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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, July 08, 2009

Towards A Competitive Malaysia #111

Chapter 16: Critique of Current Strategies

Islam Hadhari (“Civilizational” Islam)

Local commentators generously refer to Abdullah Badawi as an Islamic “scholar,” despite the fact he graduated with only a first degree and had not contributed an iota of scholarship. It is the ethos of the Malay culture to be generous, and to have low expectations especially of its leaders. Islamic Studies was not Badawi’s first choice. He could not handle the mathematics to pursue his first choice of economics. Then, as now, Islamic Studies was the fallback for those not academically inclined.

Abdullah takes the “scholar” label seriously, and therein lies the problem. He feels compelled to demonstrate his Islamic manhood and to better those ulamas in PAS. In 2004 Abdullah introduced his Islam Hadhari (Civilizational Islam) with great fanfare. Few would disagree with its ten lofty and lengthy principles. Cynically one could view them as nothing more than a pretentious attempt at besting the Ten Commandments, minus the brevity, clarity, and gravity.

When citizens started asking whether “money politics” and corruption, afflictions of UMNO, are compatible with Islam Hadhari, the Prime Minister became decidedly testy. Of course both challenge the core of Islam Hadhari: moral integrity. When further questioned on whether the Internal Security Act, which calls for detention without trial, is in the spirit of the third principle of Islam Hadhari (free and independent people), and its second (just and trustworthy government), Abdullah threatened anyone who challenges Islam Hadahri with … the ISA! It is a sad reflection of Islam Hadhari that books written by John Esposito and Karen Armstrong, both sympathetic and influential commentators on Islam, are banned by the Abdullah administration.

Today, Islam Hadhari is one of Abdullah’s many forgotten slogans. The 9MP makes occasional respectful references to it.

The premise of Islam Hadhari is that this great faith is compatible with modern development and democracy. No one challenges that. The problem is not in enumerating the many great qualities of Islam (a grade school pupil could do that), but in living up to them. Nor is there any point in recalling the glory days of Islam and of the renaissance of Andulasia, those too are well documented. More important is to learn what made those Muslims great and what contributed to their subsequent decline. That would require diligent studies, not coining springy slogans.

Again, my solution is simple: Dump Islam Hadhari. It is dying anyway. It is obscene to see UMNO leaders endlessly quoting the Quran—with its pristine message of universal justice and respect for individual dignity and liberty—while at the same time defending such intrusive and inhumane laws as the ISA. That they fail to appreciate the jarring irony of their position is a stunning reflection of their collective moral blindness.

Today’s Muslims confuse between being “Islamic” and being good. Do good, and you will be following the moral imperatives of the Quran and the teachings of the prophet (pbuh). Evil deeds, no matter what their presumed justifications, can never be Islamic. Killing is evil not because the Quran says it is, rather killing is evil; that is why the Quran prohibits it. The difference is not at all subtle.

If Abdullah were intent on being the Grand Imam a la the Rightly Guided Caliphs, then he should emulate the legendary second Caliph, Omar. He was best known not for his erudite recitation of the Quran or for leading congregational prayers but for his effective and progressive leadership. Omar would stroll incognito through the evening bazaars to find out exactly how the citizens were faring, instead of relying on the glowing reports from his subordinates. Today’s Muslim leaders, out to prove their piety, would rather spend their evenings in mosques.

Imam Abdullah is taking his religious role too seriously. He forgets that he has a nation to lead, and the intractable problems of Malaysia cannot be solved through sermonizing and endless dispensing of homilies. Nor would prayers alone do it. A hadith says it well; first tie your camel, only then pray it does not escape. First be an honest and effective leader, then pray to God and seek His Guidance and Mercy.

Reduce poverty, eliminate corruption, and respect the dignity of the citizens—those are meritorious deeds in the Holy Book of any religion. Abdullah would be better off concentrating on crafting effective policies to address these pressing problems instead of being distracted by the empty rhetoric of Islam Hadhari. The citizens, Muslims and non-Muslims, elected him to be their chief executive, not their imam.

Multimedia Super Corridor and Bio Valley

The Multimedia Super Corridor (MSC) and the Bio Valley projects, both started by Abdullah’s predecessor, were to spearhead Malaysia into the K-economy. They represented the vision and farsightedness of Mahathir. As Abdullah was a senior member of Mahathir’s administration, it would be safe to assume that Abdullah also endorsed both initiatives.

Wrong! With Mahathir’s mercurial personality, his ministers cowed themselves into agreeing with him. It is difficult to tell whether their subsequent enthusiastic public cheerleading represented genuine support or merely expressions of bodek (sucking up). Soon after succeeding Mahathir, Abdullah cancelled many projects dear to Mahathir, indicating that Abdullah’s earlier support was nothing more than attempts at ingratiating himself to Mahathir.

