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 2
with Suaris: The Future of Malays, Part
[The original in Malay appeared in suaris.wordpress.com on
January 25, 2013).
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 we continue to need
crutches? If so, for how long?
MBM: If we Malays still remain
backward and marginalized after over 55 years of “help” from the UMNO
government, then we ought to examine critically the nature of that help.
As parents we
readily acknowledge the importance of how
we guide and help our children. Be too indulgent and protective, we lose hope
of their ever able to shine on their own. Be too strict and controlling, they
will never acquire self-confidence; likewise if we constantly criticize and highlight
medicine, we rarely give crutches to patients following hip surgery. Instead we
give them to physiotherapy so they could be self-ambulatory as quickly as
possible. I encourage, in fact insist that my surgical patients be up and about
the very next day. It is dangerous to keep them in bed; the most serious complication
being potentially lethal blood clots.
An insight of
modern science is that if we do not exercise our body, it would atrophy. This
applies to bone, muscle, or even brain. If I were to tie down a healthy young
man in bed and “help” him with his feeding and bathing such that he does not have
to move a muscle, after a week he would be need a crutch as he would be unable
to stand up on his own. That is the price for excessive and inappropriate “help.”
As a former
physician, Mahathir should know that if a patient does not respond with your
prescription, there is no point continuing it. Stop or change it; perhaps your
patient requires penicillin, not Panadol.
Even the right
medicine if not given at the proper dose would be ineffective. Yes, Panadol
reduces fever, but give only a quarter of the dose and there will be no effect,
leading you to blame the medicine. Giving too much also carries its own hazards.
Every year many children in America
are fatally poisoned because of excessive dose of Tylenol, one more appropriate
If with the
right medicine at the right dose and administered correctly but your patient
still does not respond, then reexamine your diagnosis. Patients with
appendicitis require surgery, not penicillin.
If readers are
uncomfortable with my clinical metaphor, let me use a more familiar one. If you
are not diligent in weeding out lalang
in your garden, pretty soon you would be inundated by it, choking off useful
plants. What more if you were to generously add fertilizer to the weed!
garden is now full of lalang. We need
Roundup pesticide to kill off those tenacious weeds so useful plants would then
have a chance. However, what is UMNO’s current strategy? Yes, add fertilizer to
the lalang! Its rationale? They are lalang, but Malay lalang, so we must be help!
The “help” that
UMNO types like Mahathir are championing is precisely this. Then we wonder why the
Malay kebun is full of lalang. Isa Samad is one thriving lalang in the FELDA plantation; he was earlier
found guilty of “money politics.” Khir Toyo,now luxuriating in his fantasy palace courtesy of taxpayers while waiting
jail time for corruption, is another. The private sector too is infested. Lalang Tajuddin Ramli nearly destroyed
MAS estate. Utusan and The New Straits Times are crippled with
literary lalang; no wonder their readership
continues to decline. The Malay lalang
has already snuffed out Bank Bumiputra.
We are finally no
longer impressed with the greenness and lushness of lalang, even if it were Malay lalang.
Our leaders however, still try to impress upon us that those lalang are alfalfa. The tragic part is
that they now believe their own deceit.
Mahathir should be diligently searching for effective ways to help us and not
be content with criticizing and dredging up old stereotypes or our alleged
weaknesses. Give someone a fish, and we feed him only for a day; teach him how
to fish and he feeds himself forever, goes an ancient wisdom. Extend that help a
bit as with giving him a loan to buy a sampan, and he will fish the open ocean.
Then he can feed the whole village and more, plus repay the loan!
generous quotas for university admissions, lucrative contracts, and import
licenses, or forcing others to take on Malays (usually UMNO politicians) as
directors for their companies is not help. Those are but acts of fertilizing weeds,
membajakan lalang. We end up with only
usahan menenggek (carpetbagger
The most consequential
and enduring help would be to liberate the Malay mind, to teach them how to
think freely. If our slogan in the 1950s was Merdeka Tanah Melayu (Freedom for the Malay Land), now it should be
Merdeka Minda Melayu! (Freedom for
the Malay Mind!)
That is the
theme of my latest book, Liberating The
Malay Mind. The concept of a free mind is best illustrated by this story of
Mullah Nasaruddin, known for his use of self-deprecating humor and simple everyday
examples in his teaching.
He had a neighbor
who was in the habit of borrowing items and never returning them. One day he
came over to borrow the Mullah’s donkey. Anticipating this, the Mullah had
earlier wisely locked his animal in the barn and out of sight. When the neighbor
came over, the Mullah confidently asserted, “My donkey had been borrowed yesterday!”
neighbor was about to return home when the animal brayed. “I thought you said
your donkey had been borrowed!” he said.
Mullah resolutely replied, “Do you believe the braying of the donkey over the
words of the mullah?”
Someone with a
free mind would believe the braying donkey. Those whose minds are trapped by
customs and traditions would of course continue believing the wise and pious
Mullah even when the donkey is braying straight on their faces. We must teach
Malays that when they hear the donkey braying, they should believe their own
ears and not be lulled by the Mullah’s soothing words.
I put forth
four strategies to liberate the Malay mind:
freer access to information and differing viewpoints, meaning, freer
mass media; liberal education with a strong foundation in science and
mathematics; and encourage trade and commerce among our people. When we engage
in trade, we would consider others not as pendatang
(immigrants) but as potential customers, meaning, a source of profit.
Fourth, we have
to examine how we teach religion to our young and how we practice our faith as individuals
as well as a society. Islam emancipated the Bedouins from their Age of
Ignorance and brought light to them. Islam should do likewise for us – liberate
If our minds are
trapped, then the billions worth of help would be meaningless. Those are but
narcotics for our self gratification and to indulge our fantasies. Those are
but membajakan lalang.
As a nation we
have achieved much through independence. If we were to liberate Malay minds,
there would be no limit to our achievements. Even more beautiful, a liberated mind
can never ever be imprisoned again. Liberated minds need not worry about
globalization and neo-colonization, or be threatened when our young learn
English. Liberated minds would not feel imperiled when God’s other children use
“Allah” to refer to their deity. It is after all the same God. Once Malay minds
are liberated, we would no longer be, to borrow the terminology of the Algerian
philosopher Malek Bennabi, “colonizable.”
the Malay mind! That would be the most consequential help!
Mahathir’s beloved crutches, how can he ever hope the simple villagers to give
up on theirs when the biggest golden crutches are reserved for the sultans and
ministers? Mahathir gets angry when Pak Mat diverted his few hundred dollars of
MARA loan meant to improve his stall towards buying his children’s books but
are conspicuously silent when spouses of ministers divert precious public funds
to buy their private luxurious condos.
Malays do not
need crutches. The one help we desperately need is to liberate our minds. Reverting
to my farm metaphor, if you want to help Malays, then uproot and rid the lalang in our midst so our beans, brinjals
and cucumbers would have a chance. If you do not feel like doing that, then please
do not fertilize the weeds!
To be continued, Suaris Interview: The Future of Malays Part 3: In many of your writings, you advocate
changes and ideas that are evolutionary and incremental in nature to effect changing
mindsets. Don’t you think that a more aggressive “shock therapy” and
revolutionary approach would have greater impact and lead to a quantum leap in
improvement, as with Japan and South Korea today?