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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, October 29, 2006

The "Ugly Malay" Becoming the Norm

The “Ugly Malay” Becoming the Norm

In summoning Klang Municipal Councilor Zakaria Mat Deros to the palace over the issue of the illegal building of his private mansion, the Sultan of Selangor did the right thing but to the wrong person. The Sultan should have summoned the state’s chief executive, Chief Minister Khir Toyo, instead.

The sultan should demand from Toyo what and when he knew of the affair, whether he believed it was an aberrant incident or part of a more extensive pattern, and what he intended to do about it.

Rest assured that such flagrant flaunting of the law reflects long established behaviors that has been tolerated if not encouraged by the authorities. It also mirrors the Third World mentality of being above the law that is so prevalent among our leaders.

Being only the symbolic head of state, there is not much more that the sultan can do except merely express his displeasure. Were he to go beyond that, he would risk setting a dangerous precedent and raising significant constitutional issues, quite part from sidetracking the matter.

There is one act that is well within and sole prerogative of the sultan. He could strip Zakaria of his datukship, assuming of course that the sultan awarded the honor in the first place. As Malays are still very much a feudal bunch, that would carry significant shame. That such a slimy character was so honored to begin with says much about the current state of Malaysian, in particular Malay, society. That however merits a separate discussion!

Curiously “Uncurious” Khir Toyo

That such a huge mansion could have been built to near completion right in the center of a highly visible part of town is indicative of the sorry state of Malaysian institutions, in this particular case, the Klang Town Council.

There are hosts of other associated questions. That he managed to secure a prime real estate from the council for way below market price should interest the chief minister and the Anti Corruption Agency. It would also be very revealing to trace who authorized the non-competitive sale of that valuable public property.

Of even greater interest is how this previously poor, ill-educated villager could acquire so much wealth so quickly so as to be able to afford the mansion. I am certain that if some enterprising journalists were to demand to see the cancelled checks from Zakaria or copies of the bills from the contractors and vendors for the work done, there would be none. This again reflects the pervasive corruption.

The remarkable aspect to the whole shenanigan is the curiously “uncurious” Khir Toyo. As the state’s chief executive, I would have expected him to be demanding answers from the Council officials. Alas we now have the sultan having to take that highly unusual initiative.

This dentist-turned politician of humble beginnings has absorbed only too well the Sultan Syndrome, enjoying the trappings of his office but is otherwise clueless about being an effective executive.

The sultan should strip Khir Toyo of his datukship for his incompetence. That would be a powerful symbolic gesture. The sultan would effectively be challenging the prime minister to get rid of this joker. Khir Toyo is obviously fit only to fill in dental cavities, not the chief executive suite.

Lack of Outrage

Equally shocking is the lack of public outrage, especially in the Malay community, in particular, its establishment. Malay commentators and intellectuals showed no interest, much less expressed their abhorrence. This Zakaria mess (and many more yet to be revealed) is far more destructive and corrosive to the fabric of our society than the current wildly publicized tiff between Abdullah and Mahathir.

I can appreciate the reticence of non-Malays to this Zakaria scandal. For one, there is always the fear of being branded as anti-Malay, a particularly damaging accusation. For another, they could be just as guilty in tolerating as well as participating and thus encouraging such corrupt practices. One wonders how many of the contractors working on that mansion also have simultaneous government contracts and at what inflated prices.

For Malays however, the damage is considerable. We are sending precisely the wrong message to our people. That is, in order to succeed or afford a mansion and other trappings of the “good life,” we do not have to study diligently or work hard but merely ingratiate ourselves to the powerful in order to hog our own little spot at the public trough.

The message we send to non-Malays is equally destructive. That is, we Malays are a race of rogues. We tolerate such nonsense because we harbor our own secret ambition to be like them. This more than anything is what makes me mad and angry with these scoundrels.

By Aristotle’s Nichomechean ethics, it is not enough to be angry. That is the easy part. We have to be angry at the right people, at the right time, for the right purpose, and express that anger in the right way. Slimy characters like Zakaria and his superior Khir Toyo make it easy. We cannot be angry enough at their types. We must totally abhor them. They bring dishonor to our race and nation.

Let me assure non-Malays that the Zakaria Mat Deroses and Khir Toyos are not representative of my race, at least not yet. These “ugly Malays,” to borrow Syed Hussein’s phrase, are fast becoming and will be the norm if we do nothing, by in effect tolerating them. We do have our share of the hard working, the honest, and the frugal. Yes, we are fast shrinking, that we sadly agree.

It is in the interest of all, Malays and non-Malays alike, not to tolerate such sinister and shady characters. Unchecked, they would soon spread to all Malaysians.

The Sultan of Selangor has conveyed his displeasure. He has no wish to be the Sultan of the “Ugly Malays.” It is up to us to pick up on that signal, amplify and transmit it widely. Such slimes are a blemish on and have no place in our society. They are not to be tolerated. We do not have to wait till the elections to demonstrate our collective repugnance.


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