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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.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Suaris Interview: The Future of Malays #5

Suaris Interview:  The Future of Malays #5:  It appears that you are cynical towards things labeled “Islam.” Many feel that you do not subscribe to conservative Islam as practiced by the vast majority of Muslims rather the basic teachings of our faith. What is your comment?

[The original was posted on suaris.wordpress.com on Feb 13, 2013.]

MBM:  I am a Muslim, by birth and through practice. I believe in God and Muhammad, s.a.w, as His Last Messenger, as well as the five pillars of our faith. That of course is the belief of all Muslims.

            What is the essence of the teachings of our Holy Koran and Prophet Muhammad, s.a.w.? Command good and forbid evil! That is repeated many times in our Koran and hadith. That too is agreed upon by all Muslims.
            That is the “golden rule” of our faith. I am less interested in labels, those can be easily printed. Content is something else. If a state does not subscribe to the creed of doing good and forbidding evil, then I do not consider it to be Islamic regardless of the label. It is easy to carve the names “Allah” and “Muhammad” on arches and buildings; likewise for leaders to don overflowing robes and huge turbans.

            The question is whether corruption, bribery, and abuse of power are deemed “avoidance of evil.” Likewise, if leaders ignore the sufferings and deprivations of their citizens, could that be considered “doing good?” When I make judgment on whether a state is Islamic, those are the crucial factors, not how often the leaders have been to Mecca or how exquisite their recitation of the Koran.

            A Singaporean once asserted that his country is more Islamic than neighboring Indonesia. In Singapore there is no corruption or abuse of power by its leaders. Citizens too are well taken care of and not poverty stricken. Poverty invites impiety, goes an ancient wisdom, and impiety in turn leads to infidelity to our faith. Visit nearby Riau and the wisdom of that observation would be readily self evident. The abject poverty there assaults your sensibilities. We cannot blame those poor Indonesians. The Chinese too were like that when they were plagued with poverty in their not-too-distant past.

            Based on the foundation of our faith – command good and forbid evil – it is hard to dispute the view of the Singaporean.

            I do not quite understand the meaning of conservative versus liberal as applied to Islam. While I understand the meaning of those two words in their original English, in Malay those terms have acquired diametrically opposite meanings. That is why I refrain from using either.
            It would be more meaningful if I were to give an example of an Islamic society and leader I hold in high regards and compare both with another I would be very hesitant in emulating. It is not my place to say which one is more Islamic and would enter Paradise. Only Allah knows that, and He is not telling me or anyone else.

            There are fewer than 15 million Ismailis in the world, about the same number as Malays in Malaysia. Those Ismailis do not even have a country of their own, but their power, influence and contributions to the world generally and Muslim community specifically far exceed their number.

            Ismailis emphasize the giving of zakat (tithe), and with that money they build schools and universities, as well as invest in companies that among other things manufacture pharmaceuticals. The Aga Khan University Hospital in Pakistan was built only in 1985 but it is already a well known center. The Ismailis could not care less whether their women don their hijab; they are more concerned that their women be trained as doctors, teachers and engineers so they could contribute to society, to be makhlok soleh (exemplary beings).

            Compare them to the Talibans in Afghanistan. Taliban means students, but those students are busy burning schools and splashing acids on young girls wanting to go to school. Taliban youths are busy leaning how to use C4 explosives and high-powered AK47 rifles; young Ismailis are busy solving problems in science and calculus.

            A society reflects its leaders. The leader of the Ismailis is the Aga Khan. Yes, he is wealthy, raises thoroughbreds, and his father was once married to Rita Hayward, the famed American actress. The current Aga Khan however, graduated from Harvard; he leveraged his networking with American intellectuals to entice them to teach at the universities he built in Asia.

            The leader held in high regards by the Taliban was Osama. He too was wealthy and qualified as an engineer from a Saudi university, but he expended his wealth and skills to destroy buildings and kill people.
            Who better “command good and forbid evil,” Aga Khan or Osama? I let readers determine whether Malay society today is closer to the Ismailis or the Taliban. Again, I leave it to readers to decide whether the Ismailis or Taliban we should emulate.

            We are obsessed with hudud and hijab while drug abuse and abandoned babies are rampant in our community. Why should we emphasize hudud and not zakat? We should be mandating zakat on every Muslim including the sultans. It is one of the five pillars of our faith; hudud is not.

