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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.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Towards A Competitive Malaysia #125

Chapter 19: Islam: The Solution, Not The Problem

Encouraging Intra Muslim and Muslim-American Trade

Another avenue for greater American and Muslim cooperation would be through trade. Currently the bulk of the Muslim export to the West is petroleum; import, expensive military hardware. Definitely unhealthy!

Recent moves at creating a Muslim common market are welcomed, albeit too ambitious. America should support such a move. Greater economic integration of the Muslim world and increasing trade between it and the West would benefit all. It would also provide an alternative to the current enthrallment with the Chinese market.

This huge Muslim market is ripe for the export of American agricultural products. Making them halal (kosher) should pose minimal cost. The other American exports, as mentioned earlier, could be educational and medical services. Both could prove even more lucrative, productive and enduring than the current exports of military hardware, and would benefit citizens of both countries as well as heighten prospects for peace and prosperity.

Malaysia’s high standing in the Muslim world uniquely positions it to play this crucial role. The other contender would be Turkey, but her long association with NATO and her current desperate attempt to join the EU makes her less credible. Malaysia is the natural choice for America to launch such cooperative ventures and project its “soft power” in the Muslim world. As Harvard’s Joseph Nye observed, this will prove to be a more potent and effective weapon against Islamic extremists and terrorists.5

It may appear that the Muslim world has nothing to export to the West except oil and gas. Not true! The Islamic world is the repository of some of the world’s ancient artifacts like the pyramids in Egypt and the Silk Route through Asia. These are valuable tourist attractions. With peace, the Muslim world could earn a healthy income through tourism. The millions who undertake the Hajj pilgrimage, as well as its minor version, the Umrah, reflect this huge potential. That does not include the millions of non-Muslims who would like to visit the pyramids and other artifacts of the ancient civilizations. Tourism could rival oil exports in terms of revenue; it already is in the Gulf States.

If the Muslim world’s export to America is lopsided (oil), so too is America’s export to the Muslim world (military armaments). Economists may rationalize such exports as a quick and dirty way of recycling petrodollars, but such spurious economic efficiencies carry a huge social price. Those heavily-armed Arab regimes are tempted towards militaristic adventures. Saddam Hussein would never have entertained war with Iran (and later Kuwait) had his army not been equipped with the latest and most expensive American military toys. Worse, he did not hesitate using those same deadly weapons on his people. No surprise then that the Iraqis would blame America for supplying those lethal weapons.

An economically more efficient and morally superior alternative would be for America to sell its agricultural products to the Muslim world. That would get rid of the huge surplus and provide the masses of Muslims with affordable and nutritious foods. That would endear America to Muslims, reaching their hearts through their stomachs.

This is easier said than done. Powerful lobbies of the American “military-industrial complex” would not easily give up their easy lucrative markets, and those military dictators in the Muslim world would not readily give up their fascination with expensive lethal killing machines. Besides, you would have to sell tons of wheat for one Sherman tank.

If those agricultural exports do not make up for the loss of expensive arms sales, then America could export its education and healthcare expertise. Had America sent its teachers instead of soldiers to Iraq, Afghanistan, and other Muslim countries, imagine the good that would have generated, for America as well as the Muslim world!

Next: Islam and Capitalism


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