motor yachts taking rich Americans
and Europeans out for sports fishing.
Now examine our
society with respect to those four pillars. What mark would we give ourselves for
the quality of our leadership, people, culture, and environment?
We have beautiful beaches, the waters warm, skies blue, and the sun always
shining. We ought to attract millions of European and Japanese tourists; we
would beat Cancun hands down! But we do not.
Why? Well, look at the garbage strewn all over, and even where there are public
facilities like bathrooms, they are dirty.
Leaders? Of course! Citizens? Yes, we too contribute. Culture? Further comment
would be needless!
In my Towards A Competitive Malaysia I put
forth ideas on how to secure good leaders, enhance the quality of our people,
elevate the values of our culture, and protect and value our environment. There
is nothing original in the ideas I put forth, they have been tried successfully
elsewhere. We do not need to reinvent the wheel, merely learn from the experiences
of others, emulate those who are successful and avoid the pitfalls of others less
be continued. Interview #2: Suaris:In a recent interview with Astro Awani, Dr.
Mahathir said that Malays would be left behind unless given continued help. He
referred to such help as crutches. Do you agree that Malays continue to need
crutches? If so, for how long?
In Liberating The Malay Mind,
M. Bakri Musa maps with clarity a path towards a liberated Malaysia by
carefully examining the country's past and evaluating the current Malay
obsession with Ketuanan Melayu. The book explores the way in
how special rights and "sons of soil" privileges bestowed have inhibited
the Malay people from forging an educated, dynamic and globally
competitive Tanah Melayu.
Bakri Musa examines Malay culture through the prisms of history, psyche
and religion and details the steps necessary to liberate the collective
Malay mindset through free access to information, an enlightened
education system, and engagement in commerce.
With this careful navigation, and not by pinning hopes on the political amulet of Article 153, Liberating The Malay Mind forges a way towards a self-sufficient Malaysia, able to turn crises into opportunities, and challenges into inspirations.
"Unlike our political merdeka - which was granted to us by the British - our liberated mind cannot be bestowed. We have to strive for it. Then we will be Tuans even elsewhere other than Tanah Melayu."
While UMNO apologists and sycophants in academia, blogosphere, and mainstream media quibbled over such minutia as the number of participants at last Saturday’s massive KL112 (January 12, 2013) rally, two facts are indisputable. First, that peaceful and largely Malay crowd, the largest the nation had ever witnessed, forever shattered the myth that UMNO is Melayu, and Melayu, UMNO. Second, given a modicum of respect by and without provocation from the authorities, Malaysians are quite capable of partaking in peaceful rallies.
On this second point the authorities, specifically the police under its new leadership, are finally learning that water tankers, personnel with anti-riot gears or tear gas canisters, and other crude displays of power often precipitate rather than prevent violence. BERSIH 3.0 demonstrated that very clearly.
The size and orderliness of the rally, together with the bravery and determination of the participants, was reminiscent of the transformative event of over 66 years earlier, the opposition to the Malayan Union Treaty. That altered the course of our history. Insha’ Allah (God willing), last Saturday’s rally too, will.
The power imbalance between those demanding change and those in power back in 1946 was enormous. Then it was mostly illiterate and unsophisticated Malay peasants facing the much superior and more formidable colonial authorities. Yet in the end, right won over might, and justice prevailed!
Today, while the UMNO Government is detested to the same degree as the old colonials, it is nowhere as sophisticated wielder of power as the British. Meanwhile, those clamoring for change are far more worldly, more committed, and in far greater numbers than their adversary, UMNO and its supporters. More importantly, unlike the colonials, today’s UMNO government is crippled with corruption and incompetence while also being crude wielder of power. All the more we should expect that right and the truth, as well as justice, will again prevail.
National Laureate Pak Samad’s stirring reading of his poetry “Di Atas Padang Sejarah” (On This Field of History) last Saturday at Merdeka Stadium prompted me to make that comparison with the anti-Malayan Union Movement. He is old enough to remember and may have even participated in that historic protest.
“Di atas padang sejarah,” Pak Samad asserted in his poetry, “pantang kita mungkiri janji.” (We must not renege on our promises.). Today, the successors to those who brought us merdeka over 55 years ago have betrayed that great promise.
While Pak Samad’s gray hair and rousing poetry lent an air of history and gravity to the moment, the Blue Gang’s Ito Mohammad and his “Ubah Sekarang” (Change Now!), specifically composed for the occasion, gave the gathering a certain hip! There was no mistaking however, the seriousness of his message.
