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.
Suaris Interview: The Future of Malays #5: It appears that you are cynical towards things
labeled “Islam.” Many feel that you do not subscribe to conservative Islam as
practiced by the vast majority of Muslims rather the basic teachings of our faith.
What is your comment?
[The original was posted on suaris.wordpress.com on
Feb 13, 2013.]
MBM: I am a Muslim,
by birth and through practice. I believe in God and Muhammad, s.a.w, as His
Last Messenger, as well as the five pillars of our faith. That of course is the
belief of all Muslims.
is the essence of the teachings of our Holy Koran and Prophet Muhammad, s.a.w.?
Command good and forbid evil! That is repeated many times in our Koran and
hadith. That too is agreed upon by all Muslims.
is the “golden rule” of our faith. I am less interested in labels, those can be
easily printed. Content is something else. If a state does not subscribe to the
creed of doing good and forbidding evil, then I do not consider it to be Islamic
regardless of the label. It is easy to carve the names “Allah” and “Muhammad”
on arches and buildings; likewise for leaders to don overflowing robes and huge
question is whether corruption, bribery, and abuse of power are deemed
“avoidance of evil.” Likewise, if leaders ignore the sufferings and
deprivations of their citizens, could that be considered “doing good?” When I
make judgment on whether a state is Islamic, those are the crucial factors, not
how often the leaders have been to Mecca
or how exquisite their recitation of the Koran.
Singaporean once asserted that his country is more Islamic than neighboring Indonesia. In Singapore there
is no corruption or abuse of power by its leaders. Citizens too are well taken
care of and not poverty stricken. Poverty invites impiety, goes an ancient
wisdom, and impiety in turn leads to infidelity to our faith. Visit nearby Riau
and the wisdom of that observation would be readily self evident. The abject
poverty there assaults your sensibilities. We cannot blame those poor Indonesians.
The Chinese too were like that when they were plagued with poverty in their not-too-distant
on the foundation of our faith – command good and forbid evil – it is hard to
dispute the view of the Singaporean.
not quite understand the meaning of conservative versus liberal as applied to
Islam. While I understand the meaning of those two words in their original English,
in Malay those terms have acquired diametrically opposite meanings. That is why
I refrain from using either.
would be more meaningful if I were to give an example of an Islamic society and
leader I hold in high regards and compare both with another I would be very hesitant
in emulating. It is not my place to say which one is more Islamic and would
enter Paradise. Only Allah knows that, and He is
not telling me or anyone else.
are fewer than 15 million Ismailis in the world, about the same number as
Malays in Malaysia.
Those Ismailis do not even have a country of their own, but their power,
influence and contributions to the world generally and Muslim community
specifically far exceed their number.
emphasize the giving of zakat (tithe),
and with that money they build schools and universities, as well as invest in
companies that among other things manufacture pharmaceuticals. The Aga KhanUniversityHospital in Pakistan was built only in 1985 but
it is already a well known center. The Ismailis could not care less whether
their women don their hijab; they are more concerned that their women be
trained as doctors, teachers and engineers so they could contribute to society,
to be makhlok soleh (exemplary
Compare them to
the Talibans in Afghanistan.
Taliban means students, but those students are busy burning schools and
splashing acids on young girls wanting to go to school. Taliban youths are busy
leaning how to use C4 explosives and high-powered AK47 rifles; young Ismailis
are busy solving problems in science and calculus.
reflects its leaders. The leader of the Ismailis is the Aga Khan. Yes, he is
wealthy, raises thoroughbreds, and his father was once married to Rita Hayward,
the famed American actress. The current Aga Khan however, graduated from Harvard;
he leveraged his networking with American intellectuals to entice them to teach
at the universities he built in Asia.
The leader held
in high regards by the Taliban was Osama. He too was wealthy and qualified as
an engineer from a Saudi university, but he expended his wealth and skills to
destroy buildings and kill people.
“command good and forbid evil,” Aga Khan or Osama? I let readers determine
whether Malay society today is closer to the Ismailis or the Taliban. Again, I
leave it to readers to decide whether the Ismailis or Taliban we should emulate.
We are obsessed
with hudud and hijab while drug abuse
and abandoned babies are rampant in our community. Why should we emphasize hudud and not zakat? We should be mandating zakat
on every Muslim including the sultans. It is one of the five pillars of our
faith; hudud is not.
