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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.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Practical Policies, Not Party Politics

In a recent private e-mail to me, a reader chastised me for being “NATO” (No Action, Talk Only). He intimated that if I really loved Malaysia, I should come home and contest the elections. As many readers share his sentiment of me, I post my reply to him. His original letter, in the usual rojak style of Malay liberally interspersed with English, follows.

Dear Johan:

Thank you for taking your valuable time in sharing your thoughts with me.

My retort to your “NATO” (No Action, Talk Only) accusation is simply this: Been there, done that! However, such a tart response would not do justice to a diligent reader like you who has, by your own admission, bought all my books!

As for my returning home, I served Malaysia on my own accord (no scholarship or other contractual bonds) for nearly three years way back when. It was at a time when my presence (at least initially) doubled the number of Malay surgeons in the country! Although I was proud of my achievements during my brief tenure there, I soon discovered that I would have fewer headaches if I were to stop banging my head against the bureaucratic wall. So I left.

I have returned many times since. On each trip, instead of bringing trinkets for my nieces and nephews, I brought boxes of books to donate to my village school library. On one occasion, the principal proudly displayed to me the mound of books that I had donated over the years. She proudly drew my attention to the fact it was significantly bigger than a similar gift from the World Bank!

On another occasion, I discussed with the biology teacher of a residential school about donating a video microscope. He was ecstatic as his school had been requesting that for over four years and had been denied by the ministry. No funds! – the chronic lament, or more correctly, excuse from our civil servants! Out of interest I inquired about the cost and was flabbergasted to discover that it was ten times more expensive than what I could have bought it! I suggested that the school use me as a purchasing agent to buy directly in America and thus effect considerable savings. Not possible, as the ministry’s policy is that all procurements must be through a particular company. Needless to say, this company was owned by a member of the royal family active in UMNO. That confirmed what I had long suspected: the massive Ministry of Education exists not for the children’s education but as a source of lucrative contracts for UMNO cronies.

Since Abdullah Badawi came into power, I had been warned from the highest level of the police force not to return. The warning came not as a threat but simply a message conveyed by someone from within the force concerned about my personal safety. Just to add substance to that threat, my friends in Malaysia have told me that the Special Branch had interviewed them! Fortunately thus far, it has just been an interview.

I have told them that I would not forgive myself if their friendship or association with me were to bring grief to them. Consequently I advised them to say whatever they want of me if that would get the authorities to back off.

I have been called many names, but stupid is not one of them. Nor would I take stupid risks.

As you may have found out from my earlier books and essays, I was equally severe in my criticisms of Abdullah’s predecessor. Yet at no time was I concerned about my personal safety even during the height of the 1997 economic crisis when Mahathir faced his most daunting challenges. It is indeed ironic (and reflects the insecurity and the hoax of piety of an Imam of Islam Hadhari) that Abdullah feels threatened by my commentaries. He and his sycophants have nothing to worry from me if, to paraphrase you, I were only a village champion out for glory.

My writing is the only way I know for me to continue my effort or jihad, if you would like to put it that way. As long as Malaysians and others like you are reading what I write, I will continue doing so. If nothing else I would have done my part in increasing the Malay contributions to the published world. That would be a satisfying enough accomplishment for me, and certainly more than what many could claim.

As an aside, I do have a day (and on many occasions, night time too!) job here that is both personally and professionally very rewarding. As such I can afford to contribute my royalties to a Malaysian charity.

As for my joining UMNO or any political party and contesting the elections as you suggested, we Malays must disabuse ourselves of the silly notion that the only way to contribute is through politics. I do not blame you for suggesting that, for some of our brightest Malays feel the same way as you do. And they end up wasting their precious talent.

One of my classmates in secondary school once headed a thriving and (at the time) the biggest medical clinic in Malaysia. I was so excited at his prospects that I thought of giving up my practice here in America to join him. He had the potential of creating a Malaysian Mayo Clinic. Alas, my friend, anticipating your advice, caught the political bug. He ended up nowhere politically. He did however reach the state “Exco” level and get his Datukship. To some, those are achievements enough. As for his once promising clinic, it is now a shamble.

I now look askance at another young Malay, a brilliant entrepreneurial lawyer who successfully created the largest law firm in Malaysia, all before his 50th birthday! That is a solid accomplishment by any standard! However, he too got caught up politically. The last time I read about him, he was found guilty by UMNO on some trumped-up charges of “money politics!” At least he could be comforted that it was not some framed-up sordid sex scandal!

Nonetheless he fought hard to reclaim his good name, but to no avail. Knowing the caliber, character and reputation of its senior operators, to be ostracized by UMNO would be a singular badge of honor. When criminals become judges, virtuous deeds get criminalized. Remember, even former Prime Minister Tun Mahathir could not get voted in as a lowly UMNO delegate. That was a blemish not on him but on UMNO.