“Ubah sekarang,” Ito belted out in his trademark rhythm and blues beat to the cheers of thousands, “Kita cari kebenaran! (We seek the truth!)Ubah sekarang/Teggakkan Keadilan (Uphold justice!)” Then to the roar of the crowd, he added, “Ubah Sekarang / Send-off Barisan!”
Ito is a talented performer and a committed crusader with a definite mission, in the mold of Bono. Ito is for truth and justice, to give meaning to merdeka, for the sake of our children and grandchildren. One thing is certain: Ito is no carma (cari makan – hired hand) artist!
The anti-Malayan Union Movement was led by the charismatic, farsighted and savvy Datuk Onn; so too KL112 in the person of Anwar Ibrahim. In many substantive ways Anwar is a far more formidable and superior leader. Onn meekly obeyed the commands of his sultan in the sycophantic manner of Hang Tuah, and accepted his banishment to Singapore; Anwar in the chivalrous tradition of Hang Jebat had the courage to take on a man far more powerful (at least then) than the sultans or King – Mahathir. Anwar paid greatly, physically and in many other ways, for his defiance but in the end, unlike Jebat, Anwar prevailed. Last Saturday was proof of that victory. Meanwhile his old nemesis Mahathir was left to rant in his blog.
Far more important than leaders are the commitments of their followers. UMNO could not have organized a rally a fraction of the size of KL112 without resorting to bribes, outright giveaways, or having their carma artists, academics and journalists singing high praises for its leaders.
There was a pathetic attempt, no doubt by a bumbling UMNO operative, at a Facebook posting calling those rally participants to collect their fees! That posting bombed as it was immediately exposed for the hoax that it was. Those UMNO hired hands were not even sophisticated enough to pull a cyberstunt!
Fair and Free Elections
Anwar commits to ten goals, the top being free and fair elections. Elections must not only be fair and free but more importantly, be seen as such. Our Elections Commission lacks credibility, both on conducting elections as well as maintaining the integrity of the electoral rolls.
It is too late to change the personnel at EC. Besides, that would not make any difference. They have been indoctrinated to believe that their agency is just another electoral instrument of Barisan instead of an independent agency answerable to the King and thus the citizens. The only credible way to ensure fair and free elections would be to invite external observers.
Free and fair elections should be the priority. The responsibility for maintaining the integrity of the electoral process extends beyond the EC and Election Day.
We must never let or tolerate the 2008 post-election fiascoes of Perak and Selangor to recur. In Selangor, the hooliganism and vandalism of the staff of and condoned by its outgoing UMNO Chief Minister Khir Toyo stood in marked contrast to the civility and orderliness in the transfer of power between Gerakan and DAP in Penang. This being Malaysia, the races of the main protagonists at both events did not escape notice. In Perak, the permanent establishment including the sultan which should have been the stabilizing and buffering elements were themselves hopelessly entangled in the mess. They did not shine; they were the problem.
Khir Toyo, now convicted of corruption, epitomizes UMNO’s rotten core.
We must also never allow the prostituting of government agencies and departments into Barisan election machinery. I have no problem withThe New Straits Times and Utusan continuing as UMNO newsletters and their “journalists” as UMNO propagandists; after all both are owned by UMNO. I take issue when taxpayer-financed agencies like Bernama, Radio Television Malaysia (RTM), and Biro Tata Negara (National Civic Bureau) doing the same.
Ito’s rhythmic ubah sekarang is not, as UMNO leaders would like us to believe, changing horse midstream rather letting an old lame and tired one to pasture. Our culture is kind; we do not send old horses to the glue factory.
A second into midnight on August 31, 1957, at the same Merdeka Stadium, Tunku Abdul Rahman declared merdeka for our new nation. He brought home from England our Declaration of Independence. More importantly, he gave us hope to all the promises implied with our new sovereignty. Today, Tunku’s successors in UMNO Baru (New UMNO), through their venality have betrayed that solemn covenant. They have, in Samad Said’s poetry, mungkiri janji. It is time we reclaim that promise and our dream.
Last Saturday, when Anwar repeated “Merdeka” seven times in the manner of the late Tunku, he had begun that process of reclaiming. Tunku brought home the declaration of Merdeka; Anwar will give meaning to its words in our everyday lives.
Ubah sekarang! Tolak mereka yang memungkiri janji! Change now! Remove those who have betrayed us!