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M. Bakri Musa

Seeing Malaysia My Way

My Photo
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.

Thursday, September 22, 2022

Perak's Raja Nazrin Missed A Splendid Opportunity



Perak’s Raja Nazrin Missed A Splendid Opportunity

M. Bakri Musa


The Sultan of Perak recently (September 22, 2022) launched Kamal Hassan’s Corruption And Hypocrisy In Malay Muslim Politics. The book was published in January 2021 and I reviewed it last July. A Malay version has also been released but this royal launching was for the English edition only. The Malay version was not even mentioned. I wonder how the language nationalists feel about that.

The sultan’s speech (about 45 minutes) and the author’s subsequent remarks (over 35) were followed by an hour of panel discussion comprising Johan Jaafar, former journalist and Chairman of the Anti-Corruption Commission, Tajuddin Rasdi, an academic architect and public intellectual, and Hafiz Saleh Hudin from the International Islamic University. It was moderated by Annuar Zaini, former Chairman of Bernama. 

            Halfway into his speech the sultan revealed that his state religious department (of which he is the titular head) had ordered 2,000 copies of the book (not stated whether the English or Malay version) to be distributed to the state’s imams as materials for their khutba (sermons). For added measure, at the end of his speech the Sultan ordered two new duas(supplications), condemning corruption, to be recited during Friday sermons. That was his solution to the endemic, entrenched corruption in the country. In short, the sultan echoed Kamal Hassan’s thesis in his book that the answer to Malay society’s corruption is more religion, Islam to be specific.

            The sultan is the head of Islam in his state. Raja Nazrin played that role to the hilt that morning, quoting the Qur’an and hadith more than a dozen times. I ran out of fingers after the tenth. Thankfully he spared us the original Arabic and gave only the approximate Malay translation.

            For Kamal Hassan’s part, he reiterated what he had written in the book, only of necessity more briefly and thus succinctly.

            I cannot help but feel how far detached from reality the whole program and the participants were. They all professed to be aware of the grave dangers corruption poses to the nation and Malay society in particular, but alas their deliberated solution was but to resort to homilies and simplistic measures. More dua’s, and educate the imams on the evils of corruption!

            No one even suggested learning from nations that had successfully tackled the problem, like nearby Singapore, or following the example of China–shoot the bastards. That may be “un-Islamic,” but it works. Nor did anyone mention or alluded to the perverse if not pathologic national deification of that pengkhianat negara (national traitor) aka Boss Ku Najib Razak. The young participant from the International Islamic University, Hafil Salleh Hudin, briefly mentioned his displeasure to that phenomenon in the ensuing panel discussion. 

            The program could have unfolded very differently and created great national impact.

            Imagine if at the end of the ceremony Raja Nazrin had announced that, as an expression of his great displeasure with the corrupt and considering the seriousness of the pestilence of corruption, he was withdrawing Najib’s and Rosmah’s Perak royal titles! That would capture in an instance the audience’s as well as the nation’s attention. That would also be the next day’s headlines! Raja Nazrin should have emulated the Sultan of Selangor, or better yet, the Ruler of Negri Sembilan who withdrew the couples’ Negri royal awards upon their being charged and not waiting for their conviction, as with the Sultan of Selangor.

            “Innocent till proven guilty” is the standard in a criminal court. In positions requiring great trust, as with the leadership of the nation, the standard must necessarily be much more stringent, as with not even a hint of impropriety. Yet today, UMNO, the party most identified with Malays, is led by a character facing serious criminal charges. Nobody in the party’s governing Supreme Council has the gumption to demand that Ahmad Zahid Hamidi resign. If these characters cannot stand up to this slimy stuttering character, how can we expect them to negotiate with or face foreign leaders?

            With the long speeches by both the sultan and the author, there was little time for questions from the audience, the most important part in any discussion or book launching. Noting the number of ex-dignitaries from UMNO in the audience, the moderator gave the floor first to Musa Hitam, a former Deputy Prime Minister. He took his senior statesman status too seriously and went on a long monologue, with the moderator having to interrupt him. As for the other half a dozen or so speakers, they too were interested in making their own mini speeches rather than posing probing questions.

            If not for Tajuddin Rasdi, the ensuing panel discussion too would have been a dud. Johan Jaafar was asked what was the greatest pressure he faced when chairing the Anti-Corruption Commission. Political interference! Surprise of surprises! The moderator then asked him to judge the independence (from political pressure) of his Commission. Johan meekly replied a passable 6 out of 10. Good enough for a general degree, as the moderator commented. If I were the moderator I would press Johan as to what he did to resist those pressures. I suspect that Johan too was one of those all too common “Kami menurut perentah” (I follow orders) type of public servant.

