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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, September 23, 2018

Barriers To Malay Engagement In Commerce

Barriers To Malay Engagement In Commerce
M. Bakri Musa

First of Four Parts

The positive impact on the economy aside, encouraging members of a society to engage in trade and commerce is also the best and quickest way to change their attitude to and relationship with others, both within and beyond that society. Malaysia should leverage this insight.

Specifically for Malays, engaging in commerce would make us view others less as pendatangs out to grab Tanah Melayu (Malay Land) from us but more as potential clients, partners, and customers. That could only enhance race relations. We would also blunt the sharp edges between “them” and “us.” This by far is the most consequential impact of capitalism, quite apart from our contributing to the economy.

            When Prophet Muhammad, s.a.w., set up his community in Medina, the first thing he did was build public marketplaces and trading areas. He did not charge the community as he wanted to encourage them to partake in commerce and thus interact with each other. That was the best and quickest way to integrate the city’s diverse population, between the immigrant pendatangMeccan Muslims (Muhajiruns) and the host (Ansars), as well as between Muslims and non-Muslims (Jews, Christians, and pagan Arabs).

            Note, the Prophet did notbuild ornate mosques to showcase the new faith. Muslims today ignore this implicit important message. Don’t build mosques, focus on the community first.

     Trade and commerce are engines of economic growth, and those in turn bring more than just material comforts. As Harvard’s Benjamin Friedman noted in his The Moral Consequences of Economic Growth, economic growth brings with it greater tolerance of and generosity to the disadvantaged. And both are core Islamic values.

Capitalism does not differentiate between race, national origin, political persuasion, or religious belief. A ringgit is a ringgit, whether it comes from your own kind or foreigners, Muslims or non-Muslims.

Prospects for world peace are enhanced considerably now that both China and America are each other’s biggest trading partners, the current tariff tit-for-tat between the two notwithstanding. Likewise, I am less worried about war between China and Taiwan now that cross-strait commerce has boomed into the hundreds of billions (US dollars) as compared to single digits back in the early 1990s.

The many early irritants between Singapore and Malaysia soon after separation did not escalate because of strong existing trade and financial ties between the two. In contrast, Malaysia went to war with Indonesia in the 1960s, a fellow serumpun (“same root”) state, over much less consequential if not silly reasons. There were no other ties, trade or otherwise, safe for emotions to bind the two. That remains true today. Commercial transactions between the two remain meager–Indonesian maids in Malaysia repatriating their poverty-level pay.

Malay villagers of yore did not boycott the kampung hawkers because they were Chinese. Those villagers would if they were being cheated or sold substandard goods.

This is a long preamble to my central thesis, that is, the answer to Malaysia’s perennial race problem lies not with beating up the drums of nationalism, a common language, or single-stream school, but to encourage Malay engagement in trade and commerce.

The barriers to this are both “soft” as well as “hard.” The former is more formidable and includes our personal habits and expectations, as well as our social and cultural values. The hard ones by contrast, as with our lack of skills, know how, necessary infrastructures, and capital are readily remediable.

Based on the author’s book, Liberating The Malay Mind. Its updated and American edition will be released next month.

Next  Part Two of Four Parts:   Soft And Hard Barriers


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