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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.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Towards A Competitive Malaysia #86

Book Serialization #86

Chapter 12: Fragmentation of Malaysian Society

Minorities in America and Malaysia

Minorities in Malaysia behave like Hispanics in American in not wanting to integrate with or accept the mainstream culture. Unlike the Hispanics however, Malaysian minorities are not interested in maintaining their own ways, except for the few chauvinists among them. Instead, they wish to prepare themselves for the wider (and more prosperous) English-speaking world. They have little desire to learn Mandarin or Tamil, preferring English instead.
They are being pragmatic; they need an insurance policy to escape Malaysia if need be. A disdain for Malay language and culture plays only a minor role. When they emigrate, they opt not for China or India (the expected destinations if maintaining their culture and language were the prime motive), rather the West.
The Chinese minority in Malaysia is substantial, and their influence parallels their greater economic power. Like the Hispanics in America, they feel no compulsion to integrate into the mainstream. I am truly astounded to see seemingly bright young Chinese who proudly proclaim that they cannot speak Malay. Even an idiot after living in Malaysia for a few years would pick up the language. Their attitude is that Malay, despite being the national language of their homeland, does not merit their attention.
It is this stupid attitude that inflames Malay extremism. These “ultras” would readily accuse the Chinese and others of using Malaysia as merely a steppingstone to hop to the West.
No matter how well Malaysia treats its talented citizens (Chinese, Malays or anyone lese), it could never match what the First World has to offer them. That is a reality. The Singapore government treats its Chinese citizens royally, yet on a per capita basis, the emigration rates of Singapore Chinese are still high. Singapore may offer material comforts comparable to the West, but not the freedom. Likewise with the Indians in India, despite the nationalistic Hindu government, many Indians still emigrate.
The argument of Chinese Malaysians who emigrate because they felt they were being discriminated in Malaysia is disingenuous at best and malicious at worst. I left Malaysia because I was fortunate to have better opportunities in America, specifically California. Yes, there are faults with Malaysia. Had I been living in a less attractive part of America (Montana for example) or if my talent more valued in Malaysia, I would gladly return.
Malaysia should make every effort to retain its talented citizens. Regardless, no matter how hard it tries, there will be some who will find better opportunities elsewhere and will leave. We should not harbor any resentment towards them. Instead, Malaysia should make itself attractive to the talented regardless whether they are Malaysians or not, and be prepared to pay the going global rate for such resources.
The rate of emigration among the talented and educated is a good indicator of whether the nation is pursuing the right policies. I noticed this back in the 1960s when many Japanese students in the West opted to return home instead of staying back. I saw it again in the 1980s when many established Korean scientists and professionals uprooted themselves to return home. I am seeing the same phenomenon now with students from China. They go where there are better potential opportunities.
Singapore is slightly skewed. While many of its students do return, they do so not on their own volition but because their government puts strong contractual requirements that makes it near impossible for them to stay back even if they wanted to. A better indicator is to find out what they do once they complete their obligation. Many do end up back in the West; an early warning sign.
All things being equal (they rarely are) we should favor locals over foreigners, not because of nationalism or misguided sense of patriotism, but for the practical reasons that locals are more likely to stay and have better knowledge of local conditions. If there were no qualified local personnel, then I would not hesitate recruiting from abroad.
In the 1950s and 60s Malaysia imported many teachers from India. I and many others benefited immensely from these foreign teachers. They considered themselves lucky to come to Malaysia knowing well their dismal status had they remained in India. Consequently they were grateful and contributed wholeheartedly to the nation. These are the immigrants Malaysia should welcome, regardless whether they are from the East or West. That is more productive and fruitful than forever lamenting those native sons and daughters who have left.

Next: Chapter 13 Deteriorating Institutions


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