            The sparkles of the panel discussion came from Tajuddin Rasdi. He prefaced his remarks by noting that this was the first time he had been invited to address an almost exclusively Malay or Muslim audience. Tajuddin is of course well known to non-Malay or at least English-speaking readers through his trenchant columns in The Star

            He made the profound observation that corruption is difficult to eradicate among Malays and Muslims because it has been enmeshed into the Malay versus non-Malay (or non-Muslim) narrative. It is but a sub-variety of the old “us versus them” divide. We have framed corruption as war against the infidel and thus halal, or can be made so. To make that narrative stick even more easily, to Malays anything coming from the land of the Arabs is halal. It is thus not a surprise that Najib had framed the loot he pilfered from 1MDB as money coming from an Arab prince.

            Another astute observation from Tajuddin is that, as in the universities, we are more into the answers without first asking the necessary probing questions. Worse, often the solutions would have been imposed upon us, as with Raja Nazrin ordering those new supplications for Friday sermons. However, we are more likely to find the right solution if we first begin by asking some tough questions.

            One simple question is this:  Why are the corrupt so admired in our culture? Prime exhibit:  Najib Razak. The next complementary question is why are the talented in our midst not rewarded? Instead we reward the duds and those satisfied with a general degree, as the moderator commented. You can bet that Tajuddin will never make it to the National Professors Council!

            Malays should learn from our peladang (farmers) ancestors. To ensure a bountiful harvest and a productive orchard, they pruned their fruit trees, getting rid of the unproductive suckers and water sprouts. They also uprooted thelallang and other weeds that would sap the precious nutrients from the soil. Malay culture today perversely nurtures and rewards those parasites. My late father (himself a part-time peladang besides being a teacher) had an apt expression for that stupidity–membajakan lallang (providing manure to the weeds).

















Sunday, September 18, 2022

Cast From The Herd Excerpt #46 Balik Kampung

 Cast From The Herd:  Memories of Matriarchal Malaysia

M. Bakri Musa

Excerpt # 46:  Balek Kampung (Back To The Old Village)

After a couple of years in Triang my parents were transferred back to our home village of Kampung Tengah. What made that possible or why they were posted twice to a black area in the first place was not a minor twist in kampung dealings. 

When my parents were first transferred to Lenggeng, they accepted that. They knew they were going to a dangerous area but then somebody had to go there. For its part the colonial government lived up to its commitment, and after a stint there it honored my parents’ request for a transfer back to Kampung Tengah. A year later however, they were perturbed to be sent back to another black area. They thought they had paid their dues. 

The government had not changed; it was still the same colonial one and thus the same personnel policy. Instead what had changed was my parents’ ultimate superior. He was now a local man instead of a British officer. Raja Nordin was one of the few Malays to have had the privilege of some English education. In the bureaucratic scheme of things he was several layers above my parents and as such should have had minimal impact on their careers, except that he was from our village. 

Kampung Tengah, being in the shadow of the royal town of Sri Menanti, was steep in its feudal ways. Raja Nordin may be a remote member of the royal family, nonetheless he still felt entitled to his dues from the peasants, and that included my parents and grandparents. My grandfather Salam did his part, often bringing tributes of choice chickens and delightful durians to Raja Nordin. 

When my father married into the Salam family, he was conspicuous in not doing his part in this hallowed village tradition. He was from a village in Rantau, on the other side of Bukit Putus amidst colonial tin mines and rubber estates with their vast immigrant worker population. Paying homage to local chieftains was alien to them, and that rubbed off on my father. 

My parents met when they were teaching at the same school in Ampangan, near Seremban. He married my mother for love, unusual as the custom was for arranged marriages, with love being secondary or assumed to come later. Being a practical man he also wanted a working wife, as an insurance. Should something were to happen to him, his family would still have a breadwinner. Choosing a woman who had also gone to college would also ensure that she would not hesitate to challenge his views and actions. My father did not want the traditional dutiful “Yes, master!” wife. 

In the Minangkabau tradition, the males of the bride’s family were to instruct–no, command–their new male in-laws (orang semenda) into respecting and performing the rituals of the wife’s culture, and that included paying tributes to local lords. When Raja Nordin did not receive any from my father, the blame for this lapse fell on my mother’s family, in particular my grandfather and his adult sons. 

There was a price to pay for this unpardonable neglect of tradition. At about this time my Uncle Idrus had just finished his Malay schooling. He aspired to be a teacher, like his older sister, my mother. He was comfortably in the top 25 chosen to enter teachers’ college at Tanjong Malim where my father had gone a decade earlier. Inexplicably at the last minute he was excluded from the final list. My grandparents appealed to Raja Nordin, who was then the state superintendent of Malay schools, bringing the usual material tributes. Raja Nordin was none too pleased with this belated gesture. 