            If everyone (save the poor) pay their zakat (2.5 percent of their assets), and then we employ the smartest economists and investment bankers to manage those funds, there would be no end to the good those would bring. That is exactly what the Ismailis are doing, building schools and hospitals with their zakat. What are the benefits of the Taliban’s zakat? If we emphasize hudud, many would end up with their hands chopped off. Who will feed them and their families?
            We best demonstrate our Islamic values by not tolerating the corrupt and incompetent, as well as those who have abused our trust in them. Our Koran commands thus.
            Yes, we have to accept Islam in its totality; we do not have the privilege of picking and choosing only those parts that please us. The crucial question is why should we emphasize hijab and the chopping of hands but tolerate rotten education and gross corruption? What should be our priority? That reflects our values.
            Consider education. Hamka once said that God gave us two Korans; one, the Koran we are all familiar with; two, the universe outside and within us. For the first, Allah had given us a prophet in the person of Muhammad, s.a.w., to guide us in studying it. For the second, God had blessed us with an intellect so we could reason and distinguish between good from evil, truth from falsehood. We have an obligation to study both Korans.

            Scientists elucidating the secrets of the polio virus could be viewed as studying this second Koran. The result was the discovery of a vaccine that had spared millions from the devastating disease. That is “doing good.” The Taliban however, view the vaccine as a poison perpetrated by the infidels. Consequently polio still afflicts many in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Again based on the golden rule of our faith, is that “doing good?”

            In the early centuries of our faith, our ulama did not differentiate between worldly and religious knowledge. Both ultimately originate from God. Those ancient ulama were also proficient scientists, competent physicians, and skilled mathematicians. They were as diligent in studying this second Koran as the first. Today’s ulama however, totally ignore this second Koran. To them it is not worthy of study. The ummah takes their cue from the ulama; consequently, Muslims have not contributed our share for the betterment of mankind.

            We should be concerned with such critical issues as how to educate our young so they could make their rightful contributions to society. Do good in this world and God will look kindly upon you on the Day of Judgment. He is after all Most Just!
            Consider this ahadith (approximately translated):  A prostitute was admitted into heaven because she once saved a dog dying of thirst by giving it water. Do you think such women wear hijabs? Another ahadith has it that a man was admitted to Heaven because he once removed a thorn from a road. If that deed was worthy of admission to Paradise, imagine the rewards for someone who actually built the road, meaning, the engineers!
            Again, we best demonstrate our Islamic values by building safe roads and bridges. There is no point carving “Allah” and verses of the Holy Koran on such structures if our architects and engineers are incompetent, and the roofs they designed and build would collapse in the first storm and injure many, or if their bridges have more water flowing above than below!

            A few years ago there was a public debate between Datuk Asri Zainal Abidin and Astora Jabat on tajdid (reform in Islam). I admire both individuals; they are among the most thoughtful. However, in that three-hour debate, they argued on the minutiae of hudud, on whether a woman’s hair is considered aurat and thus must be covered. Only towards the end did a brave soul ask why we should be bothered with hijab when our nation is crippled with rampant corruption. His query was never addressed. We must reform Islam so we could address pressing social problems that now blight our society. Don’t be obsessed with hijab.

            The typical religious discourse on radio and television or at our mosques and universities is unidirectional, from speaker to listeners. The bulk of the time would be consumed with excessive salutations and endless quotations of Koran and hadith. When both are cited, discussions would have effectively been shut down. The Koran and hadith should be the beginning, not the ending of a discussion.

            Consider the ahadith that says the community would be divided into 73 sects, only one of which is true and genuine. The remainder 72 would presumably be headed for Hell. How we interpret that hadith has consequences. If every ulama feels that his is the only true sect, then he would have a messianic zeal to correct the rest, with the rationale of helping them enter Heaven! That’s what motivates those Taliban to splash acid on schoolgirls.

            Statistically speaking, you have only one chance in 73 to be correct, less than 1.5 percent! That probability should humble and motivate us to learn from the others in the hope that one of them is the one true faith!

            I am blessed to live in America with its freedom. I can read Shia and Ahmaddiyah literature without being harassed by religious officials. There are none in America! In Malaysia, I would be jailed without trial, treated just like the communists of yore. Would such a stand conducive to peace and understanding or breed suspicion and enmity among Muslims?

