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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, July 28, 2005

The Malay Today

The Malay Today
Din Merican
[Reprinted from Malaysia Today Thursday, July 28, 2005. www.malaysia-today.net]

The problem is that most Malays today do not read. Dr. Bakri Musa made this observation in one of his books, Seeing Malaysia My Way. To most Malays, as related by Bakri, anything beyond a simple essay is “too difficult and too long lah.”

Others note that there are not enough books published in Malay. Or that maybe we Malays want to be spoon-fed.

Poor Excuse

If indeed there is a shortage of reading materials in Malay, then learn English, or any other language of one’s choice. Spend your ownmoney and attend night classes if need be. More truthfully, it is a question of attitude and motivation. The Vietnamese for example, are highly motivated; they work during the day and learn English at night. For ten years (1965-1975), the Americans tried to bomb their country into the Stone Age but failed. Unlike the Vietnamese, we Malays have our NEP and NDP now for over 35 years (1970-2005).

We have our share of exemplary Malays as worthy role models. Sadly most were in the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s. Paradoxically those were difficult times, and those Malays are a vanishing group. They will disappear soon.

What we have today to be the role model for our young are self-serving Malay leaders and the so-called Malay “lingo” nationalists. During the early years of independence, these “lingo” nationalists were in league with ambitious Malay politicians who wanted the Malay Language to be the world’s lingua franca. Malay nationalism was the road to fame and fortune, the consequences be damned.

These “leaders” successfully won the day, with Malay replacig English as the medium of instruction in our schools and universities. Did we have the books, articles and other publications in mathematics and the sciences and other subjects then? No, that would come later, we were assured. We probably thought those things would magically drop off from the sky.

Thus was the national language policy implemented, in earnest without regards to developing the necessary infrastructures and softwares needed to ensure its successful execution. “Dasar dulu dan yang lain semua belakang kira.” (Policy first, all other things can come later)”.

Today we see and bear the consequences of this myopia. We have Malay university graduates who are unemployable, and government officers who are scared to speak at international conferences because they lack the prerequisite English language skills.

Dewan Bahasa and Pustaka was created 40 years ago to accommodate the “lingo” nationalists. Since then it has been on a steady decline. Perversely, while these nationalists were publicly championing our national language, their children are all fluent in English and other languages because they have been educated abroad!

The burden of the national language follies is borne by the poor Malay kids in the kampongs and small towns. Yet these language nationalists are still around today, punching their kerises in the air, and strenously opposing any policy change.

Dewan Bahasa is still active, but preoccupied with doing the same old and outdated things. Vested interests, a feature of all bureaucracies, prevent any meaningful reform or strategic change. I do not deny that we need to develop our language but the vast sums of money invested in this institution were a colossal waste.

A cynic might say that Dewan Bahasa was very successful in fulfilling its mandate, which is to promote the use of Malay in administration and business. That served our domestic needs. But times have changed and in the era of globalisation, it would be a great advantage if Malaysians were fluent in English, Japanese, German, Mandarin, French, and other foreign languages.

Glokal Malay

How can we be “Melayu Glokal” if we lack foregin language skills? If we cannot handle own language, then something must be wrong with us. Of course we can, but what about English, for example?

Our home-grown intellectuals, with few exceptions like Kassim Ahmad, Syed Hussin Ali, Rustam Sani, K.S. Jomo and Terrence Gomez, tend to go along with their political masters. If you watch the television coverage of the recent Umno General Assembly, the guest commentator was an UMNO apologist. He had nothing original or incisive to say. Many others are like him. They shape Malay opinion, advocating a culture of conformism. Hang Jebat goodbye!

Those who dare speak and offer alternative views are marginalized. They are rarely invited to sit on government committees to help shape national policies. Worse, their writings do not appear in the mainstream media which are consumed with self censorship. Or when they are published, the are heavily “edited” beyond recognition. In some cases their books are banned. Fancy banning books and publications in the 21st Century! Even sadder, a few have been imprisoned and suffered police brutality.

Fortunately thanks to the Internet, today we have independent websites like bakrimusa.com, kassimahmad.blogspot.com, malaysia-today.net and malaysiakini.com, to name a few, as well as the many bloggers. They allow us to express our views and discuss our concerns in an open and responsible way.

We will soldier on and get our share of readers. Raja Petra Kamarudin’s Malaysia Today receives some 250,000-300,000 hits daily. Unfortunately, Raja Petra’s house was recently raided by the police because he publsihed articles critical of the Negri Sembilan Royal Family. What is the message here?

I must admit that I do not have time for Malay novelists and writers except for Keris Mas, Tongkat Warrant, Samad Said, Kassim Ahmad and Baha Zain. I have a preference for the classics, biographies and autobiographies of great men of history, philosophical treatises, international relations, and economics. My doing so does not make me less of a Malay. In fact my readings make me very conscious of my “Malayness.”

It is not correct, as one reader put it, we just “simply nag and make noise in our own circles.” You as well others of your generation must write and act, but do so responsibily. To be able to do that, you must first read and and be able to think critically and develop your writing skills.

At my age of 66, I have done more than my share through the years. My contemporaries and I have made it possible for you and your generation to move forward. The question is: Will you and your friends take up the challenge for a better Malaysia and a stronger and more dynamic Malay society?

It is time for action by your generation. By all means, correct our mistakes. Be aware however that even the most well intentioned policies carry their own seeds of destruction, the Law of Unintended Consequences being operative. Politicians and their sycophants choose to ignore this reality. Actually they could not care less of the the consequences, intended or otherwise, of their policies.


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