“Was this the wisdom your forefathers taught you,” he berated my grandfather, “to pay tribute after your son had failed to secure a spot?” 

My grandfather was fortunate in that he was given only a verbal dressing down. Back in the not-too-distant past, he would have suffered worse. The British did usher in some progress among our folks, as with introducing the rule of law and abolishing slavery (orang hamba) in the palaces. I was sure at that moment Raja Nordin would have preferred to be in the “good old days” so he could teach my grandfather a proper lesson or two.

“Did you ever think of coming earlier?” That was his final verbal punch to my poor hapless grandfather.

In case my grandfather missed the essential point, Raja Nordin then told him not to ever hope for any of his descendants to be a teacher or anything else as long as he, Raja Nordin, was alive. Being a simple villager, my grandfather accepted that pronouncement. My uncle gave up his dream to be a teacher and left to work as a typesetter in Kuala Lumpur. Raja Nordin had no influence there. 

My Uncle Idrus would have been a great teacher; he was a keen learner and fond of books. He learned English on his own, and passed his Cambridge School Certificate as a private candidate after the birth of his sixth and last child. I remembered him as always wanting to practice his English on me. I was reluctant and embarrassed to correct him but because he was so welcoming of criticisms, I overcame my reticence. 

Once he asked me to go over an “epistle” he had written. With great reluctance I told him that an epistle meant a letter from the Pope or High Priest. He was embarrassed. He must have looked up the Thesaurus and came up with that one, an all-too-common temptation of beginner writers to, in Stephen King’s phrase, “dress up the vocabulary.” 

Excerpt #47:  A Pair Of New Teachers In The Extended Family 

Sunday, September 11, 2022

Cast From the Herd Excerpt #45: Caught In An Ambush


Cast From The Herd:  Memories of Matriarchal Malaysia

M. Bakri Musa

Excerpt #45:  Caught In An Ambush

My second-term holiday saw me again visiting my parents in Triang. This time we took the shorter route through Seremban. For about twenty minutes outside the town the road was like any other, with no dramatic curves. Then the scene changed abruptly; no more kampung houses, only thick jungle on both sides with the road becoming increasingly steep and winding, the infamous Bukit Tangga. Infamous because it was in the blackest of areas and its steep inclines as well as hairpin turns. Bukit Tangga means “terraced hill.” That also describes the road well. 

Soon our bus stopped unexpectedly behind some parked cars, the road ahead having been closed. I could not see any landslide or obvious physical obstacle. Everyone on the bus was quiet, and with the engine turned off, the silence was eerie. Despite the heat of the day, nobody stepped out to cool off under the shade of the roadside trees. Like Bukit Putus, the area was a forest reserve, with no human dwellings or signs of activities. The only primates, except for those in the bus and parked cars, were the monkeys among the branches. 

Then, piercing sirens! Three dark-green military ambulances accompanied by two green Saracen APCs sped by us towards the scene ahead. I peeled my eyes on the distance to decipher the unfolding drama. I heard the distant tap-tapping sound of gunshots, rekindling memories of my Lenggeng experience, except that the sound this time was muffled by the distance and thick jungle. 

The other passengers in the bus remained indifferent. A middle-aged Chinese madam continued fanning herself with her folded paper and staring straight ahead. With the sound of gunshots she fanned herself faster. A professional-looking Indian in his stiff white shirt and long pants continued reading his Straits Times, interrupted only by his adjusting his glasses and shuffling the pages. A Malay lady who sat next to my sister opened her food tingkat, and when it made a clanking sound she self-consciously wrapped her headscarf around the tray to muffle the noise. She offered a piece of fried chicken to my sister. She, in the manner of a polite village girl, declined the offer a few times before finally accepting. Soon the smell of that delicacy reached me and I cursed myself for sitting far away from her. 

With the next and louder volley of gunshots my older brother Sharif whispered to me, “It’s an ambush!” 

I wish I could say that I was scared; instead I was excited and eager to see the action. Soon two of the three ambulances we saw earlier rushed by us, their sirens wailing. 

After a long wait, the cars ahead started to crawl forward and soon our bus too. As our bus negotiated the steep slopes and sharp bends at slow speed, it made for a comfortable ride. My body was not bounced from side to side. To my left was a deep canyon with the tips of the tall trees just at eye level. They may have huge and formidable trunks but at their tips their shoots were fragile as they swayed in the breeze absorbing the energy-giving sun rays. Here and there glistening streams cut through the slopes like silver ribbons on a tapestry. With the deep gulley and sharp turns, images of cars flipping over flashed through my mind. 