Creating the largest medical clinic or legal firm would have been a singular achievement. Imagine the reflected racial glory! Such an endeavor would take smart work, extraordinary diligence, and more than just good luck. I am therefore not surprised that many Malays opted for the easy path out, like wildly brandishing their krises or endlessly exhorting “Ketuanan Melayu!”

I am interested in policies that work, not in party politics for personal glory. Under the present circumstances, my returning to Malaysia would only risk my personal safety, and I have no desire to be a martyr. Perhaps you could pay a visit to Koumintang Camp some day to see what I mean. If you do, especially during this time of Ramadan, please bring something for those poor souls incarcerated without trial.

Please note that as many of my readers share your sentiments of me, I have taken the liberty of “Bcc’ing” my response to you as well as your e-mail among my Internet chat groups, as well as posting it on my blog.


M. Bakri Musa

Johan’s original e-mail (with my translation):

NO ACTION TALK ONLY. Syabas Encik Bakri, saya mendapati banyak tulisan awak sangat bernas and menyegarkan [Congratulations, Mr. Bakri! I found your writings spirited and refreshing]. I even bought all your books.

Tetapi lama kelamaan, saya mendapati awak menulis hanya semata-mata untuk menunjukkan yang awak ni pandai atau mungkin semata-mata mencari glamour. Kalau betul-betul awak ni sangat cintakan Malaysia mengapa awak tidak balik saja dan bertanding dalam pilihanraya. Awak ni macam hero kampong, berkokok seluruh kampong tapi tidak ada hasil. [On further reflection, I believe that you write merely to show off how clever you are, or perhaps you are seeking glory. If you really love Malaysia, why not return and contest the elections? You are like a village hero, crowing loudly put producing nothing.]

Ya, awak mesti fikir saya ni orang suruhan UMNO kan. [Yes, you may think I am an UMNO hack.] But sorry to disappoint you, I’m not even a Malaysian.

Sekurang-kurangnya Pak Lah dengan segala kekurangan dia cuma untok melakukan sesuatu untok Malaysia. [At least Pak Lah with all his deficiencies is doing something for Malaysia.] But you, berkokoklah kuat-kuat [continue with your loud crowing]. But remember to clap your wings even harder.



Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear Sir,
You have my utmost respect through your writings. I'm a young Malaysian Malay who has been observing our current national issues with great concern. I apologize in advance should my comment would offend you in any particular way.

Dr Bakri,
It has been our pride that you have succeeded in what most people could only dream of. Reading from your contribution(s) to the nation & community around you then & continuously at present, I have an inkling that you might be someone very useful to the nation.

You have been very right in every sense to criticise how this little country is being governed. You're merely applying your basic human rights. Although I bet my life that Mr Johan & myself are out of your league in terms of braincells connectivity, I must concur with him on one fact. You're not here to help us the rakyat & the country and proceed to develop this nation. You have said it yourself that your day job is both personally & professionally rewarding. A true leader would leave everything in his favour to serve the rakyat, that is my humble opinion. And to criticise from afar without having much to help physically & spiritually cannot be claimed as jihad.

I do not intend to belittle what you did whilst you're in Malaysia. But for you to belittle your friend's effort in joining politics is duly incorrect. Of course, it was to no avail. Of course, his once flying 'Mayo Clinic' is in ruins. But mind you, he did try his very best to help make a change. It's probably because you have all the success in the world that you have problems in dealing with failures. When one joined the politics went asway, you called him miserable oldman. I wonder if you have ever tried politics, leaving behind everything. Politics is dirty isn't, Dr? But these are the ones who were given mandate to govern over a country. And please, do not let me start when you applaud Mr Bush & Co about their charities. Please, Sir.

From my shallow point of view, you might have been contracted the plague I would like to call Americanised. Is it because America has enable you to be what you are now beyond your wildest dream that you keep applauding American way of governing their people & nation?

Please come back to Malaysia and serve the people, Dr. In all honesty, I think you would do us a lot of good in a lot of things. But to do this from afar, to me, is like fighting a war through the television. You just watch & curse from the comfy chair on your back. If this man, Abdullah Badawi, does collateral damage to this country, come back and help us fight this man if ever he is indeed evil. Words don't hurt, Dr. You must understood this well. Have any leader been hurt with words? Come back and show us the way to combat poverty, to improve education system, to help the poor & unable, to provide better healthcare system, and to govern the country well. Please do not write too much until you have fatigue written all over your fingertips. Let's help and build this nation again, if so it is rotting and slowly deteriorating. Help propagate to other bright Malaysian Malays to return and save this country. We are losing our headings & bearings as I write, Dr.

Come back & help us or stop writing.

Yours truly,

8:07 AM  

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