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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, December 14, 2008

Mindless in Malaysia

It is disheartening to note that while world leaders from Gordon Brown to Barack Obama are consumed with the evolving global economic crisis – the worse since the Great Depression – Malaysian leaders are obsessed with such trivialities as whether yoga would undermine our faith in Islam, and on such silly issues as Malay special privileges.

This is not just my observation. The Sultan of Selangor recently took the unprecedented step of publicly upbraiding our elected leaders for harping on such trivial matters. His Highness was right; he went further. For the first time he will not be awarding Datukships to politicians on the occasion of his upcoming royal birthday. That is as public a humiliation as it gets. Now if only the other rulers and the Agong would follow in this sultan’s fine example, it might just shame our political leaders to take their responsibilities seriously.

As for these politicians “concerns” with the fate of Islam, consider this. If brutal dictators like Stalin and Mao Zeedong could not suppress the faith, rest assured that a little bit of calisthenics in the park would not erode our faith in Islam. Nonetheless I am “touched” by the concerns of these self-professed defenders of our faith. I would have more confidence if they were the paragon of all things Islamic, like advocating a fatwa against corruption and having some respect for basic human rights.

As for the special status of Malay customs, institutions, and language, this is also the favorite cause for these Hang Tuah wannabes. Never mind that those rights are enshrined in our constitution; only those Malays who are pathologically paranoid or inherently insecure would need to be incessantly reassured of this fact. To alter it would require amending the constitution, a process requiring a two-third majority vote in Parliament. It is beyond me why we Malays have to worry about this.

The crux of the issue is not with the fact of the special privilege clause in the constitution rather how to execute that to benefit the Malay masses. That is a challenge beyond the capacity of current Malay leaders; hence their preoccupation with these distracting trivialities.

Malays are not the only ones in need of constant reassurance. There are those who, despite having their ancestors born in this country, going ballistic whenever an idiot makes references to their foreign origin. They too are plagued by their persistent paranoia and incessant insecurity as to their rightful status in this country.

Depressing Comparison

My sense of disappointment is more keenly felt as I am currently witnessing President-elect Obama unrolling his new leadership team. To a person his nominees are all accomplished individuals, having made their mark in academia, the professions, public service, or the corporate world. They not only look competent but also speak with confidence and considerable authority. Most of all they talk sense. That is very reassuring, at a time when the public needs it badly.

. Then there are the assorted characters now vying for leadership positions in UMNO, and thus aspiring to lead our nation. To begin with, there is Najib Razak, unopposed to be the next leader of UMNO, and thus the next Prime Minister. With the country afflicted by rampant crime, the best that he could offer was for citizens to change our perception of it!

As for his supposed knowledge of economics, his major as an undergraduate at a provincial British university decades ago, he is nonchalant about the threatening global economic crisis. Even FELDA farmers have a better grasp of threat of this global crisis, having seen their livelihood destroyed with the plummeting price of palm oil.

Then there are the three candidates for UMNO Deputy Leader. Muhyyiddin Yassin is more upset with his former cabinet colleague Zaid Ibrahim attending Pakatan Rakyat’s party convention. I would have expected as Trade Minister, Muhyyiddin would be consumed with the ongoing free trade negotiations with America rather than be bothered with what Zaid is doing in his spare time. At the very least Muhyyiddin should be busy drumming up foreign investments or finding new markets for our palm oil, especially during these trying economic times.

The second candidate, Malacca’s Chief Minister Ali Rustam, is too enthralled with Bollywood studs, having just awarded one of them with a Datukship. The song and dance of the Hindi movie is more his style. What a contrast in values between that state and Selangor!

. The third aspirant, the double Muhammad Taib, was the fellow who was arrested at an Australian airport a few years back with literally millions in cash in his back pocket. Nobody, least of all Prime Minister Abdullah, has ever asked this former school teacher how he acquired his fabulous wealth. In a display of courage borne of stupidity, he publicly took on Raja Petra of Malaysia-Today accusing him of insulting Islam. Raja Petra mercilessly humiliated Muhammad Taib into silence by exposing this politician’s sordid past.

These are the best of Malay leadership that we could offer for the world to preview. Obviously what Malays need most in the constitution is not the current “special privileges” provision rather a clause to protect us from these inept and corrupt leaders.

The veteran political observer David Broder observed that Americans have a lot to be thankful for at this Thanksgiving. At a time of severe economic crisis they have as a leader someone as brilliant, capable and inspiring as Barack Obama. He has thus far lived up to his promise by picking a team to match his considerable talent.

All this talent and experience will not guarantee success, of course. Kennedy’s “best and brightest” gave America its Bay of Pigs debacle and near nuclear confrontation with Russia at the height of the Cold War. Later they bequeathed the Vietnam War.

There is one certainty however; corrupt and incompetent leaders are a sure recipe for the destruction of a society. Unfortunately that is what Malaysia has in abundance today. That thought is enough to depress me, as well as many Malaysians.

Malaysiakini December 8, 2008


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