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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.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Endless, Meaningless Debates on "The Malay Problem"

Endless, Meaningless Debates on “The Malay Problem”
M. Bakri Musa
www.bakrimusa.com

First of Six Parts

For as long as I can remember, the so-called Masaalah Melayu (“The Malay Problem”) has been stridently debated ad nauseam. Endless meaningless seminars, symposiums and “kongresses,” have been devoted to it, not to mention the countless discussions at Pak Mat’s warong kopi in Kota Baru to the lofty ministerial suites at Putrajaya

            I am now entering the seventh decade of my life. Chances are that when my grandchildren become grandparents, our community would still be debating the issue.

            Pendita Zaaba was the first to coin the phrase “Masaalah Melayu.” In his prolific writings he would never cease to menegur (chastise) our community for our spendthrift ways, our not emphasizing education for our young, and our myopic interpretations of our great faith of Islam. 

            Earlier in the 19th Century, Munshi Abdullah wondered out loud what it was about our community that we were not at all curious about and thus not eager to learn from the English. Yes, they were our colonizers, but surely as Abdullah noted, there must be something that we could learn from a society that brought in the Age of Enlightenment as well as ushered in the Industrial and Scientific Revolutions.

            More recently there was Datuk Onn, arrogantly wanting to membetulkan orang Melayu (to correct the Malays). To him we were but wayward children who needed to be whipped into shape.

            Then there was Mahathir who thought that Malays were OKU, a Malay acronym for those who are challenged, mentally, physically and in many other ways. His messianic mission was to change us, our culture as well as our biology. He too failed; he could not even change his own OKUs (Orang Kuat UMNO – diehard UMNO supporters).  

            Compared to those giants, today’s Perkasa’s Ibrahim Ali and other strident champions of Ketuanan Melayu are but mere pygmies. Giants or pygmies, the results of their efforts are, well, we are still discussing the issue.

            I likened the “Malay Problem” to an elephant in a dark room. What these giants and pygmies had done was merely to shine the light from only one angle, the rear. No surprise that what they saw was its posterior and all its ugliness. They also dared not examine the view closely for fear of being whipped by the beast’s tail, or worse, get sprayed.

               In my book Liberating The Malay Mind, as well as in all my earlier books, I shine the light from as many different angles as possible so as to get a better appreciation of the magnitude and complexity of the problem, as well as all its myriad manifestations.

            I begin by posing four fundamental questions. One, what is meant by the phrase “The Malay Problem?” Two, is it a genuine problem or merely a myth? Three, if it is the former, is it unique only unto Malays? And four, why is it now with Malaysia about to celebrate its Diamond Anniversary of Merdeka, with the sultans and prime ministers being Malays, the government almost exclusively in Malay hands, as well as a constitution that is blatantly favoring our community, Malays are still left behind?

            My Liberating The Malay Mind explores this particular question. Before proceeding, I will briefly dispose of the first three.

            The meaning of the phrase “The Malay Problem” is best answered through a series of illustrations rather than with a formal definition.

            If you, a Malay, has a leaky pipe at home or a broken air-conditioner, who would you most likely call to fix the problem? Ahmad, Ah Chong, Arumugam, or even not a Malaysian?

            Walk along any street of any town. You don’t see many signboards touting Rahimah Restaurant, Halimah Hair Saloon, or Aziz Accountancy Services. Don’t keep your eyes off the road too much in looking for those signboards lest you risk being run down by those road roaches, the Mat Rempits on their ear-splitting motorcycles.

            Incidentally where would those Mat Rempits go to have their machines fixed?

            Yes, we have ZICO, the country’s largest law firm founded by Datuk Zaid Ibrahim. Such successes however are the “outliers,” not reflective of the norm.

            Then open up the daily papers. The headlines are of hundreds of thousands of unemployed graduates, babies abandoned in toilets and ditches, and the epidemic of drug addicts and HIV sufferers ravaging our society.

            You do not need to read the World Bank Reports or expensive consultants’ studies to realize that our community is fast being marginalized in our own Tanah Melayu.

            Even by the government’s own accounting, our contribution to the economy barely exceeds 20 percent, despite we being in the majority. Take away the role of the government-linked companies (GLCs), and our contribution is but in the single digits, percentage wise.              

            The “Malay Problem” is real, not just a mere myth. Noam Chomsky differentiates between a problem and a myth thus. With a problem you could study, analyze and research it, hire experts to help you, and design pilot programs to overcome it. When you have a successful initiative, expand on it. Likewise, when you have an ineffective one, terminate it right away and learn from the experience. In short, a problem is potentially solvable.

            With myths on the other hand, you would need a shaman or dukun. He would chant mysterious verses, invoke unseen forces, burn incense, cook yellow saffron rice, and slaughter black cockerels to appease those evil spirits.

            Malays behave as if we are being bedeviled by myths and not problems. We invoke various hantus (devils) as sources of our difficulties, as with the hantu of colonialism, hantu pendatang (immigrants), hantu capitalism, and the latest, hantu globalization and hantu “Islam liberal.”

            The “Malay Problem” is real, not a mere myth ala Syed Hussein’s Myth of the Lazy Native. The next query then is whether our problem is unique only unto us. I will explore this and the other two questions in subsequent essays.

Next: Second of Six Parts – The Malay Problem Is Not Unique Unto Us


Speech delivered at the launching by Tan Sri Rafidah Aziz of my book, Liberating The Malay Mind, on January 30 at Shah Alam.

8 Comments:

Blogger Howard said...

Dr. Bakri,

I've been trying to locate a copy of your recently re-launched book, "Liberating the Malay Mind". I currently am in KL, where I spend 6 months out of each year, with the rest back in Michigan. I read recently in The Star newspaper that you had re-launched your book. Do you have any estimates on when the book will be hitting the bookstores in KL? I haven't seen an sign of the book yet...

Thank you!

Howard Yamaguchi

11:40 PM  
Blogger M. Bakri Musa said...

Dear Howard:

Thank you for your interest in my book. I am told that it should be out to the distributors by the end of this month (Feb).

8:04 AM  
Blogger Howard said...

Thank you! I will be on the lookout for the book! --- Howard

4:45 PM  
Blogger Howard said...

Thank you! I will be on the lookout for the book! --- Howard

4:46 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You have been barking for the last five years and no one who can make a difference hears you. Basically, you are preaching to the concerted.

4:55 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

To one who is undistorted by emotion or personal
bias you are making an objective appraisal.

2:20 AM  
Anonymous NJ Mishima said...

I just chanced upon your articles today. Wish I had discovered them earlier. Can't believe that your profound writings are not receiving a wider readership. Something must be done to correct this.

2:27 AM  
Blogger M. Bakri Musa said...

Thank you! One reader at a time! You might be interested in my books at Amazon.com. Bakri Musa

8:25 AM  

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