            Like Astora Jabat, I do not subscribe to any figh (sect). I do not as yet know which of the 73 sects is genuine. What I do know is that piety, justness and wisdom are not restricted to any community. I can still learn from the Shias, Ismailis, Salafis and Wahabis, among others, on the truth and beauty of our faith.
            On the Day of Judgment, we would be held accountable for our deeds on this earth. We could not give the excuse that we were merely following the teachings of this ulama or that. Our faith is blessed not to have a defined clergy class. We have to think for ourselves. We decide whether to follow the ulama who command us to hate non-Muslims and consider those Muslims whose politics we disagree with as infidels.
            Back to the beginning, my understanding of Islam is simple and straightforward:  Command good and forbid evil. The rest are but examples and illustrations.

Cont’d:  Suaris Interview The Future of Malays #6:  Continuing on, what is your view on PAS and its leaders? Will their policies and activities usher Malays forward?

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Suaris Interview: The Future of Malays #4

Suaris Interview:  The Future of Malays Part 4:  It is said that Malays are at a crossroad. This is particularly so with the upcoming General Election 13 where the choice is between feudalism and liberalism. To what extent do you agree with that viewpoint?
[The original in Malay appeared in suaris.wordpress.com on February 6, 2013.]

MBM:  I agree that we Malays are at a critical juncture. Our choice is between continuing on the present path that has led us to where we are today, with our minds still trapped, or make a sharp turn towards liberating them. Remember that the path to the dumpsite is the one well-trodden.

            I do not agree that the forthcoming election (GE 13) will be a choice between liberalism and feudalism, as I understand both terms. Instead it will be between a party that has grown old, tired, and bankrupt of ideas versus another that is young, vigorous, and full of fresh talent.

            As an aside, “liberalism” to me means a system that treats every human as having certain inalienable rights or freedoms granted unto him (or her) by Almighty Allah, among them, the freedom of thought, to choose our leaders, own properties, and pursue happiness. Feudalism on the other hand was the social system prevailing in Medieval Europe where humans were either lords or peasants. Land, property and peasants belonged to the lords. Your fate and place in society was determined at birth and remained fixed throughout life. Meaning, born a peasant, and you would remain one until death.

            Clearly from the perspective of respect for human lives and values, liberalism is closer to Islam than is feudalism.

            True, Malay society today still retains many feudal elements. Nonetheless we are free to choose our leaders. Even though we could not choose our sultans, we do not consider ourselves slaves to them. Yes, we use the term “patek” in referring to ourselves when addressing a member of the royalty. That is merely a habit. A sultan can no longer grab a village maiden for his palace collection. We hitherto peasants could now (if we wish to and can afford it) own a house more palatial than the istana and drive a car that could overtake the sultan’s in speed, price and glamour.

            Returning to GE13, before we make a decision as to which party to vote for, it is prudent to do a downstream analysis. There can only be three possible outcomes. First, Barisan be returned to power; second, Pakatan to prevail; and third, neither winning a decisive victory. By decisive I mean where the buying of a handful of victorious candidates would not alter the balance of power a la Perak 2008.
            If Barisan were to win, that would mean voters approve of the current pervasive corruption and abuse of power. We would have gone further, essentially rewarding those who have destroyed MAS, Perwaja, Bank Bumiputra, and others. Expect the greed of ministers and their families to grow unabated. Our rotten system of education would continue its decline. Our professors and academic leaders would continue to be chosen based not on their scholarly contributions but their ability to suck up to the politically powerful. Najib would continue to lead as he has for the last four years – delivering an alphabet soup of acronyms, endless exhortations, and a surfeit of sloganeering, much like the character in Shannon Ahmad’s short story Uggapan (Slogans).

            Najib promised to, borrowing his latest buzzword, “transform” his administration. How could he possibly do that when all his ministers would again stand for election? If they win, they would surely again be ministers. What transformation did he have in mind? Hishammudin becoming Women’s Minister?

            Barisan leaders are scaring citizens into believing that our stability depends on their winning the election. On the contrary, if Barisan fails to secure a greater victory than in 2008, (no one is predicting it will win a supra majority), there will be an ugly power struggle at the top. The Najib/Muhyyuddin rivalry would eclipse the earlier Abdullah/Najib power struggle in its messiness. It would be even uglier than the Mahathir/Ku Li confrontation a generation earlier. The permanent establishment would be paralyzed, not knowing which faction to support. Mahathir has already sharpened the knife that he used with devastating effectiveness on Abdullah. This time the victim would be Najib.

