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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.

Sunday, September 09, 2018

Time For Malays Own Quiet Revolution

Time For Malays’ Own Quiet Revolution
M. Bakri Musa

In the 1950s the dominant Irish Catholics were disparaged by their minority English-Protestant countrymen. Irish women were scorned as being obsessed with their catechisms and rosaries, that is, when they were not busy making babies. Their men meanwhile could not do without their whiskey as soon as Sunday mass was over. Ireland’s main export then was her young.

            Yet not too long ago upstart Ryan Air was making a bid for venerable British Airways, and Ireland is today a major force in the high-tech sector.

            Visit rural Quebec during that same period. The French-Canadians too were busy reciting their rosaries, with their young girls consumed with entering the convent and the men, the priesthood, that is, when they were not preoccupied demonstrating on the streets or celebrating St. Baptist Day. Meanwhile their leaders were frothing at the mouth blaming the English-Canadians.

            Today Bombardier is a global leader in commuter jet manufacturing, and Hydro Quebec the largest renewable power producer. The new President of Stanford University is a French-Canadian who grew up during that era and in that culture.

The Irish is one up. The descendent of one of her earlier exports would later become the President of the United States.

            There is a lesson here for Malays. Reduced to its essence, it is this. Give up the boisterous rallies ofMelayuBangkitor endless “Kongresses” on KetuananMelayu. Emulate the Irish and Quebecois with their Quiet Revolutions.

            How did they do it?

First, consider their leaders. The Quebecois had Robert Bourassa. Very unlike his many predecessors or contemporaries, Bourassa sported a Harvard MBA, not a diploma in French Studies from the local CollègeSt. Jean. He modernized the schools by getting rid of religious studies. He made those students learn science and mathematics as well as English, despite the era’s intense nationalism. He built junior colleges to prepare the young for higher education as well as for trade and vocational qualifications. In short, he gave them ample attractive alternatives to convents and seminaries.

By the time I was at McGill for my surgical training in the early 1970s, that institution which hitherto was exclusively Anglo-Saxon had many Beauchamps and Lapierres on its faculty.

The Father of Modern Ireland Sean Lemass, unlike Bourassa, had no fancy academic qualifications. Instead, he was a rabble rouser as a young man. The English jailed him for what would today be termed terrorist activities. He however had that rare capacity to learn and adapt. He recognized the importance of economic growth, outgrowing his earlier fascination with fiery rhetoric and armed revolutions. By 1973, two years after his death, Ireland was in the European Union. His famed “A rising tide lifts all boats” quote was later picked up by President Kennedy.

You do not need a fancy degree to be a great leader, as shown by Lemass. Having advanced academic qualifications would not guarantee your making wise decisions. The current Mentri Besar of Trengganu and Minister of Education, both PhDs, would disabuse you of that assumption. More important is your willingness to learn and adapt, as well as view reality more clearly.

Back to Bourassa, what I remember about him was his soft hesitant voice, humble unruffled demeanor, and heavily-accented English. His speeches bordered on the soporific, unlike the mesmerizing oratory of another Quebecois leader of the era, Rene Levesque. While those qualities hid to many observers Bourassa’s sharp mind and crisp executive ability, his achievements did not, and were obvious to all.

Malays could learn much from the Irish and Quebecois, and Malay leaders from Lemass and Bourassa.

Quit the endless drawn-out congresses and disruptive rousing rallies. Buckle down to some serious work. For Malay leaders, don’t just tellpeople to work hard and be productive. Showthem how! Talk, anybody can, lah, as Malaysians would say.

Improve the schools, increase the hours devoted to STEM and English, and make MUET mandatory. Recruit English teachers from abroad, as the Koreans do, if you have to. After you have done all that, then you could shout that you have done everything and Malays refused to respond.

Don’t blame the Mat Rempits and Minah Karans. They are but manifestations of your failed policies. You don’t blame your kids for contracting malaria when you have not provided them with mosquito nets.

Divert the billions spent on the national car, imposing skyscrapers, and mega-ringgit GLCs to schools and universities. Then watch your people blossom. Theywould then create those things and many more.

Lemass went beyond; he exposed the Irish to different perspectives by liberating the press. He too had state media, but he used them to bring in foreign programs and viewpoints, not to control citizens’ access to information. Most of all he freed the Irish from the yoke of the clergy.

Today religion imprisons, not liberates, Malays. To paraphrase the Iranian writer Abdolkarim Soroush, religion is to Malays as handbrakes to cars when it should be the headlights. Islam as preached and practiced in Malaysia today does not shine the straight path forward but impedes Malays from moving ahead.

The Irish too have their own language, but they are all fluent in English. Their schools and universities use English. Some of the giants in English literature are Irish, and the Irish fought for their independence from the English!

All these endless Malay congresses and their long manifestos, as well as those chest-thumping rallies, are nothing more than expressions of our closed minds, our inability or more correctly, unwillingness to learn from others. Back in my old village they call that sombong si bodoh– the pride of the ignorant.


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