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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, September 13, 2015

Same Reality, Different Perceptions


Same Reality, Different Perceptions
Najib’s RM 2.6B – Generous Donation or Grand Corruption?
M. Bakri Musa
www.bakrimusa.com


In the 1950s the Americans were alarmed with the leftist-leaning and shrill anti-Western rhetoric of Indonesia’s Sukarno. To neutralize him, they concocted a scheme to blackmail the man by portraying him as other than a true nationalist.

            So on one of his many visits to America the CIA secretly set-up Sukarno to be in the company of high-priced hookers, and then clandestinely filmed him in his frolics. Sukarno must have felt that he was already in heaven with some of his 72 “virgins!”
           
            The plan was to screen snippets of the tape in the movie houses of Jakarta. Surely in pious Muslim Indonesia such scenes would enrage the audiences such that they would take to the streets demanding Sukarno's downfall.

            Thus far everything went according to the well-rehearsed script, one that would be repeated in different places and with different players.

            Imagine the horror of the local CIA station agent when the audiences instead roared their approval of their President!

            “Yeah! Itu jantan kita!” (That’s our stud!) they roared as Sukarno, like the bunny, powered by the Eveready battery, kept going and going (or coming and coming)! “It’s about time one of us gets to screw them, they did that to us for years!”

            The Indonesians could not conceal their pride in their leader’s virility, perhaps fantasizing a part of themselves in him.
           
            My long preamble here is to put forth a simple proposition. While the reality may be the same, the perceptions may be radically different. The world and many Malaysians may view Najib’s RM2.6 billion “donation” as corruption on a grand scale, but to red-shirted Malays and their UMNO Putra patrons, it is but a measure of an Arab’s high regard for their man.

            Pardon my comparing Najib with Sukarno. Najib is no Sukarno in leadership talent or oratorical skills; he is in priapic proclivities.

            It is not coincidental that Najib’s spinmeisters would have the donation come from the Middle East, the land of the Prophet. To Muslim Malays, the Arabs and their desert are blessed. In Saudi Arabia even the flies on your food are halal. As for the ensuing diarrhea, well, that’s Allah testing you.

            This truism – differing perceptions of the same reality – extends in nature. A rotting carcass is revolting and haram but to vultures, a heavenly gift. Does the fastidious diner have moral superiority over the scavenger vulture?

            Dispensing with the relativism, let’s examine Najib’s bonanza from a practical and more consequential perspective. Najib claims that the money was reward for his “exemplary” leadership, and to ensure that it be continued. More directly stated, it was to fund his re-election.

            Thus one fact or precedent is now established. Malaysian leaders and elections can be bought, or at least influenced by foreign money and individuals. That is significant, and pivotal. Today, a generous Arab; tomorrow, the CIA! Next could be China or Singapore. Before long, a non-Arab Middle Eastern state! With the ringgit fast becoming worthless, topping the RM2.6 billion should be easy.

            Besides, money is not the only means of influence peddling. The Americans and Singaporeans in particular are more sophisticated. They are not crude, careless, or stupid like the Arabs as to write a massive check or drop off a bundle of cash.

            Consider that many children of Third World leaders end up at top American universities despite not having super SAT scores. Similarly many Third World leaders are invited as visiting fellows and professors. They lap up the accolades! If those refined tricks fail, there is the White House visit or a presidential golf game.

            Likewise with Singapore; Malaysians covet invitations to address institutions there, a reflection of its influence. The Republic today is far different from the early days of Lee Kuan Yew when its leaders took every opportunity to snipe across the causeway. Today Singaporeans are active partners in the development of the southern corridor. They choose their partners prudently however, preferring for example, the Johore royal family. The same shrewd calculation applies as to whom they invite to address them.

            China too is learning fast. The Chinese are now partnering with the Johore royal household to develop some swamps at the tip of the peninsula. With the sultan on your side, there won’t be too many intrusive questions.

            It’s worth reminding that not too long ago the same royal family sold off the entire island of Singapore. With this propensity to sell, what else would they dispose of next?

            Yet another perspective to Najib’s bonanza is to analyze its opportunity cost. Granted we do not know how or where he spent the money; Najib is still trying to spin that one out. Nonetheless even a devalued RM2.6 billion could buy you both Australia’s Anna Creek and the Texas King Ranch (world’s and America’s largest respectively), with plenty left over. And if you run both outfits in other than the manner of Sharizat family’s National Cattle Feedlot, there would be plenty of jobs and halal meat for generations of Malaysians and others.

            Back to nature’s vultures, beyond gluttony they do provide a useful service, as with cleaning up the environment and preventing the spread of diseases. They deserve our respect. Najib and his vultures on the other hand pollute our social environment and corrode the integrity of our institutions through their corrupt deeds. They deserve our contempt.

            Apart from the lucky few around Najib who benefit directly from him, what purpose would there be for the others to view his loot as reward for his performance instead of an act of grand corruption?

            I can understand (though condemn) Najib’s ministers and UMNO warlords for being his ardent cheerleaders. They could not otherwise afford those luxuries; these characters have no marketable skills or professional accomplishments. Their flair for “sucking up” is appreciated only by insecure and untalented superiors. To these unabashed supplicants, even Najib’s crumbs are worth scrambling for. Absent that they would be back to their old kampong mode.

            Those whom I feel most sorry for are the young red-shirted pemudas (youths) and pink-frocked puteris. Surely their maruah (reputation) is worth much more than just the few hundred ringgit for their free trips to the capital city, plus their complimentary colorful attires and perhaps a sarong pelekat or two.

            I would support them if they were to demand their share of the booty. Not as direct handouts as that would quickly end up in the hands of those retailers at Low Yat Plaza but to create enduring programs to train them as plumbers, mechanics, and electricians, or to improve our schools and universities.

            They could then benefit from those initiatives and do something meaningful with their lives, quite apart from contributing to society and having a bright future. That would be a legacy worth bequeathing to their children and grandchildren. Those values and sense of self-worth are worth cultivating. Itu maruah Melayu tulin! (That’s respect to a genuine Malay.)

            Maruah shapes our perception of reality. Our maruah says that when we receive money or favors for which we are not entitled to or have not worked for, that is corruption, not donation. Those who claim otherwise have no maruah.


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