If everyone (save
the poor) pay their zakat (2.5
percent of their assets), and then we employ the smartest economists and
investment bankers to manage those funds, there would be no end to the good those
would bring. That is exactly what the Ismailis are doing, building schools and
hospitals with their zakat. What are
the benefits of the Taliban’s zakat? If
we emphasize hudud, many would end up
with their hands chopped off. Who will feed them and their families?
demonstrate our Islamic values by not tolerating the corrupt and incompetent,
as well as those who have abused our trust in them. Our Koran commands thus.
we have to accept Islam in its totality; we do not have the privilege of
picking and choosing only those parts that please us. The crucial question is
why should we emphasize hijab and the
chopping of hands but tolerate rotten education and gross corruption? What
should be our priority? That reflects our values.
education. Hamka once said that God gave us two Korans; one, the Koran we are
all familiar with; two, the universe outside and within us. For the first,
Allah had given us a prophet in the person of Muhammad, s.a.w., to guide us in
studying it. For the second, God had blessed us with an intellect so we could
reason and distinguish between good from evil, truth from falsehood. We have an
obligation to study both Korans.
elucidating the secrets of the polio virus could be viewed as studying this
second Koran. The result was the discovery of a vaccine that had spared
millions from the devastating disease. That is “doing good.” The Taliban however,
view the vaccine as a poison perpetrated by the infidels. Consequently polio
still afflicts many in Pakistan
Again based on the golden rule of our faith, is that “doing good?”
the early centuries of our faith, our ulama did not differentiate between
worldly and religious knowledge. Both ultimately originate from God. Those
ancient ulama were also proficient scientists, competent physicians, and
skilled mathematicians. They were as diligent in studying this second Koran as
the first. Today’s ulama however, totally ignore this second Koran. To them it
is not worthy of study. The ummah takes their cue from the ulama; consequently,
Muslims have not contributed our share for the betterment of mankind.
should be concerned with such critical issues as how to educate our young so
they could make their rightful contributions to society. Do good in this world
and God will look kindly upon you on the Day of Judgment. He is after all Most
this ahadith (approximately translated):
A prostitute was admitted into heaven because she once saved a dog dying
of thirst by giving it water. Do you think such women wear hijabs? Another ahadith
has it that a man was admitted to Heaven because he once removed a thorn from a
road. If that deed was worthy of admission to Paradise, imagine the rewards for
someone who actually built the road, meaning, the engineers!
we best demonstrate our Islamic values by building safe roads and bridges.
There is no point carving “Allah” and verses of the Holy Koran on such
structures if our architects and engineers are incompetent, and the roofs they
designed and build would collapse in the first storm and injure many, or if their
bridges have more water flowing above than below!
few years ago there was a public debate between Datuk Asri Zainal Abidin and
Astora Jabat on tajdid (reform in
Islam). I admire both individuals; they are among the most thoughtful. However,
in that three-hour debate, they argued on the minutiae of hudud, on whether a
woman’s hair is considered aurat and
thus must be covered. Only towards the end did a brave soul ask why we should
be bothered with hijab when our nation is crippled with rampant corruption. His
query was never addressed. We must reform Islam so we could address pressing social
problems that now blight our society. Don’t be obsessed with hijab.
typical religious discourse on radio and television or at our mosques and universities
is unidirectional, from speaker to listeners. The bulk of the time would be
consumed with excessive salutations and endless quotations of Koran and hadith.
When both are cited, discussions would have effectively been shut down. The
Koran and hadith should be the beginning, not the ending of a discussion.
the ahadith that says the community would be divided into 73 sects, only one of
which is true and genuine. The remainder 72 would presumably be headed for
Hell. How we interpret that hadith has consequences. If every ulama feels that
his is the only true sect, then he would have a messianic zeal to correct the
rest, with the rationale of helping them enter Heaven! That’s what motivates those
Taliban to splash acid on schoolgirls.
speaking, you have only one chance in 73 to be correct, less than 1.5 percent!
That probability should humble and motivate us to learn from the others in the
hope that one of them is the one true faith!
am blessed to live in America with its freedom. I can read Shia and Ahmaddiyah
literature without being harassed by religious officials. There are none in
America! In Malaysia, I would be jailed without trial, treated just like the
communists of yore. Would such a stand conducive to peace and understanding or breed
suspicion and enmity among Muslims?
Astora Jabat, I do not subscribe to any figh (sect). I do not as yet know which
of the 73 sects is genuine. What I do know is that piety, justness and wisdom are
not restricted to any community. I can still learn from the Shias, Ismailis,
Salafis and Wahabis, among others, on the truth and beauty of our faith.
the Day of Judgment, we would be held accountable for our deeds on this earth.
We could not give the excuse that we were merely following the teachings of
this ulama or that. Our faith is blessed not to have a defined clergy class. We
have to think for ourselves. We decide whether to follow the ulama who command
us to hate non-Muslims and consider those Muslims whose politics we disagree
with as infidels.
to the beginning, my understanding of Islam is simple and straightforward: Command good and forbid evil. The rest are
but examples and illustrations.