            In defeat, there would be much soul searching in Pakatan. Perhaps their leaders would now resolve to focus on the things that they could agree on that would benefit the nation and citizens, as with eradicating corruption and abuse of power, ensuring justice, improving the education system, while distancing themselves from such meaningless symbolic items as with an Islamic state and who could use the word “Allah.” Those obsessions do not contribute to the well being of citizens, on the contrary, they divide us.

            The second possible outcome would be a Pakatan victory. That would not mean that all our problems would magically disappear. Far from it! First, Pakatan leaders are only human; there would be a great temptation to regard their victory as a bountiful harvest. There are many more family disputes during such times! Expect a not-so-pretty grab for positions, and contentious issues like who would be Deputy Prime Minister and whether he (unlikely a she) would be a Malay or non-Malay. There would also be the jostling for key portfolios as with education, finance, and internal affairs. Those are to be expected.

            The pettiness would challenge the wisdom and patience of Pakatan leaders. If they were to behave like kids at Hari Raya or Chinese New Year greedily grabbing duit rayas and ang pows, then their future and also that of the nation would indeed be gloomy. However, if they were to consider their victory not as Hari Raya but the beginning of Ramadan, meaning, a time to be tested, patient, and diligent, then their and our future would be bright.

            More interesting is to imagine what would happen to UMNO in defeat. Those who joined the party not for the sake of the party and country but for their greed would quickly abandon it. Their flow of opium would be cut off. Meanwhile the new 2M team of Mahathir and Muhyyuddin would be merciless on Najib. Erstwhile sleepy supporters of the equally soporific Abdullah Badawi would now be intent on exacting revenge on the two sides.
            As ugly and embarrassing as that would be to Malays, it would bring only good to UMNO. The party would begin its slow and long overdue rehabilitation, back to it glorious past. Its members would now be limited only to those who truly love and are passionate about the organization and of Malays. The party might once again be the pride and love of our people and not as at present, an enabler for the corrupt and criminal.

            There are two other much more meaningful consequences to an UMNO defeat. Consider that the corruption of Khir Toyo, former Chief Minister of Selangor, was only exposed with Pakatan winning the state. Had UMNO won in 2008, that slimy character would now still be its chief executive, with his greed and corrupt ways unabated. Because Pakatan won, he is now awaiting jail, pending appeal, for his corruption conviction. There are many Khir Toyos at the federal level; they could only be exposed with a Pakatan victory.

            The second important consequence would be on members of the permanent establishment, from senior civil servants and heads of GLCs to sultans and professors. They would now realize that their careers are no longer dependent on their skills at sucking up to Barisan. They would be forced to examine themselves carefully and not be so politically partisan. The future of their careers would now depend on their dedication, diligence and professionalism, not their political skills and leanings. That could only be good for the country generally and its administration specifically.

            Many, especially in UMNO, predict a vicious racial riot a la May 1969 with the party’s defeat. I totally disagree. First, in 1969 the power shifted from Malays (UMNO) to Chinese (DAP). If UMNO were to lose in the coming election, power would still be in Malay hands except that those Malays would not be from UMNO. Second, our society is much more wise and mature now. The Chinese for example need not have to parade with their dragons to show off their might. A look around KL and Penang would be enough to reassure them and others. And if Malays were to run amok on the streets, those luxury bungalows and BMWs they would burn down might just belong to the likes of Khir Toyo and Abdullah Badawi!
            In 1969 UMNO was still Malay, and Malays, UMNO. Today conditions have changed radically, as evidenced by the recent massive KL112 rally.

            Extremists like Ibrahim the Frog could easily be taken care of. An offer of a directorship or two and trips to Macao would silence them. Alternatively, do not impede the anti-corruption agency. I am simply amused that Malay leaders from Mahathir to the academic Ramlah Adam would pin the hopes of our race to characters like Ibrahim the Frog.

            For Malaysians, the greatest consequence to a Barisan defeat would be that we actually get to experience and benefit the meaning of free elections. That is, by merely putting an “X” in the appropriate box on the ballot paper, we could change our government. There is no need to riot or demonstrate on the streets. A Barisan defeat would effectively demonstrate the true meaning of checks and balances in a democracy.

            The third and worst possible consequence would be if neither party were to win convincingly. We had a glimpse of that ugliness in Perak following the 2008 election. All, politicians from Barisan to Pakatan and members of the establishment from civil servants to the sultan, did not shine. Their behavior brought shame to the nation. They however, were oblivious of that.
            Expect that, only worse, in Putrajaya. The behavior of these politicians would be more flagrant than those of the ladies of the evening. As odious as that would be, there would be some redeeming values. We would finally see those politicians for what they really are, worse than those prostitutes at Chow Kit Road. At least those ladies had the morality not to sell themselves so openly and in broad daylight.

