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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, April 09, 2018

Longing For Our Own Cak Nur

Longing For Our Own Cak Nur
M. Bakri Musa

In May 1998, amidst widespread protests against him, Suharto was still looking for ways to cling on to power. His last desperate shenanigan was to co-opt his fiercest critics. Many fell for his bribery and flattery. Many, but not all. One brave honest soul, the late University of Chicago-trained Islamic scholar Nurcholish Madjid, was among the notable exceptions.

Cak Nur, as he was referred to with great fondness by the Indonesian people, told Suharto in no uncertain terms during a private meeting that the people wanted him out. The next day the dictator Suharto resigned, after ruling Indonesia for over 32 years. With that, Indonesia was spared further anguish.

Today it is Malaysia that is longing for her own Cak Nur, someone to tell the corrupt, venal, and incompetent Najib Razak straight to his face that his time is up. Najib’s crude, race-taunting theatrics have polarized Malaysians generally and divided Malays in particular. His profligate ways will burden Malaysians for generations with a humongous debt. 

Najib has to go even if he were to prevail in the upcoming elections. Elections and other accouterments of democracy are legitimate only if untainted. Otherwise it is but a refined mob rule, refined but still a mob rule. If in a mature democracy like America elections can be and have been corrupted through gerrymandering trickeries and foreign interferences, imagine the shenanigans in corrupt, fledgling, and Third-World Malaysia where money politics is the norm, with outright handing out of cash to voters as well as that old standby–phantom voters and the stuffing up of proxy postal votes among members of the police and armed forces. Najib has denied at the last minute the registration of the new party led by former Prime Minister Mahathir, UMNO’s current most formidable opponent. 

At least in China, the Chinese knew ahead that Chairman Xi would get a near unanimous vote for him being a leader for life. There was no pretense there; likewise with Iraq during Saddam Hussein. In Malaysia however, elections are but a cruel hoax perpetrated upon the people. 

The Economistpredicted that Najib would steal the upcoming election. That statement is erroneous; it implies that Najib could tell right from wrong. The man is amoral. The US Department of Justice and law enforcement agencies in no fewer than five international jurisdictions alleged that he stole billions from 1MDB. To Najib and his dedak-fed cheerleaders however, those were but generous donations!

Najib’s warped perception of reality is supported and protected by Malay culture. In still feudal Malay society, a leader can do no wrong. Even if Najib were to be naked, his Nazris, Zahids, and Ku Nans would insist that he was adorned in the finest songketspun of the most transparent silk from the rarest specie of silkworms! To them and other Najib’s kucus, he could not “steal” an election much less 1MDB funds. They view the former as being God’s will; the latter, “donations” from the land of the prophet!

No Malaysian Cak Nur
That encounter between Suharto and Cak Nur was historic and unprecedented. Historic because it changed the future path for Indonesia away from dictatorship; unprecedented because in Asian culture one never ever confronts a leader, directly or indirectly, politely or otherwise. Yet there was the somber-faced Cak Nur in his soft but firm voice telling the ever-smiling Suharto that the people wanted him out. Cak Nur’s only gesture to respect and civility was that he did not wag his finger at the President! 

Cak Nur reflected the true qualities of an Islamic scholar when he confronted Suharto that day. Throughout Islamic history, ulamas and scholars had served as effective bulkwards against the excesses of rulers. The purest jihad, goes a hadith (approximately translated), is to speak the truth in front of an oppressor. Those ulamas who dared defy their rulers believed that the punishment they would endure on earth at the hands of those tyrants would pale those in the Hereafter. Those ulamas are take to heart the hadith that Heaven is full of princes who befriended ulamas, but Hell is inundated with those who were close to rulers. 

Malaysian ulamas and scholars on the other hand are mesmerized by royal titles and the accompanying elaborate ceremonial attire bedecked with flattened bottle caps. No surpise then that to those ulamas Najib did not steal from 1MDB, rather that was his rezeki, a gift from Almighty!

Malaysia has her fair share of Cak Nurs; Allah would not be so unjust as to deprive us of that. However, our Cak Nurs have been so browbeaten and or otherwise shunted aside that the masses no longer recognize much less appreciate them. 

In any other culture the likes of Rafizi Ramli would be adulated; the various parties would be clamoring for him to lead them. He is the brightest star in Malaysia’s otherwise dark political galaxy. Today he faces an extended jail term . . . for exposing corruption! The late Kassim Ahmad was another. For his fearlessness he was hounded by the Syriah court right to his death. Then there is legal scholar Azmi Sharum; don’t expect him to be inducted to the National Professors Council any time soon.

I am touched and humbled by the brave and defiant gestures of our artists, among them blues singer Mohammad Ito and cartoonist Zunar. Meanwhile Lat, once my favorite, is now silent, content with his cheap Datukship. Zunar bravely moves on to local and international acclaim lampooning Najib and his wife. Zunar again proves that the pen is a powerful weapon. As he so famously quipped, even his pen has a stand; why not him? Lithe Sheila Majid and sultry Siti Nurhaliza too are souring up on Najib. Those ladies’ own star power defies the lure or threat of their RTM gigs being cancelled. 

Even mercurial Mahathir is no match against Najib’s dedak. God, I hope Mahathir would succeed in getting rid of Najib; so too should all Malaysians. Yes, Mahathir was instrumental for Najib’s rise. In his eagerness to repay his indebtedness to Najib’s father, Mahathir missed seeing Razak’s dark side in the son. 

With few exceptions, the ulamas and sultans too have succumbed to Najib’s dedak. The Federal Mufti saw fit to chide songstress Neelofa for launching her new stylish headgear in a nightclub. I wish the mufti had written Najib or did a Cak Nur on him for stealing the rakyats’ billions. As for the sultans, a few contracts their way or a new palace would suffice to silence them. Najib’s dedakcastrated the Council of Rulers far more effectively than Mahathir could ever hope to with his 1980s’ constitutional amendments. Yet Malays still believe in the mass delusion that the sultans are our “protectors.” The protection of a cheap Chinese condom; except that the sultans are very expensive .

Signs For The End of Time
In Islamic eschatology, among the signs of qiamat(the end of time) are when the utterers of the truth would not be believed and instead we fall for the liars; when leaders betray their followers’ trust and be among the worst of them; and the least consequential, when people compete to erect skyscrapers. Malaysia has plenty of those portends.

Those notwithstanding, I do not believe that Malays are near our qiamat. Instead it is Najib and UMNO who are nearing theirs. History reminds us that corrupt leaders always meet unsavory endings. Witness Libya’s Gaddafi and Romania’s Ceausescu. When the Malay qiamat comes, we would be stunned in disbelief to discover how easily we had been duped for so long and to such an unimaginable depth by a not-so-bright leader. Only Najib’s venality exceeds his stupidity.

Najib’s “cash is king” success is illusory. For one, the money is not infinite. For another, the ringgit is fast becoming like the Zambian dollar. When Najib’s (and UMNO’s) qiamatcomes, he and his enablers would learn fast why the word “amok” is of Malay origin. 

On reflection, Malaysia does not need a Cak Nur; Najib does not deserve such a graceful Suharto-like ending.


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