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.
[The original, in Malay, appeared in
suaris.wordpress.com on January 31, 2013]
advocate strategies that are generally deemed to be evolutionary in nature to change
the collective Malay mindset. Should Malays be “shocked” with revolutionary
changes as we saw with the Japanese and South Koreans that led to their quantum
leap in achievement?
MBM: When Mohamed Bouazizi burned himself to death in Tunisia on
January 4, 2011, it was not his intention to start a riot or revolution. He had
simply given up hope; he just wanted to end his misery. His personal action
however, triggered a revolution not only in Tunisia but also the entire Arab
Gamel Nasser was
frothing at the mouth in wanting to revolutionize the Arabs; he was lucky that
his Egypt was not totally whipped by Israel in the 1967 War. Senu Abdul Rahman and
other Malay leaders like Abdullah Badawi, together with our intellectuals, were
also intoxicated with their Revolusi Mental
back then. Today, you could not even find the book of the same title that they
wrote, and we Malays have remained the same.
change is evolutionary or revolutionary depends not on action or intention but
on results and consequences. Bouazizi merely intended to end his suffering but his
action reverberated throughout the Arab world, taking down hitherto strong men
like Ghaddafi and Mubarak.
changes are small and incremental; revolutionary ones dramatic and disruptive. It
is well to remember that we could bring down a mountain by aiming a jet of
water at its base (as with the old hydraulic tin mining) as by planting
James C Scott, the
Yale political scientist who studied the peasants in Kedah’s rice bowl, in his
book, Weapons of the Weak, uses a
different metaphor. When
the ship of state runs aground on a coral reef, attention is directed to the
shipwreck (revolutionary) but not the aggregations of petty acts that made
those treacherous reefs possible (evolutionary).
Your reading of
the Japanese and South Koreans is not quite accurate. True, viewed today the
changes in their societies are truly revolutionary. However, the steps their
leaders took much earlier were all incremental and evolutionary in nature,
stretching over decades.
Japan after the
Meiji Restoration of 1868 sent thousands of its teachers and senior civil
servants to the West to study its systems of education and administration. They
were gone not just for a few weeks of “study tour” but for years. Even today, Japan takes in thousands of English teachers
Those were all evolutionary not revolutionary initiatives. We take in a handful
of teachers from America under the Fulbright Program and we make a big deal of
it and deem it revolutionary.
Likewise South Korea;
during the 1970s it sent thousands of its students to the West for graduate
work in the sciences and engineering. When President Pak visited America he met
with many of them including those who opposed him, to cajole them to return.
When they did, they were supported with loans to start their enterprises. Compare
that to Prime Minister Najib; the only student he met was a PetronasUniversity
flunkie, one Saiful who was purportedly looking for a scholarship.
I dealt more
deeply with Japan and South Korea, as well as Ireland and Argentina, in my earlier book, Malaysia In The Era of Globalization
To continue our
“Look East,” a closer example both in space and time is China. Mao
Zedong was consumed with one revolution after another to, borrowing Najib’s
favorite word, “transform” his country. The result? Hundreds of millions of his
countrymen suffered or were killed. Hundreds of millions! That would be the whole
Then came Deng;
his philosophy was simple. He could not care less what the color of the cat as long
as it catches the mouse. With that he changed the nature and character of China and its
society. Today China has
eclipsed economically Japan
and Germany, and threatening
to do likewise to America.
Our neighbor Indonesia had one
revolution after another under Sukarno, but its people remained destitute.
Mahathir too aspired to revolutionize our culture and people. In the end it was
he who cried.
Returning to my
earlier garden metaphor, revolution is where you indiscriminately spray
Roundup. Yes, that would kill the lalang
but also wipe out the useful plants. With evolutionary strategies, you would
meticulously pour the concentrated pesticide right at the root of the offending
weed while sparing the useful plants. They can now grow unimpeded, the lalang now completely eradicated.
Malay mind, one at a time, in a process that is evolutionary and incremental but
cumulative and sure. The results would astound us and be deemed revolutionary.
When a mind is liberated, it can no longer be imprisoned. We would then be no
longer, to use the terminology of the Algerian philosopher Malek Bennabi, “colonizable.”
beautiful, a liberated mind will see clearly that the green, lush grass in our
garden is after all the tenacious and highly destructive weed lalang and not, as our leaders are trying
to convince us all along, alfalfa.
To continue. Suaris Interview # 4: It is said that Malays are at a crossroad.
This is particularly so with the upcoming General Election 13 where the choice
is between feudalism and liberalism. To what extent do you agree with that