            The odiousness would so enrage many that able and honest citizens would now be encouraged if not compelled to offer themselves as candidates in the future. That can only be good! We would finally get to appreciate the awesome power of the ballot booth and that elections have consequences, prompting us to be more prudent the next time we vote. That is one invaluable lesson.

            In short, the best outcome for Malaysia in GE 13 would be for Pakatan to win convincingly. Next would be for neither side to do so. The worst outcome would be for Barisan to be returned to power. Stated differently, a hung parliament would be a not-so-pretty Pakatan victory.

Next:  Suaris Interview. The Future of Malays #5:  You appear cynical towards things labeled “Islam.” Many view you as not being enamored with “conservative Islam” as currently practiced by most Muslims and not with Islam itself. What’s your comment?

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Suaris Interview: The Future of Malays Part 3

Suaris Interview:  The Future of Malays Part 3:

[The original, in Malay, appeared in suaris.wordpress.com on January 31, 2013]

Suaris:  You advocate strategies that are generally deemed to be evolutionary in nature to change the collective Malay mindset. Should Malays be “shocked” with revolutionary changes as we saw with the Japanese and South Koreans that led to their quantum leap in achievement?

MBM:             When Mohamed Bouazizi burned himself to death in Tunisia on January 4, 2011, it was not his intention to start a riot or revolution. He had simply given up hope; he just wanted to end his misery. His personal action however, triggered a revolution not only in Tunisia but also the entire Arab world.

            Gamel Nasser was frothing at the mouth in wanting to revolutionize the Arabs; he was lucky that his Egypt was not totally whipped by Israel in the 1967 War. Senu Abdul Rahman and other Malay leaders like Abdullah Badawi, together with our intellectuals, were also intoxicated with their Revolusi Mental back then. Today, you could not even find the book of the same title that they wrote, and we Malays have remained the same.

            Whether a change is evolutionary or revolutionary depends not on action or intention but on results and consequences. Bouazizi merely intended to end his suffering but his action reverberated throughout the Arab world, taking down hitherto strong men like Ghaddafi and Mubarak.

            Evolutionary changes are small and incremental; revolutionary ones dramatic and disruptive. It is well to remember that we could bring down a mountain by aiming a jet of water at its base (as with the old hydraulic tin mining) as by planting explosives.

            James C Scott, the Yale political scientist who studied the peasants in Kedah’s rice bowl, in his book, Weapons of the Weak, uses a different metaphor. When the ship of state runs aground on a coral reef, attention is directed to the shipwreck (revolutionary) but not the aggregations of petty acts that made those treacherous reefs possible (evolutionary).

            Your reading of the Japanese and South Koreans is not quite accurate. True, viewed today the changes in their societies are truly revolutionary. However, the steps their leaders took much earlier were all incremental and evolutionary in nature, stretching over decades.
            Japan after the Meiji Restoration of 1868 sent thousands of its teachers and senior civil servants to the West to study its systems of education and administration. They were gone not just for a few weeks of “study tour” but for years. Even today, Japan takes in thousands of English teachers from America. Those were all evolutionary not revolutionary initiatives. We take in a handful of teachers from America under the Fulbright Program and we make a big deal of it and deem it revolutionary.

            Likewise South Korea; during the 1970s it sent thousands of its students to the West for graduate work in the sciences and engineering. When President Pak visited America he met with many of them including those who opposed him, to cajole them to return. When they did, they were supported with loans to start their enterprises. Compare that to Prime Minister Najib; the only student he met was a Petronas University flunkie, one Saiful who was purportedly looking for a scholarship.
            I dealt more deeply with Japan and South Korea, as well as Ireland and Argentina, in my earlier book, Malaysia In The Era of Globalization (2002).

            To continue our “Look East,” a closer example both in space and time is China. Mao Zedong was consumed with one revolution after another to, borrowing Najib’s favorite word, “transform” his country. The result? Hundreds of millions of his countrymen suffered or were killed. Hundreds of millions! That would be the whole of Indonesia!

            Then came Deng; his philosophy was simple. He could not care less what the color of the cat as long as it catches the mouse. With that he changed the nature and character of China and its society. Today China has eclipsed economically Japan and Germany, and threatening to do likewise to America.

