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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, August 26, 2018

Alif Ba Ta Conference Q&A: 1Malaysia

Q3: What do you think of “1Malaysia,” and what is your vision of a united Malaysia? I visualize it as a mighty river with many contributing streams, like the Nile. Can you comment on that?

MBM:  I have never heard it put quite that way, but that is an interesting, and if I may add, original metaphor. I like it! The mighty Nile has its Blue and White Niles. I suppose Malaysia has its brown, black, yellow and a few other colors contributing to our Nile.

That metaphor presupposes that we would all mix it up and become undifferentiated, for at the Nile delta you could not separate the waters from the Blue Nile from that of the Red. Unfortunately, or fortunately I would argue, we humans are always proud of our culture, heritage, and even color. The more developed we are, the more conscious we are of our roots. Being conscious or proud of one’s heritage is very different from being obsessed or defined by it. The former is positive and constructive; the latter, negative and destructive. Barack Obama personifies the former; Adolf Hitler, the second.

We all have this need to belong; we do not want to be an insignificant part of a large homogenous mass. Incidentally, that is also part of Allah’s grand design; He could have made us all clones of each other. Life would not be much fun then, nor would it be beautiful.

Let me suggest a culinary metaphor instead. America prides itself with its melting pot model. There is however, no mistaking what is in the pot; it is essentially an English stew–an Anglo-Saxon culture and ethos. Today that stew is enriched with the addition of Italian pasta, jalapeno peppers, and French wine, but in flavor, texture, color, and yes, even smell, it is still basically the old English stew. Even a hint of challenging that would throw things in a tizzy. Witness the hysteria gripping the White extreme right to Obama’s presidency.

I once suggested the salad as the more appropriate metaphor for Malaysia. Yes, there are onions, black olives and other ingredients, but there is no mistaking that it is not salad without the greens. Salads are not a regular Malaysian fare, so my metaphor fell or felt flat.

More appropriate would be the more familiar and universal favorite, rojak. The main if not defining vegetable there is taugeh (bean sprouts). It alone however, does not make rojak; we need cucumbers, tofu, onions, black olives, and all the other ingredients. Without them it would not be rojak. They enhance the overall flavor. Nonetheless when you pick up a spoonful of rojak, you could still separate out the various ingredients, but once in your mouth, you taste only the complete recipe, not the individual vegetables.

That is my vision of a united Malaysia, the rojak. The Malays, Chinese, Ibans and others should be proud of their heritage; it is not Malaysia without them. As to what I think of 1Malaysia, I do not know as no one, least of all Prime Minister Najib, has clearly articulated it. Besides, I am more interested in the content, not the label. I am also not much for slogans.

Unfortunately we are blighted with leaders consumed with and intoxicated by their endless sloganeering, as so mercilessly caricatured by Shahnon Ahmad in his short story, Unggappan (slogans).

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