Soon the road leveled off but the bus continued its crawl. I saw army trucks parked to the side and armed soldiers standing with their guns at the ready. There was a fresh clearing by the roadside with the leaves of the fallen bushes not yet wilted. There were soldiers standing around what appeared to be three people sleeping with their faces to the ground. I knew right away that this was not a sight I wanted to or should see. My stomach began to churn. I covered my face to avoid the scene but at the same time I could not help but peek through. I could see that the three bodies were not moving, their arms tied on their backs with palms pointing skyward as if the bodies had been dragged. Their clothes were dirty, tattered, and bloodied. 

Sharif whispered, “They got three tikus!” 

Tikus, rats, the term used by the security forces for communist terrorists, or CTs. Indeed, sprawling on the ground the dead terrorists looked like big, trapped tikus

I felt queasy. By now the bus was gaining speed and the fresh cool hilltop air refreshed me. I also smelled traces of gun smoke. It invigorated me. Soon we saw familiar kampung homes, with tethered water buffaloes contentedly chewing their cud under the shade of the trees. 

When we reached Kuala Klawang my father greeted us. Unlike our earlier visit, this time there was no smile, only a furrowed look. He said nothing and herded us into a waiting taxi. He must have heard of the earlier ambush and figured that we were trapped in it. He was right; thank God we were safe. 

That was the closest to any military action I witnessed during the Emergency, apart from those nightly gunshots in Lenggeng related earlier. 

Later in college I was dating a young Canadian. She saw a scar on my right calf, probably from some scraps I sustained while climbing a coconut tree. Such a story however, would lack any suspense or drama. So I embellished that ambush episode by having me caught in the crossfire; the scar a bullet wound. I was expecting an admirable gaze for my bravery; instead she went cold and pale. She told me to stop my retelling. 

She had read about Malaysia and knew about the atrocities of the Japanese Occupation and communist insurgency. The television news then were also filled with gory battle scenes from South Vietnam. However, until I related my infamous leg scar, those episodes were mere distant abstract images. Now that there was a real-life example of a war scar, even though a made-up one, she was petrified by the reality of it. 

When I confessed, she was furious, but not by much as she would later become my wife. 

Next:  Excerpt # 46:  Balek Kampung (Back To The Old Village)

Sunday, September 04, 2022

Caast From The Herd: Excerpt #44: Exposure to Scientific Research Literature

 Cast From The Herd:  Memories of Matriarchal Malaysia

M. Bakri Musa

Excerpt #44:  Exposure To Scientific Research Literature

My father had found a Chinese laborer and his family to tap the rubber on his new land. The man was desperate and took the job despite the earlier bus burning incident. My father was meticulous with his record keeping and made frequent unannounced visits. Soon he became familiar with the seasonal variations in production, as with low output during the dry season. By now he had also trusted his foreman such that the visits became infrequent, relying only on his report. 

One year my father noted that the decline in production did not recover with the improvement in the weather. So he went to check. Instead of visiting his land, he went straight to the dealer, also a Chinese, to whom my father had sold his rubber sheets. The dealer was surprised to see him as he thought that my father had sold the land. The tapper had earlier told the dealer that my father had had some financial difficulties and that he (the tapper) had bought the land. The dealer believed the worker as that also fitted the stereotype the Chinese had of Malays. 

My father later confronted his worker. He at first denied it, saying that the falling production was due to the weather. When he was shown the figures of previous years, together with what the rubber dealer had earlier related to my father, he confessed. My father fired the man right away and ordered him and his family off the property. 

A few days later he and his entire family visited us at our village. They all came in a chartered taxi bringing generous offerings to beg for forgiveness. He promised my father never to cheat again and to make good on the loss. My mother was livid both at the tapper and my father as she had not been apprised of the problem. On seeing the man, his wife, and children sobbing with their palms clasped together at their foreheads, a la sembah, and repeatedly prostrating before my father as if he was Lord Buddha, my father relented. True to his word, the man remained honest. 

I learned much from my father through that incident. One is the importance of meticulous record keeping. You could spot trends and thus uncover possible frauds much earlier. The other is that people can change for the better, given a chance. 

Earlier my father had embarked on replanting his ageing rubber plantation on another piece of land he had bought. This replanting scheme was encouraged by the government and supported by generous grants. The idea was to replace those old rubber trees with the new hybrid high-yielding shoots. 

Immediately when he signed up on the program, a representative from the extension department of the government’s Rubber Research Institute (RRI) came over to explain the details. I was impressed how well he could explain biological terms in Malay to my father. He was in turn a diligent learner, taking down copious notes. 

