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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, February 10, 2010

Malaysia in the Era of Globalization #1

Malaysia in the Era of Globalization #1

M. Bakri Musa

[Note: Today and every Wednesday thereafter, I begin serializing the revised edition of my Malaysia in the Era of Globalization that was first published in 2002.]

Nikmat Hidup

Menahan fikiran aku tak mungkin

Menumpul kalam aku tak kuasa

Merdeka berfikir gagah perkasa

Berani menyebut yang aku yakin.

—Haji Abdul Malik Karim Amrullah (HAMKA), Malay scholar

and philosopher

My translation:

Life’s Bounty

Censoring ideas is not my deal

Nor putting to rest my writing quill!

Fearless are those who dare to think

And put to words their inner being.

Preface to the Second Edition

Malaysia in the Era of Globalization (MEG) was released in 2002 in the United States, with a more affordable Malaysian edition the following year. Malaysia was then still under the leadership of Dr. Mahathir, as it had been for the preceding 22 years. Not surprisingly after such a long tenure, there were signs then suggesting that he had already severely overextended his welcome. The most significant was his party’s severe thrashing in the 1999 elections.

That notwithstanding, Mahathir did not show any indication that he was ready to step down any time sooner. Consequently my book was directed primarily at his leadership. The last chapter, “An Open Letter to the Prime Minister,” was essentially a summary of the book.

Unlike my first book The Malay Dilemma Revisited: Race Dynamics in Modern Malaysia which was necessarily critical and at times angry as it examines past policies (in particular those of the Mahathir administration) with MEG I was much more enthusiastic and optimistic as I was looking to the future, to the promises and aspirations of Malaysia.

My enthusiasm and optimism were not misplaced. A few months after the release of my book, in June 2002 at his party’s Annual General Assembly Mahathir stunned everyone with the announcement of his retirement. After much confusion and a great show of public emotions bordering on hysteria by his party members, Mahathir relented and delayed his departure to October 31st the following year. Nonetheless when he left there was no disguising the general sentiment that his time was up. Being a shrewd reader of the public mood, I was certain that Mahathir too was fully aware of that.

My early optimism was obviously shared by most Malaysians as reflected by Abdullah Badawi’s (Mahathir’s chosen successor) unprecedented massive electoral victory in 2004. Alas, it did not take long for those hopes and enthusiasm to be dashed. Abdullah turned out to be kosong (empty); he squandered the precious half a decade that he was privileged to lead the nation.

Malaysians had initially hoped that Abdullah’s tenure would be the much-needed balm to heal the trauma and end the excesses of the Mahathir administration. Instead, Abdullah’s period was a colossal waste, of not only missed opportunities but worse, even greater egregious abuses and neglect. Mercifully, his tenure was quickly cut short before he could inflict permanent damage upon the nation.

Unfortunately thus far Abdullah’s successor Najib Razak has shown every indication that he would surpass Abdullah both in the ineptitude as well as corruption categories. Najib is determined to undermine the Malaysian experiment. Even though it would be hard to remain optimistic under such circumstances, nonetheless I still have a firm belief in the inherent resilience and goodness of Malaysians and that eventually we too will get a leader our great nation deserves. We do have the talent; I am certain of that.

This second edition of MEG has been substantially revised to incorporate the many significant changes and challenges in Malaysia and globally since the publication of the first volume. In Malaysia the challenges are primarily in the economic and socio-political arenas. Economically Malaysia is being buffeted by the still strong eddies from the global credit storm of 2007. The even greater threat however is internal, the unraveling of Malaysian society the increasing polarization between the races as well as within Malays, together with the failure of our institutions through the twin blights of corruption and incompetence.

Globally there are the threats from terrorism galvanized by their misguided beliefs in their faith, the latest but by no means the only example being the Islamic extremists exemplified by Al Qaeda, and the crisis of confidence on modern capitalism triggered by the housing collapse in America in 2007 that quickly spread worldwide.

Yes the concept as well the reality of globalization, briefly defined as the “growing integration of economies and countries around the world” (World Bank), have been severely challenged, rest assured that globalization Version 2.0 that would inevitably emerge will be stronger, more stable, and more productive.

The recent global crisis and Malaysia’s own internal problems should not be the excuses for our nation to withdraw. Instead it should be the incentive for ever greater participation so that we would be at the fore front to not only benefit from the fruits of this ‘newer and improved’ version of globalization but also to be fully apprised of the risks and dangers so we would be fully prepared to anticipate them. It is well to remember that many countries, in particular Canada, were relatively spared by the global financial crisis of 2007. Being prepared would mean that Malaysia would more likely end up like Canada and not be bankrupted as Iceland.