            Our neighbor Indonesia had one revolution after another under Sukarno, but its people remained destitute. Mahathir too aspired to revolutionize our culture and people. In the end it was he who cried.

            Returning to my earlier garden metaphor, revolution is where you indiscriminately spray Roundup. Yes, that would kill the lalang but also wipe out the useful plants. With evolutionary strategies, you would meticulously pour the concentrated pesticide right at the root of the offending weed while sparing the useful plants. They can now grow unimpeded, the lalang now completely eradicated.
            Liberate the Malay mind, one at a time, in a process that is evolutionary and incremental but cumulative and sure. The results would astound us and be deemed revolutionary. When a mind is liberated, it can no longer be imprisoned. We would then be no longer, to use the terminology of the Algerian philosopher Malek Bennabi, “colonizable.”

            Even more beautiful, a liberated mind will see clearly that the green, lush grass in our garden is after all the tenacious and highly destructive weed lalang and not, as our leaders are trying to convince us all along, alfalfa.
To continue.  Suaris Interview # 4:  It is said that Malays are at a crossroad. This is particularly so with the upcoming General Election 13 where the choice is between feudalism and liberalism. To what extent do you agree with that viewpoint?

Sunday, February 03, 2013

Interview With Suaris: The Future of Malays Part 2

Interview with Suaris:  The Future of Malays, Part 2.

[The original in Malay appeared in suaris.wordpress.com on January 25, 2013).

Suaris:  In a recent interview with Astro Awani, Dr. Mahathir said that Malays would be left behind unless given continued help. He referred to such help as crutches. Do you agree that we continue to need crutches? If so, for how long?

MBM:  If we Malays still remain backward and marginalized after over 55 years of “help” from the UMNO government, then we ought to examine critically the nature of that help.

            As parents we readily acknowledge the importance of how we guide and help our children. Be too indulgent and protective, we lose hope of their ever able to shine on their own. Be too strict and controlling, they will never acquire self-confidence; likewise if we constantly criticize and highlight their weaknesses.
            In modern medicine, we rarely give crutches to patients following hip surgery. Instead we give them to physiotherapy so they could be self-ambulatory as quickly as possible. I encourage, in fact insist that my surgical patients be up and about the very next day. It is dangerous to keep them in bed; the most serious complication being potentially lethal blood clots.

            An insight of modern science is that if we do not exercise our body, it would atrophy. This applies to bone, muscle, or even brain. If I were to tie down a healthy young man in bed and “help” him with his feeding and bathing such that he does not have to move a muscle, after a week he would be need a crutch as he would be unable to stand up on his own. That is the price for excessive and inappropriate “help.”

            As a former physician, Mahathir should know that if a patient does not respond with your prescription, there is no point continuing it. Stop or change it; perhaps your patient requires penicillin, not Panadol.

            Even the right medicine if not given at the proper dose would be ineffective. Yes, Panadol reduces fever, but give only a quarter of the dose and there will be no effect, leading you to blame the medicine. Giving too much also carries its own hazards. Every year many children in America are fatally poisoned because of excessive dose of Tylenol, one more appropriate for adults.

            If with the right medicine at the right dose and administered correctly but your patient still does not respond, then reexamine your diagnosis. Patients with appendicitis require surgery, not penicillin.
            If readers are uncomfortable with my clinical metaphor, let me use a more familiar one. If you are not diligent in weeding out lalang in your garden, pretty soon you would be inundated by it, choking off useful plants. What more if you were to generously add fertilizer to the weed!

            The Malay garden is now full of lalang. We need Roundup pesticide to kill off those tenacious weeds so useful plants would then have a chance. However, what is UMNO’s current strategy? Yes, add fertilizer to the lalang! Its rationale? They are lalang, but Malay lalang, so we must be help!
            The “help” that UMNO types like Mahathir are championing is precisely this. Then we wonder why the Malay kebun is full of lalang. Isa Samad is one thriving lalang in the FELDA plantation; he was earlier found guilty of “money politics.” Khir Toyo, now luxuriating in his fantasy palace courtesy of taxpayers while waiting jail time for corruption, is another. The private sector too is infested. Lalang Tajuddin Ramli nearly destroyed MAS estate. Utusan and The New Straits Times are crippled with literary lalang; no wonder their readership continues to decline. The Malay lalang has already snuffed out Bank Bumiputra.