With MSC, Mahathir managed to get the leading luminaries like Bill Gates, Larry Ellison, and Alvin Toffler to be on his advisory panel. In America, Gates and Ellison were fierce competitors, but with Mahathir at the helm, they were willing to cooperate. That was a singular achievement, a tribute to Mahathir’s vision. MSC aspired to be a jungle version of Silicon Valley, with Mahathir designating a swath of land twice the size of Singapore for that very purpose.

Yet on its tenth anniversary in 2006, MSC felt compelled to re-brand itself, a sure sign of an enterprise not doing well. It is futile to argue whether MSC is successful or not, as that would bog one down with definitions and criteria. Suffice to say that it did not live up to expectations; it did not jumpstart Malaysia into the ICT age, its primary mission.

While Mahathir may have been successful in getting the top honchos at IBM, HP and Microsoft to be on his advisory panel, those companies saw fit to site their regional headquarters in Singapore, not at MSC.

In trying to replicate Silicon Valley in the Malaysian jungle, Mahathir had the formula only half right. To use the language of computers, he had the hardware right but not the software. Indeed the physical infrastructure was way ahead of Silicon Valley, with T-1 cables laid out ahead of time. It even had government-funded venture capital firms ready to assist would-be entrepreneurs. It was the software—personnel and culture—that was sorely deficient.

The man who headed the project was a scientist who had long ago abandoned the laboratory for the administrator’s desk. In demeanor and personality, he was cautious, plodding and very much the civil service type. Bluntly said, he was uninspiring, more comfortable in his dark suit and being ensconced in his air-conditioned office. He was far from the image of the electronic tinkerer or entrepreneur.

The local universities have not contributed their part in producing the necessary personnel; the curriculum used was outdated and the graduates could hardly communicate in English, the language of ICT. Meanwhile, securing visas for foreign talent was a bureaucratic maze.

A few years later, Mahathir started the Bio Valley project to spearhead the nation into the biotech age. This time he learned his lesson. Instead of having a civil servant be in charge, he had a Malaysian entrepreneur-scientist from abroad to head it. Unfortunately, that was not enough. Again, it suffered through many of the failures of the MSC, in particular, lack of trained personnel and difficulty in recruiting foreign talent.

The September 2005 issue of the prestigious journal Nature carried a highly unflattering review of Bio Valley.3 To even casual observers, what the journal reported was not new. Despite appearing in a prominent publication, the report did not create any stir in Malaysia. The reason was simple: Not many Malaysians read the journal as few libraries carry it. That more than anything else reveals the dismal state of science in Malaysia.

The sad part is that there are many capable and talented scientists in Malaysia working at the universities and research centers. Scientists at the Rubber Research Institute successfully produced a transgenic rubber plant carrying the gene for human albumin.4 That was a landmark scientific achievement, a potential commercial success. Despite living thousands of miles away I was aware of that brilliant achievement, but policy makers and even fellow scientists in Malaysia are blissfully unaware of it.

While the government pours huge sums of money into Bio Valley, these proven scientists at the universities and research institutes are starved for funds. A scientist friend at a local university lost a valuable resource because his superb technician manning the NMR machine quit because he could make more money selling fried bananas. As the technician was only a high school graduate, there was a ceiling to his earnings per civil service protocol. Worse, my scientist friend could not get the necessary funding for his research assistants.

Both MSC and Bio Valley represent what is alas too common in Malaysia, good ideas executed poorly.

Next: Big Governments, Big Problems


Anonymous bakri bodoh said...

I see no one comment on your lousy opinion...maybe marian read it..such rubbish..Bakri, you fucking stupid malay. you eat and shit in the us and u want to lecture us malay about binding their mind.

It is precisely of stupid fucking malays like you that we need to to strengthen national unity and jati diri.

It is because of neo colonialist mind like you Mahathir and his family who have plundered so that now Mokzani his son is the richest malay according to forbes that we must not allow neo penjajah ini membelenggu pemikiran melayu.

you bakri is a fucking shit head of a malay. You think you are clever just because you are a surgeon. hahaha many of my friends from ukm are surgeons too and they were based in malays.

Malays will conquer the world. the us is on the brink of bankruptcy. they only print money in exchange for malays goods. Once china refuse to accept any us dollars then you will come begging to poor binded malaysia.

you fucking stupid malay

3:08 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You may recall that Malaysia has a Look East Policy - to learn from the Koreans and the Japanese. The Koreans learnt from us. They took our MSC and implemented it on a nationwide basis 10 years ago. Today the are the most wired nation in Asia. Ramalx

5:56 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It is very simple blame it on Mahathir!

9:34 PM  

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