As the rubber trees would take about five years to mature, the agent recommended planting cash crops in between the young trees to supplement my father’s income even though he did not need it. My father was a stickler in following the agent’s recommendations. And that was how we ended up with a glut of fruits and vegetables. One could indeed live quite well on those temporary cash crops while waiting for the rubber tress to yield their precious latex. 

My father (and I) learned much from that extension officer. For example, he suggested that when cutting down the old trees, to spare a few in between so as to provide shade, and only when the ground work was all completed would you cut down the few remaining trees. We also learned how to terrace the hillside when planting, to reduce soil erosion from the torrential tropical rains. Then we learned about spacing those trees, with the rows facing east and west wide apart so the sun would have maximal penetration. 

I learned much about cash crops as well as cover crops to prevent soil erosion. In fact I learned much more from that extension officer than from my biology teacher. Noting my interest, the officer put me on the Institute’s mailing list. Thus I was able to obtain original published scientific articles, my first introduction to research. I was so proud to know that our own research institute was making a contribution to world scientific literature. 

My father’s diligence in record keeping again proved useful. In fact the extension agent used my father as an example to impress the other smallholders of the wisdom in following the extension department’s recommendations and keeping meticulous records. My father even recorded how much I earned from selling those bananas and pineapples, as well as the amount (value-wise) we gave away to friends, family, and neighbors!

Next:  Excerpt #45:  Caught In An Ambush

Monday, August 29, 2022

Investigate Mahathir With The Same Vigor As With Najib

 Investigate Mahathir With The Same Vigor As With Najib


M. Bakri Musa



The praises heaped upon Chief Justice Maimun and her fellow Federal Court Judges on their handling of Najib Razak’s criminal appeal were not misplaced. They could have rendered a very different verdict.


Imagine had the Chief Justice been that character who was caught holidaying in New Zealand with a member of the defense bar (I wonder who picked up their tab!), or the former UMNO Legal Advisor who perjured himself in hiding his secret second marriage in Southern Thailand. Worse, remember that infamous lawyer whose VVIP clients at the time included then Prime Minister Mahathir? That attorney was caught on videotape uttering “Correct! Correct! Correct!” on the phone. The party at the other end was a senior judge, later to become Chief Justice; they were trying to fix an upcoming case.


            Then consider had the Anti-Corruption Agency still been under Dzulkifli Ahmad, the ilk who was caught holidaying in Bali with someone other than his wife. Personal morality aside, this was the same idiot who later tipped Prime Minister Najib of the then on-going 1MDB criminal investigation. It was unfortunate for both but lucky for Malaysians that their phone conversation was tapped and later released by Latheefa Koya, Dzulkifli’s successor. Dzulkifli was confused on whether he was on the nation’s or Najib’s payroll. Dzulkifli was not alone in being confused. Witness the many court testimonies of other civil servants. Chief Secretary Sidek Hassan was paid more than his official salary to be on the 1MDB Board to “do nothing.”


Likewise, had the prosecution been led by career civil-servant “Kami menurut perentah” (We follow orders!) lawyers, the outcome would also have been very different. There is more! If that third-rate former UMNO lawyer Apandi had remained as Attorney-General, Najib would not have faced any charges. Najib would today be lauded a Wira Negara (National Hero!), with the Agung feting and decorating him on a garish obscene scale as only a Malay sultan could.


There are many honest, dedicated and competent civil servants, but those are not the ones being promoted. Instead we have the likes of Dzulkifli and Sidek Hassan reaching the top. I am also aware that there were many brave civil servants who literally paid with their lives for their integrity. Remember the late Deputy Public Prosecutor Kevin Morais? 


            Those aside, the tipping point that led to the unmasking of Najib’s sinister nature and egregious greed was voters’ denying his UMNO-led coalition victory in the 2018 national elections. Prior to that the UMNO-led Barisan and its earlier Alliance coalition had suffered only two major but not power-shifting electoral setbacks.


            The first was in 1969 when the Alliance failed to secure a supra-majority of Parliamentary seats, and polled less than half of the popular votes. That setback triggered a race riot that nearly tore the nation apart. The second was in 2008, also with a loss of its supra-majority. That resulted in Abdullah Badawi’s resignation and Najib’s ascendancy to the top slot.


            As for Najib, he had a near-death political experience in the 1999 elections when he barely held on to his long-held Pekan seat which he had won with over a 10,000-vote majority in the previous election. In that 1999 contest he scraped through with a threadbare 241-vote majority, rescued at the last minute by “mail ballots” from the nearby army base.


