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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, December 02, 2009

Towards A Competitive Malaysia #130

Chapter 20: East, West, Islam, and Malaysia

Malaysia is ideally positioned to bridging not only the West with the Muslim world but also between West and East. Malaysia’s relationship with the West, first with the colonialist British and later as a pro-Western and free enterprise embracing society, has generally been positive and productive. The occasional anti-Western rhetoric of its politicians at election times notwithstanding, Malaysians and their leaders are very much aware of the tangible benefits and advantages of embracing capitalism and Western ideas and technologies.

Malaysian society is similar to many Western ones in being diverse, more in tune with the increasingly globalized world. Like many Western nations, Malaysia has accommodated well to its diversity.

Other Eastern societies like Japan and South Korea are racially and culturally homogenous. The only legal “immigrants” they have are their kindred who had earlier emigrated and are now returning. The East Asian culture and mindset do not lend easily to bridging East and West.

India is also diverse ethnically and culturally, but its relationship with the West through its British colonizer had been less than positive. Even after independence, India professes no love for the West. Its embrace of capitalism is recent, and there is no assurance that it will hold.

The Malay script is roman and phonetically based. A Westerner looking at a document written in Malay could still make some sense out of it. One in kanji would look like chicken scratch to a non-Japanese. An American lost in a small Malaysian town can still make some sense of the road and shop signs, not so if he or she were stuck in rural Japan.

English literacy in Malaysia is still high despite the recent decline. An American stuck even in the remotest village could find someone who can speak English. Visit the east coast villages and you are likely to find young Western backpackers holidaying. They do not feel at all lost.

Lastly, as stated earlier, the Judea-Christian West has much more in common with Islamic Malaysia than with Confucian Japan or Hindu India. Malaysia should leverage these favorable factors to maximal advantage. Before it could successfully play this bridging role, Malaysia must first understand the West better, its virtues as well as vices; the virtues with a view of emulating them, its vices in order to avoid them. Thus far Malaysians (like other Asians) are more eager to expose the defects of the West and to assume a holier-than-thou posture. Asians with glee point to the West’s history of slavery and colonialism, conveniently forgetting that those blights too afflict their society. Having read accounts of the Japanese colonization of Korea, and having suffered through the Japanese Occupation, Malaysians are glad that the British rather than a fellow Asian power like Japan or China had colonized Malaysia.

Just as important to Malaysia’s role in bridging East and West would be bridging the West with the Islamic World. There are two crucial messages Malaysia must deliver to both the West and the Islamic world. First, the values and ideals cherished in the West like personal liberty, respect for basic human rights, the pursuit of happiness, and representative government are also cherished in Islam. Second, extremists and terrorists are the enemy of peace loving people everywhere. That they would wrap themselves around a faith is not new or unique to Islam. Those Islamic terrorists are the enemy of and a threat to both the Islamic world and the West. The battle against them will require and should be the joint efforts of peace-loving people in the West as well as the Islamic world.

Next: Learning The Best of the West


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