Cont’d: Suaris Interview The Future of Malays
#6: Continuing on, what is your view on
PAS and its leaders? Will their policies and activities usher Malays forward?
Suaris Interview: The Future of Malays Part 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
[The original in Malay
appeared in suaris.wordpress.com on February 6, 2013.]
agree that we Malays are at a critical juncture. Our choice is between
continuing on the present path that has led us to where we are today, with our
minds still trapped, or make a sharp turn towards liberating them. Remember that
the path to the dumpsite is the one well-trodden.
do not agree that the forthcoming election (GE 13) will be a choice between
liberalism and feudalism, as I understand both terms. Instead it will be between
a party that has grown old, tired, and bankrupt of ideas versus another that is
young, vigorous, and full of fresh talent.
an aside, “liberalism” to me means a system that treats every human as having
certain inalienable rights or freedoms granted unto him (or her) by Almighty
Allah, among them, the freedom of thought, to choose our leaders, own
properties, and pursue happiness. Feudalism on the other hand was the social
system prevailing in Medieval Europe where humans were either lords or
peasants. Land, property and peasants belonged to the lords. Your fate and
place in society was determined at birth and remained fixed throughout life. Meaning,
born a peasant, and you would remain one until death.
from the perspective of respect for human lives and values, liberalism is
closer to Islam than is feudalism.
Malay society today still retains many feudal elements. Nonetheless we are free
to choose our leaders. Even though we could not choose our sultans, we do not
consider ourselves slaves to them. Yes, we use the term “patek” in
referring to ourselves when addressing a member of the royalty. That is merely
a habit. A sultan can no longer grab a village maiden for his palace
collection. We hitherto peasants could now (if we wish to and can afford it)
own a house more palatial than the istana and drive a car that could
overtake the sultan’s in speed, price and glamour.
to GE13, before we make a decision as to which party to vote for, it is prudent
to do a downstream analysis. There can only be three possible outcomes. First,
Barisan be returned to power; second, Pakatan to prevail; and third, neither
winning a decisive victory. By decisive I mean where the buying of a handful of
victorious candidates would not alter the balance of power a la Perak
Barisan were to win, that would mean voters approve of the current pervasive corruption
and abuse of power. We would have gone further, essentially rewarding those who
have destroyed MAS, Perwaja, Bank Bumiputra, and others. Expect the greed of
ministers and their families to grow unabated. Our rotten system of education
would continue its decline. Our professors and academic leaders would continue
to be chosen based not on their scholarly contributions but their ability to
suck up to the politically powerful. Najib would continue to lead as he has for
the last four years – delivering an alphabet soup of acronyms, endless
exhortations, and a surfeit of sloganeering, much like the character in Shannon
Ahmad’s short story Uggapan (Slogans).
promised to, borrowing his latest buzzword, “transform” his administration. How
could he possibly do that when all his ministers would again stand for
election? If they win, they would surely again be ministers. What transformation
did he have in mind? Hishammudin becoming Women’s Minister?
leaders are scaring citizens into believing that our stability depends on their
winning the election. On the contrary, if Barisan fails to secure a greater victory
than in 2008, (no one is predicting it will win a supra majority), there will
be an ugly power struggle at the top. The Najib/Muhyyuddin rivalry would eclipse
the earlier Abdullah/Najib power struggle in its messiness. It would be even uglier
than the Mahathir/Ku Li confrontation a generation earlier. The permanent
establishment would be paralyzed, not knowing which faction to support. Mahathir
has already sharpened the knife that he used with devastating effectiveness on
Abdullah. This time the victim would be Najib.
defeat, there would be much soul searching in Pakatan. Perhaps their leaders
would now resolve to focus on the things that they could agree on that would
benefit the nation and citizens, as with eradicating corruption and abuse of
power, ensuring justice, improving the education system, while distancing
themselves from such meaningless symbolic items as with an Islamic state and
who could use the word “Allah.” Those obsessions do not contribute to the well
being of citizens, on the contrary, they divide us.
second possible outcome would be a Pakatan victory. That would not mean that all
our problems would magically disappear. Far from it! First, Pakatan leaders are
only human; there would be a great temptation to regard their victory as a bountiful
harvest. There are many more family disputes during such times! Expect a
not-so-pretty grab for positions, and contentious issues like who would be
Deputy Prime Minister and whether he (unlikely a she) would be a Malay or
non-Malay. There would also be the jostling for key portfolios as with
education, finance, and internal affairs. Those are to be expected.