            The 2018 national election was a game changer. Unlike the Nigerians and Pakistanis,  Malaysians were finally disgusted with their leaders and voted out the corrupt UMNO-led coalition. The new administration, though brief, nonetheless triggered the subsequent cascading events that led to Najib’s incarceration.


            As such, praises for Najib’s final conviction should go to the Malaysian electorate. That is the key lesson for the next election. The most powerful instrument in getting rid of corruption is for voters to know where to put the “X” on their ballot.


            Had Malaysians been similarly wise in 1999 and booted out the Mahathir-led coalition, they would have uncovered similar egregious corruptions and gross mismanagement of the past. Think of London Tin, the massive Forex losses, and Bank Bumiputra bankruptcy, among others. Then remember the gruesome murder of the Bank’s auditor, Jalil Ibrahim. With Najib, there were the model Altantuyaa, banker Ahmad Najadi, and prosecutor Kevin Morais. 


Had a similar tough scrutiny been done back then, Malaysia would have been spared the later 1MDB and other boondoggles. The nation jailed the wrong leader following the 1999 election. 


            Najib is Mahathir’s political son. Najib would not have risen so early and so fast had it not been for Mahathir. He was also instrumental in Najib replacing Abdullah in 2009. Mahathir greasing Najib’s path was in the old Malay tradition of berbalas budi (reciprocating a debt of gratitude). Earlier, Najib’s father Tun Razak had resurrected Mahathir when the latter was in the political wilderness following his expulsion from UMNO back in 1970. 


            Come the next election Malaysians must again repeat the 2018 lesson and boot out the Mahathir-controlled coalition as well as the UMNO-led one. Only then could the nation do a similar much needed albeit delayed scrutiny of Mahathir’s many outrageous follies. Today the old man is strutting around pontificating on Najib’s sins while remaining blissfully ignorant of his own massive ones. Voters must disabuse him of his delusion. There is no statute of limitation to the crime of plundering the nation. Mahathir should be investigated with the same vigor as Najib for only then would justice be done.


            Regardless whether such investigations be undertaken, one fact remains glaring and indisputable. In being directly responsible for Najib becoming Prime Minister, Mahathir had inflicted the greatest damage on the nation. You cannot put a price tag on that colossal blunder.

Sunday, August 28, 2022

Cast From The Herd: Excerpt #43: Back To Another Black Area

 Cast From The Herd:  Memories of Matriarchal Malaysia

M. Bakri Musa

Excerpt # 43:  Back To Another Black Area

It reflected the basic fairness of British colonial rule, at least with respect to its personnel policies, that those who had been posted to a black area could after a two-year stint request a transfer out. My parents did that and were transferred back to our home village of Kampung Tengah. It was also still a “black” area then, though not as “black” as Lenggeng, with nighttime curfew relaxed and imposed only from 10 PM to 7 AM. Still, at the entrance to my village there was the threatening sign of a soldier with his rifle cocked. Like Lenggeng, there was also a small mud fortress at the center of the village, manned at night by the Home Guard, an armed civilian unit made up of the villagers. 

My father had bought a 16-acre rubber estate at the end of the war. That was a huge parcel. It was his statement to my mother’s family and clan that he was ready to make his own mark. He dreamed of building his own home and being independent of my mother’s inherited ancestral one (tanah pusaka). As per Adat Perpatih of my matriarchal Minangkabau culture, my father was but a squatter on my mother’s property. He was often reminded of that by his orang pesanda (male in-laws). Divorce your wife and you have to vacate, leaving behind everything including your home and children. You would be lucky to have only sehelai dipinggang (the sarong hugging your hips). 

That parcel of land was in Senaling, a village a few miles from my school. Its Chinese owner sold it with minimal initial earnest payment based only on an oral promise from my father to pay up later. The desperate seller assumed that as teachers my parents had a secure income to pay off the loan. 

It was a good parcel with productive rubber trees. A few months before the sale, a band of communists had burned an Eng Giap Bus Company coach right at the entrance to the property. No one was killed; it was more a statement that they controlled the area and could do anything with impunity. Anyone cooperating with the colonials would pay a severe price. That explained the seller’s desperation to get rid of the property. 

The debt took a huge bite on my parents’ budget, forcing them to be frugal in the extreme. We had a prolonged austere ration of sawi and kangkung (cheap, easily-grown vegetables) and ikan bilis (dried anchovies). To be sure, that was still better than what we had endured during the Japanese Occupation. My daily shopping list was such a standard fare that the shopkeeper did not have to wait for my orders. It was the joke of the village, but that did not faze my father. He was determined to get out of debt as fast as possible. 

