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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.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Rebuttals on Malay College Essay

Rebuttals on Malay College Essay

My review of Khasnor Johan’s book on Malay College drew many responses, including a rebuttal from the author in the form of a Letter to the Editor. I will re-post that letter later, pending permission from Malaysiakini.

My piece was published on many websites and chat groups of Malay College’s “old boys.” Hence the many responses, including from some very distinguished alumni. These readers were obviously new to my work as they raised the same old trite issues that my earlier readers brought up over a decade ago. That is, they questioned my competence and indeed my right to comment in view of my residing abroad. By their tone, they dismiss me as no longer “one of us.” These readers focused on my personality and other irrelevant personal matters rather than on my ideas.

Then there are those who suggested I am good at only criticizing but cannot offer constructive ideas. When I write that Malay College does not even prepare its students for university, I am also implicitly suggesting that Malay College should have Sixth Form. In my book, An Education System Worthy of Malaysia, I suggested that Malay College and other residential schools eliminate their lower forms and concentrate only on Forms IV to VI.

One responder, a very distinguished old boy, asserted that I have an ego “as big as big school,” without once commenting on the substantive issues I raised. On the point that no alum has yet to contribute generously, he pointed to the piddling efforts at restoring Mr. Norton’s old residence and the surau.

Yet this ‘old boy’ is on the board of many corporations, statutory bodies, and the college itself. His hobbies include sailing fancy yachts; he no doubt has other equally luxurious toys. To the likes of him, those meager contributions are “substantive.” I wonder whose ego is “as big as big school,” his or mine?

It will be a long time, if ever, before Malay College will get its Halim Saad Library, Megat Najmuddin Aquatic Center, or a Nawawi Effendi Orchestra.

My essay is a book review. I would have thought that many old boys would be eager to get a copy of the book. Judging from the comments, few if any, had read the book! One admitted to buying it but thus far, he has read only a few pages. Presumably, he gave up after seeing his name was not in the index!

I thank the few who engaged me on the issues. How refreshing! Some agreed with me, others did not. One suggested that it is the responsibility of all old boys to contribute in their own unique ways. I could not agree more. Reviewing the book was my minor effort at doing this.

Surprisingly, again reflecting something that I do not know exactly what, the most eloquent and solid responses were on my website rather than on the college’s chat groups.

I raised many major issues in that review; sadly, no one bothered to comment on them. Malay College, for example, is still a “glorified middle school.”

In typical Malaysian fashion, many blame the college’s woes on others, especially those bureaucrats at the Ministry. Conveniently forgotten is that many of these top officials, including former Ministers of Education Anwar Ibrahim and Musa Mohamad, are old boys. Where is the supposed clout of our alumni network?

In her rebuttal, Khasnor Johan agrees with me that the title of her book over promises. She blames the college’s old boys for the choice of the title. I have always considered a book to be the author’s baby; others may suggest, but the author gets to name it. Her blaming her sponsors is a convenient cop put.

Her excuse for not having references was that it was not an academic book. She confuses the detailed footnoting of an academic treatise to the general referencing found in popular publications. Besides, when you are quoting word for word, you are duty bound to put the necessary attribution or credit regardless whether it is a dissertation or lay essay. We learn this elementary courtesy early in high school.

To my criticism that she offers no prescription as to what ails this national heritage, Khasnor responded that it is not her place to offer any. Hers was merely to chronicle, not to analyze and prescribe. Besides, that was not the mandate given, she claims.

Yes, there is a place for mere chronicling, of simply telling the story and leaving the analyses and interpretations to readers. They call that fiction writing.
“We report, you interpret!” is the canard perpetrated upon novice journalists and writers. The reality is that we implicitly filter though our analysis and judgment what and how we report.

You do not compartmentalize your brain. Just because you are commissioned to write a book does not mean you do not bring all your skills and intellect to bear on the project. Anything less and you do not serve your client or readers well. More importantly, you do not produce your best or enhance your reputation.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

i wonder whether her editor has any say on the book...

4:16 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


1:02 AM  

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