            We are finally no longer impressed with the greenness and lushness of lalang, even if it were Malay lalang. Our leaders however, still try to impress upon us that those lalang are alfalfa. The tragic part is that they now believe their own deceit.

            Leaders like Mahathir should be diligently searching for effective ways to help us and not be content with criticizing and dredging up old stereotypes or our alleged weaknesses. Give someone a fish, and we feed him only for a day; teach him how to fish and he feeds himself forever, goes an ancient wisdom. Extend that help a bit as with giving him a loan to buy a sampan, and he will fish the open ocean. Then he can feed the whole village and more, plus repay the loan!

            Doling out generous quotas for university admissions, lucrative contracts, and import licenses, or forcing others to take on Malays (usually UMNO politicians) as directors for their companies is not help. Those are but acts of fertilizing weeds, membajakan lalang. We end up with only usahan menenggek (carpetbagger capitalists)!

            The most consequential and enduring help would be to liberate the Malay mind, to teach them how to think freely. If our slogan in the 1950s was Merdeka Tanah Melayu (Freedom for the Malay Land), now it should be Merdeka Minda Melayu! (Freedom for the Malay Mind!)

            That is the theme of my latest book, Liberating The Malay Mind. The concept of a free mind is best illustrated by this story of Mullah Nasaruddin, known for his use of self-deprecating humor and simple everyday examples in his teaching.

            He had a neighbor who was in the habit of borrowing items and never returning them. One day he came over to borrow the Mullah’s donkey. Anticipating this, the Mullah had earlier wisely locked his animal in the barn and out of sight. When the neighbor came over, the Mullah confidently asserted, “My donkey had been borrowed yesterday!”

            Disappointed, the neighbor was about to return home when the animal brayed. “I thought you said your donkey had been borrowed!” he said.

            Whereupon the Mullah resolutely replied, “Do you believe the braying of the donkey over the words of the mullah?”

            Someone with a free mind would believe the braying donkey. Those whose minds are trapped by customs and traditions would of course continue believing the wise and pious Mullah even when the donkey is braying straight on their faces. We must teach Malays that when they hear the donkey braying, they should believe their own ears and not be lulled by the Mullah’s soothing words.
            I put forth four strategies to liberate the Malay mind:  freer access to information and differing viewpoints, meaning, freer mass media; liberal education with a strong foundation in science and mathematics; and encourage trade and commerce among our people. When we engage in trade, we would consider others not as pendatang (immigrants) but as potential customers, meaning, a source of profit.

            Fourth, we have to examine how we teach religion to our young and how we practice our faith as individuals as well as a society. Islam emancipated the Bedouins from their Age of Ignorance and brought light to them. Islam should do likewise for us – liberate our minds.
            If our minds are trapped, then the billions worth of help would be meaningless. Those are but narcotics for our self gratification and to indulge our fantasies. Those are but membajakan lalang.

            As a nation we have achieved much through independence. If we were to liberate Malay minds, there would be no limit to our achievements. Even more beautiful, a liberated mind can never ever be imprisoned again. Liberated minds need not worry about globalization and neo-colonization, or be threatened when our young learn English. Liberated minds would not feel imperiled when God’s other children use “Allah” to refer to their deity. It is after all the same God. Once Malay minds are liberated, we would no longer be, to borrow the terminology of the Algerian philosopher Malek Bennabi, “colonizable.”
            Help liberate the Malay mind! That would be the most consequential help!
            Back to Mahathir’s beloved crutches, how can he ever hope the simple villagers to give up on theirs when the biggest golden crutches are reserved for the sultans and ministers? Mahathir gets angry when Pak Mat diverted his few hundred dollars of MARA loan meant to improve his stall towards buying his children’s books but are conspicuously silent when spouses of ministers divert precious public funds to buy their private luxurious condos.

            Malays do not need crutches. The one help we desperately need is to liberate our minds. Reverting to my farm metaphor, if you want to help Malays, then uproot and rid the lalang in our midst so our beans, brinjals and cucumbers would have a chance. If you do not feel like doing that, then please do not fertilize the weeds!

To be continued, Suaris Interview:  The Future of Malays Part 3:  In many of your writings, you advocate changes and ideas that are evolutionary and incremental in nature to effect changing mindsets. Don’t you think that a more aggressive “shock therapy” and revolutionary approach would have greater impact and lead to a quantum leap in improvement, as with Japan and South Korea today?