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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, November 25, 2018

Gratitude And Love - Thanksgiving 2018

Gratitude And Love - Thanksgiving 2018

Karen Musa
President, South Valley Islamic Community

[Speech given at the Interfaith Thanksgiving Service at the Advent Lutheran Church, Morgan Hill, California, on Sunday December 18, 2018, organized by the Interfaith CommUNITY of South Santa Clara County with Pastor Wanita Warner officiating.]

Good evening!  Assalamuallaikum!  May peace be upon you all!

This evening we gather to celebrate Thanksgiving, the most observed holiday in America.  Although a secular event, the spirit of thanksgiving is universal in all faiths and cultures.  While this evening we do not reenact the first Thanksgiving of 1621 in Plymouth, nonetheless we do so in spirit and sentiment to celebrate our own bountiful harvest of the season.

As we open the Quran, the Muslim’s Holy Book, the first chapter starts with ‘Alhamdulillah’ which is approximately translated as “All praise is for Allah!”  In day to day conversations, the word Alhamdulillahsignifies gratitude.  When someone inquires how we are, Muslims would respond with, “Alhamdulillah,” a short hand for, “I am fine, thanks to the blessings of Allah!

Islam teaches us to be thankful at all times, grateful to the Almighty for all our blessings, large and small.

Shukoror gratitude is mentioned many times in the Quran.  Gratitude to the Almighty and to our family, friends, neighbors, and community.  Gratitude is also related to another concept–love.  In my husband’s Malay culture, when someone receives something, the response would be “Terima kaseh!”  Thank you!  The literal translation however, is “Receive my love!”

Thanksgiving is thus also an expression of love for God.

In Islam, we express our gratitude to God for all of His blessings on three levels. First within our heart, then by verbalizing it, and third by doing righteous deeds.
The first is the appreciation and gratefulness that we feel in our hearts.  We then fortify or reinforce that through our words or speech.  And third, we express our gratitude in our actions to our fellow human beings by doing righteous deeds.
            Here in South Santa Clara County area, we have all shown our thankfulness by doing good as an individual, as a family, and community. We have come together in support of our families who are serving in the military, the homeless, those displaced by massive fires, and the disadvantaged amongst us.  Our community has also come together in solidarity against those who threaten our peaceful houses of prayer.

For our Muslim community in particular, we are truly grateful and thankful for the support of the community in our application of our Cordoba Project in San Martin.  Many of you spoke publicly at the recent public hearings and have written letters of support to the county.  Your words of encouragement helps us persevere in our goal of our building our place of worship.  Mere words cannot adequately express our gratitude and thanks for your support.

Thanksgiving is a beautiful holiday.  It contains a good spirit and noble message.  It is not a holiday of any particular religion but it has many deeply religious and spiritual meanings and attributes.  America at Thanksgiving is America at its best.

The Quranic word for thanksgiving is shukor.  It is the quality of human beings and it is also the quality of Allah.  It is the consideration of His favor and its acknowledgment by us mortals.
Shukor is a central principle of Islam.  It is a quality of the believers and a source of all goodness.  Shukoris used in the Quran sometimes as the equivalent to faith.
In Islam, thanksgiving is not only a particular religious act or service; it is our way of life.
            So in the spirit of Thanksgiving, we thank Allah for all our blessings, and may we all continue to be blessed with the bounty given to us by Him.  Thank you all for coming to share this evening.

Sunday, November 18, 2018

Malaysia Should Do A Lehman Brothers On Goldman Sachs

Malaysia Should Do A Lehman Brothers On Goldman Sachs
M. Bakri Musa

Malaysia should sue Goldman Sachs (GS), the investment bank associated with 1MDB, to recover not only the US$600 million it had charged the company (and thus Malaysia), but also the associated financial loss from the ensuing criminal activities at 1MDB.

Malaysia should go beyond restitutive remedies and seek punitive damages so as to teach those bankers a lesson to never again collude or be complicit with Third World kleptocrats in robbing the world’s poor. In short, inflict a Lehman Brothers on Goldman Sachs through a lawsuit.

Malaysia would be doing the world a great favor by exposing the weaknesses and inadequacies of the current regulations and oversight agencies, both international and domestic. These agencies are impotent in curbing corrupt and illicit cross-border money flows because they are too beholden to the industry to effect any meaningful reforms despite the many attempts.

A successful lawsuit would be a far more effective remedy than any legislation or international treaty. Former Wall Street executives are key players in current and previous American Administrations, Democrat as well as Republican. They are so used to calling the shots, quite apart from the hold their industry has on those agencies through powerful and lucrative lobbying.

Malaysia would have no difficulty finding a lawyer even on a contingency basis. This 1MDB mess could prove to be the most lucrative bonanza for American lawyers. GS is a deep-pocketed defendant. Already a few of the key players have pleaded guilty.

By way of background, Lehman Brothers was an old white-shoe Wall Street firm forced into bankruptcy in 2008 for its overexposure in the subprime spiral. The company’s leaders then considered themselves the new Masters of the Universe, the same hubris afflicting GS personnel in their dealings with corrupt Najib.