I would be reminded of that post-war family austerity years later when I moved to California from Oregon. Even though it was during the real estate bust of the early 1980s, homes in California still cost three to four times more than in Oregon. I was not confident that there would be a commensurate increase in my income. My realtor however, persisted in pushing the most expensive homes. “Eat hamburgers and hot dogs if you have to!” she urged me, “this slump is temporary.” She was right, for the most part. 

There was so much uncertainty in Malaysia right after the war that everyone was trying to unload everything. Because of their assured income (not just one but two) many desperate landowners sought out my parents. The post-war British Administration was determined to make landowners pay on those missed land taxes during the war. Selling would relieve them of that burden. 

Later when his land investment proved profitable, my father would never fail to remind me of his regret in not being more daring and had bought more. 

My parents had planned to settle down on their new land, but being public servants their future was not in their control. Soon they were again given an unexpected transfer to another communist hot-spot area, Triang, in Kuala Klawang district. As I was already attending school in Kuala Pilah, I stayed back with my older brother and sister with our grandparents. 

Triang, like Kuala Pilah, is on the eastern side of the Main Range. There were two ways to get there. One was to keep on the eastern side of the mountain through Bahau, the other to cross the Main Range at Bukit Putus to Seremban and then east re-cross it again at Bukit Tangga. The first route was longer but straighter and thus the drive much smoother.For the first visit we took the longer route. With the flat straight road, the bus driver pushed his machine to its limits. It was the fastest bus ride I ever had. I could hardly breathe and had to squint in the wind. 

At Simpang Pertang we waited for the police escort to accompany us for the rest of the journey. During the war this was a Chinese village and the Japanese massacred everyone there. Only the burnt scars of the shop houses remained. The lone standing structure was the police station. 

The distant rumbling soon announced the arrival of the caravan from the other direction, led by a black Saracen armored personnel carrier (APC), followed by a bus and then a few cars. At the tail end was another APC. The two APCs stopped at the police station while the rest of the convoy continued unescorted towards Kuala Pilah. 

After about thirty minutes, the first APC started to move and the policeman sitting in the gun turret waved us on. Our bus followed the APC; behind us were a few cars and the other APC. As we were not moving fast I was able to enjoy the scenery. 

Soon we were in a thick jungle. The policeman who earlier was perched on the gun hole had now disappeared into the belly of the tank. That scared me. I imagined terrorists lurking behind those trees ready to pounce on us, and we would be the next day’s headlines. 

After about an hour on that deserted stretch we began seeing a few Malay houses. That eased my tension. Soon we were at Kuala Klawang. My father met us and we took a rickshaw ride to Triang, a mile beyond on a dirt road. Unlike at Lenggeng, even though Triang was one of the blackest areas, there were no sandbags against the walls of the house. As the school was in a Malay village, as in Labu, the campus was deemed safe. 

Out in front of the teachers’ barracks was a badminton court; my parents had taken up the sport. The nation had just won the Thomas Cup and Wong Peng Soon was the new national hero, idolized even by Malays. Badminton fever was everywhere. My parents’ rackets were the top-of-the-line Dunlop Maxply. I was surprised that they had indulged themselves. Only a few months earlier we were on the sawi and ikan bilis ration. My parents could luxuriate as this was the rubber boom triggered by the Korean War. His earlier investment in Senaling proved profitable beyond his dreams. 

The irony struck me. Here we were benefiting from another war when we had just suffered through an earlier nasty one. 

Next Excerpt # 44: Exposure To Scientific Research Literature

Tuesday, August 23, 2022

Single Rotten Apple Versus The Whole Barrel Infected

 Single Rotten Apple Versus The Whole Barrel Infected


M. Bakri Musa



There was no joy with that pengkhianat bangsa (traitor to our race), aka Datuk Sri Najib bin Tun Abdul Razak Al Haj, now behind bars. Some relief perhaps, what with the protracted hearings, appeals, and request for adjournments now over. However, this is Malaysia. Hang on and be prepared for the ensuing even more ugly sagas, however difficult that may be to imagine.


            More fundamental is this. Is Najib the lone corrupt leader or is corruption now an ingrained trait of modern Malay leadership? A lone rotten apple versus the whole barrel being infected. Or to resort to a clinical metaphor, is Najib a solitary cancer or has the malignancy metastasized throughout Malay culture?


With the former, the best chance of cure would be to take aggressive action, as with wide radical excision of the tumor. That is, throw Najib in the slammer for a long time so as to impress others who would be similarly tempted. Even when the cancer has spread, it is still important to gain local control of the primary lesion but you would have to have additional modalities as with chemo and radiation therapy.


This localized versus disseminated cancer metaphor becomes more relevant what with new scandals like the Littoral Ships Contracts now unfolding and many old ones like the Bank Bumiputra, Forex debacle, and Perwaja Steel Mill still to be fully examined. 