The issue then is how best to achieve that goal of being an active and productive participant in this globalization V2.0. This revised edition, like the first, is my small contribution towards that goal.

M. Bakri Musa (bakrimusa@juno.com)

Morgan Hill, CA

February 2010.

Notes and Acknowledgments [The First Edition]

My target readers are primarily Malaysians, and others interested in the political and socioeconomic development in Malaysia. In an increasingly interconnected world however, one can never be too restrictive either geographically or intellectually in one’s intended audience.

That immediately creates problems in handling names, terms and expressions commonly used in Malaysia. While they may be familiar to Malaysians, they would require some explanatory notes for others. I have compromised by including a brief descriptive phrase the first time such personalities or terminologies appear in the text while providing at the beginning of the book an alphabetically-arranged list with a more detailed explanation so readers may conveniently refer.

For reasons of clarity and brevity, I have dispensed with the titles and honorific of Malaysian personalities. I mean no disrespect. Likewise I have deleted common incidentals in their names like “Abdul,” “Mohammad,” “bin,” and “Haji.”

One commonly used term deserves clarification right from the beginning, “Bumiputra.” This is a legal label referring to the indigenous people of Malaysia. They are entitled by statutes to certain special privileges and other benefits. Over 60 percent of Malaysians are Bumiputras, and of these over 90 percent are Muslim Malays. The term “Malay Muslim” itself is redundant for according to the constitution, a Malay must ipso facto be Muslim.

There are still recognizable minority-Bumiputras who are neither Malays nor Muslims. I use the more specific term “Malay” when referring to the more restricted entity described earlier while reserving the term “Bumiputra” for the generic and more inclusive group.

I am gratified with and immensely grateful to the many readers of my first book The Malay Dilemma Revisited and column in Malaysiakini (Seeing It My Way) who have taken the time to write me. For those readers who do not share my views, their disagreements have forced me to go back and reevaluate my arguments and assumptions. For those who do, well, it is always nice to have supportive readers! I readily welcome all these readers with their different points of views. They make for an interesting and stimulating discourse.

Writing is a lonely exercise, and those responses help make the connections. Writing is also like throwing pebbles into water; one never knows how far those ripples would go.

This book takes off from where my The Malay Dilemma Revisited left off. As that book focuses more on Malaysia’s past, it must necessarily be critical as it assesses and evaluates the impacts of the nation’s various policies and initiatives. This book in contrast looks to the future and deals with what Malaysia should do to prepare itself for new challenges ahead, specifically of globalization. Consequently, writing it was a much more pleasurable as I explore ideals, promises, and hopes.

I wish to express a special thank you and heartfelt appreciation to Din Merican, who was then a Senior Research Fellow, Cambodia Institute for Cooperation and Peace, Phnom Penh, for going over the manuscript. His many suggestions on content as well as style helped make the final version far superior to the original I sent him.

Din and I are of the same generation; we share similar backgrounds, experiences, and outlook. He is from a kampong in Yen, Kedah, and I am from one in Sri Menanti, Negri Sembilan. Din benefited from an outstanding graduate education in America and went on to serve his country. He represents what we should try to replicate among our young Malaysians. Although Din may not agree with many of the issues I raised here, nonetheless we both share the same ideals and aspirations for Malaysia. More importantly, we both love Malaysia, warts and all, and are optimistic about its future.

To my wife Karen, neither a simple thank you nor more profuse praise seems adequate to express my indebtedness to and appreciation of her. Many of her weekends and evenings had been preempted by her reading the manuscript. Her nuanced suggestions of “It could be better!” to the more direct “They will never follow that!” helped make the prose flows smoother and the arguments tighter.

In the end this book is, as my clinical colleagues would say, my baby. I am responsible for its conception, content, nurturing, and final delivery. The imperfections and errors in the final product could easily be traced by their DNA to me!

It is my contention that Malaysia cannot withdraw from the global mainstream; it must be an active participant. Through moderation, tolerance, and understanding, Malaysia’s diverse population is already an exemplary model for the world. Recent rise of the lunatic fringe notwithstanding, Malaysia’s brand of tolerant and moderate Islam has given the faith a much-needed counterpoint to the headline-grabbing notoriety of the extremist few. Malaysia is already an acknowledged role model for many, especially in the Third World.

The challenge for Malaysia is how best to compete and succeed in this era of globalization. This book is my small contribution towards that goal.

M. Bakri Musa

Morgan Hill, California

June 2002.



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