pettiness would challenge the wisdom and patience of Pakatan leaders. If they
were to behave like kids at Hari Raya or Chinese New Year greedily grabbing duit
rayas and ang pows, then their future and also that of the nation
would indeed be gloomy. However, if they were to consider their victory not as
Hari Raya but the beginning of Ramadan, meaning, a time to be tested, patient,
and diligent, then their and our future would be bright.
interesting is to imagine what would happen to UMNO in defeat. Those who joined
the party not for the sake of the party and country but for their greed would
quickly abandon it. Their flow of opium would be cut off. Meanwhile the new 2M
team of Mahathir and Muhyyuddin would be merciless on Najib. Erstwhile sleepy supporters
of the equally soporific Abdullah Badawi would now be intent on exacting revenge
on the two sides.
ugly and embarrassing as that would be to Malays, it would bring only good to
UMNO. The party would begin its slow and long overdue rehabilitation, back to
it glorious past. Its members would now be limited only to those who truly love
and are passionate about the organization and of Malays. The party might once
again be the pride and love of our people and not as at present, an enabler for
the corrupt and criminal.
are two other much more meaningful consequences to an UMNO defeat. Consider
that the corruption of Khir Toyo, former Chief Minister of Selangor, was only
exposed with Pakatan winning the state. Had UMNO won in 2008, that slimy
character would now still be its chief executive, with his greed and corrupt
ways unabated. Because Pakatan won, he is now awaiting jail, pending appeal,
for his corruption conviction. There are many Khir Toyos at the federal level;
they could only be exposed with a Pakatan victory.
second important consequence would be on members of the permanent
establishment, from senior civil servants and heads of GLCs to sultans and
professors. They would now realize that their careers are no longer dependent
on their skills at sucking up to Barisan. They would be forced to examine
themselves carefully and not be so politically partisan. The future of their
careers would now depend on their dedication, diligence and professionalism,
not their political skills and leanings. That could only be good for the country
generally and its administration specifically.
especially in UMNO, predict a vicious racial riot a la May 1969 with the
party’s defeat. I totally disagree. First, in 1969 the power shifted from
Malays (UMNO) to Chinese (DAP). If UMNO were to lose in the coming election,
power would still be in Malay hands except that those Malays would not be from
UMNO. Second, our society is much more wise and mature now. The Chinese for
example need not have to parade with their dragons to show off their might. A
look around KL and Penang would be enough to reassure them and others. And if Malays
were to run amok on the streets, those luxury bungalows and BMWs they would burn
down might just belong to the likes of Khir Toyo and Abdullah Badawi!
1969 UMNO was still Malay, and Malays, UMNO. Today conditions have changed
radically, as evidenced by the recent massive KL112 rally.
like Ibrahim the Frog could easily be taken care of. An offer of a directorship
or two and trips to Macao would silence them. Alternatively, do not impede the anti-corruption
agency. I am simply amused that Malay leaders from Mahathir to the academic
Ramlah Adam would pin the hopes of our race to characters like Ibrahim the
Malaysians, the greatest consequence to a Barisan defeat would be that we
actually get to experience and benefit the meaning of free elections. That is,
by merely putting an “X” in the appropriate box on the ballot paper, we could
change our government. There is no need to riot or demonstrate on the streets. A
Barisan defeat would effectively demonstrate the true meaning of checks and balances
in a democracy.
third and worst possible consequence would be if neither party were to win
convincingly. We had a glimpse of that ugliness in Perak following the 2008
election. All, politicians from Barisan to Pakatan and members of the establishment
from civil servants to the sultan, did not shine. Their behavior brought shame
to the nation. They however, were oblivious of that.
that, only worse, in Putrajaya. The behavior of these politicians would be more
flagrant than those of the ladies of the evening. As odious as that would be,
there would be some redeeming values. We would finally see those politicians
for what they really are, worse than those prostitutes at Chow Kit Road. At least
those ladies had the morality not to sell themselves so openly and in broad
odiousness would so enrage many that able and honest citizens would now be
encouraged if not compelled to offer themselves as candidates in the future.
That can only be good! We would finally get to appreciate the awesome power of
the ballot booth and that elections have consequences, prompting us to be more
prudent the next time we vote. That is one invaluable lesson.
short, the best outcome for Malaysia in GE 13 would be for Pakatan to win
convincingly. Next would be for neither side to do so. The worst outcome would
be for Barisan to be returned to power. Stated differently, a hung parliament
would be a not-so-pretty Pakatan victory.
Next: Suaris Interview. The Future of Malays #5: You appear cynical towards things labeled
“Islam.” Many view you as not being enamored with “conservative Islam” as
currently practiced by most Muslims and not with Islam itself. What’s your
[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
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?