            As for corruption, the narrative of a pious, upright and not too bright Malay leader being cheated by a slimy cunning Chinaman is an old one. Today that still resonates among not only Najib’s seemingly urbane lawyers but also by insular Islamist leaders like Hadi Awang. To them, their Najib is honest, only that moonfaced Jho Low had swindled their man.


At the practical level, Najib being jailed does not make those massive 1MDB debts disappear. They would still have to be serviced, consuming the nation’s scarce resources for the next decade or more. Imagine the colossal opportunity costs, with citizens bearing that burden, not Najib. Those costs are at least quantifiable. Not so the many more far greater and longer-lasting negative consequences. Already Najib is perceived a hero, and not just among simple kampung folks. Recall that earlier palace invitation of a few months ago. 


This degradation of our society’s norms and values may already be irreparable. In short, the cancer has spread.


Consider Najib’s last moments of freedom yesterday (August 23, 2022). He was whisked away not in the usual prison lorry but a dark-tinted luxury SUV, with police outriders fit for the Agung. Those tinted windows notwithstanding, Najib was seen through the clear front windscreen to be still in his Armani suit. Mug shots and orange prison garbs are only for opposition politicians and the common criminal, it seems. 


Somebody must explain this gross breach of standard protocol. Otherwise be prepared to see for even more bizarre and offensive scenes, the cancer having spread to the prison system. 


 Najib’s endless legal maneuverings, fervent multiple appeals, and cheap delaying tactics did not impress the judges. As per Chief Justice Maimun, “Putting aside the personality of the appellant, this [was]. . . a simple and straightforward case of abuse of power, criminal breach of trust, and money laundering.” Najib was found guilty on all seven charges, reinforcing the earlier decisions of the Trial Judge and Appeals Court Judges. Both appellate decisions were unanimous. 

Chief Justice Maimun went further. “[T]he evidence . . . points overwhelmingly to guilt    . . .  so much so that it would have been a travesty of justice of the highest order if any reasonable tribunal, faced with such evidence staring it in the face, were to find that the appellant is not guilty . . . .” 

As for spurious delaying tactics, imagine bringing up an issue that allegedly first appeared in social media over four years ago, as the defense attorneys did in trying at the last moment to recuse the Chief Justice. I wished one of the Judges would have asked Najib’s smart lawyers whether they had first ascertained the veracity of that alleged Facebook posting. Very elementary, my dear! On the other hand maybe Najib’s lawyers should appreciate the judges’ kind courtroom gesture of sparing them this embarrassing basic question.


These ugly courtroom spectacles that Malaysians had to endure could all have been prevented if only Judge Nazlan had used his discretion and denied Najib bail, sending him straight to jail back in July 2020. Considering the gravity of the offense, Najib’s brazen manner, and the unprecedented size of the loot, Judge Nazlan would have been justified. And we would all have been spared the ubiquitous hideous displays of his “Malu Apa Bossku” (What’s there to be ashamed of?) placards, with Najib’s grinning face dominating the local social and mainstream media. As it turned out, Najib had a lot to be ashamed. 


For Nazlan, that would have at least spared him Najib’s clumsy, belated, and ultimately unsuccessful attempt at smearing his (Nazlan’s) integrity. 


Those notwithstanding, it did not stop the Agung from inviting Najib, a convicted criminal, to an official palace dinner. I do not know whether the Chief Justice was also invited to that event. If she was, she did the right thing by not accepting. The King and his advisors should have known better not to invite a criminal onto hallowed palace grounds.


Any bets that the Agung, the current Sultan of Pahang (Najib’s home state), would in the coming 65thAnniversary Merdeka Celebration proclaim a new Wira Negara (National Hero) and grant Najib a pardon? Stay tuned!


There are many villains in this sorry expensive saga. Some have paid the price. Whether Najib would be included in this group remains to be seen, this latest denial of his appeal notwithstanding. This after all is Malaysia. 


There are also many victims, but Najib, his family and cronies, are not among them despite the cries of protestations of UMNO people. Instead there are those millions of Malaysians, the burden disproportionately borne by the poor. Imagine the many decrepit rural schools and underfunded hospitals because of 1MDB looting! 


There are also many heroes in this sad chapter of the nation’s history. Foremost are ordinary Malaysians. It was their collective courage in throwing out the whole corrupt lot in the 2018 elections that made possible the emergence of Latheeffa Koya to head the Anti-Corruption Agency, then Attorney-General Tommy Thomas, and most of all the prosecuting team headed by Datuk Sithambaram. 


The nation owes you much, and thank you for what you have done!