Lehman was the most necessary and very effective lesson on Wall Street for the 2008 economic crisis that nearly took down Western capitalism. A decade later that sting has been forgotten. Wall Street needs to be taught that lesson again, and very forcefully too. And Malaysia is destined to be that strict teacher. Mahathir should not shy away from this unique and awesome responsibility. The world’s poor would thank him for that.

I sniffed this 1MDB skunk long before it hit the headlines in Malaysia. When a senior Bank Negara official was in America on a private visit, I showed him articles in leading American financial publications of the unusually attractive returns on the 1MDB bonds managed by GS, with rates in excess of 300 basis points of what I was paying for my unsecured line of credit at my local California bank. This was during the post-2008 recession when money was dirt cheap. Surely sovereign Malaysia was a better credit risk than me!

What stunned me was this official’s non-reaction. He knew nothing about it. Surely such mega deals should have been the talk at Bank Negara’s water coolers.

Meanwhile, the American press was featuring how a Malaysian boy related to Najib was making a splash in Hollywood and the local ultra-luxury real estate market. Nobody questioned how Najib’s stepson, whose father was but a retired junior army officer, acquired all that wealth. My suspicion deepened with firsthand knowledge of the super-lavish and gaudy shopping habits of Najib and his spouse on their frequent visits to America.

Then there was the extraordinary effort by the co-producers of the Oscar-winning film “The Wolf Of Wall Street” to excise Reza Aziz’s name off the credit list at the Academy Awards ceremony even though he had provided the film’s critical financing. Then on July 2016, America’s DOJ came down with its civil asset forfeiture lawsuits.

Despite all that, the tipping point occurred not in the major financial Western capitals or the courts in the West, rather in simple Malay kampungs. At the May 9, 2018 election, those seemingly unsophisticated villagers booted Najib and his gang of plunderers out. With that, the rotten durian split; the stink was no longer containable. Since then Najib, his wife, and no fewer than half a dozen of his ministers have been criminally indicted. More coming!

America followed her civil suits with criminal indictments. Malaysia too should follow America’s example and initiate civil suits against Najib and the others, attaching their assets. Najib would have little need for those palatial mansions and ultra-luxury condos; likewise his wife and stepson. Their room and board would be provided for by the state for a very long time.

Najib’s elaborate corrupt schemes, obscene greed, and dedak-fed enablers have to be exposed, put behind bars, and with Malaysia recovering the loot.

            Like those high-flying Wall Street financiers, Malaysian leaders too must be taught a very tough lesson.

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Mahathir Should Scour The Field For His Ibn Jabal

Mahathir Should Scour The Field For His Ibn Jabal
M. Bakri Musa

The current favorite political speculation is on Mahathir’s choice of a successor. At 93, Providence may not give Mahathir the luxury of an unhurried pace, and Malaysia can ill afford a leadership chaos now.

Mahathir can learn much from our Prophet Muhammad, s.a.w. One narration has the prophet sounding out his young companion, one Mu’adh Ibn Jabal, for the governorship of Yemen, a pivotal appointment. It goes something like this (approximate rendition):

            Prophet:  “How would you govern?”
            Ibn Jabal:  “According to the Book of Allah!”
            “What if you do not find it there?”
            “Then in yoursunnah(traditions and pratices of the prophet).”
            “What if you do not find it there either?”
            To which Ibn Jabar replied, “Then I will strive for my own judgement.”
            The prophet was most pleased by that response.

            Everytime I hear this hadith cited, regardless of the speaker, audience, or venue, the discourse would be long on Ibn Jabal’s vast knowledge of the Koran and his ability to discern halal from haram, together with embellished accounts of the prophet’s love and praises for the man. Many of the accounts, if we can believe the narrators, bordered on the homoerotic.

Then there would be the recitations of the various versions with their excruciating details, as if the prophet’s utterence of over 14 centuries ago had been recorded verbatim.

            Rarely would one hear of the hadith’s wisdom, or how it could be applied to contemporary challenges. The fetish, then and now, is in displaying one’s Arabic fluency and memorization prowess.

            Tradition has it that the prophet had earlier sought out other candidates. When Abu Bakar volunteered, the prophet remained silent. Then Omar Khattab offered himself. Again the prophet fell silent. When Ibn Jabal responded, the prophet was most pleased.

A measure of Abu Bakar and Omar Khattab is that both would later succeed the prophet. Yet he bypassed them. You could say that the prophet practiced meritocracy and fast-tracked Ibn Jabal. This insight of the hadith is rarely recognized or recounted.

Note, the prophet did not inquire whether Ibn Jabal had paid his zakat or gone to Hajj. The prophet was interested only in that one quality most crucial in a leader–his judgement. That insight too is often missed.

Had Mahathir heeded this in his first go as Prime Minister, Malaysia would have been spared much grief. So would he. Now in his second time around I hope that he would be more diligent. Scour the field wide for his Ibn Jabal and bypass his Abu Bakars and Omar Khattabs if need be. Mahathir’s potential Ibn Jabal may not even be in the cabinet now.

Ponder that hadith again. Imagine, the prophet reminding Ibn Jabal that he may not find the answers in the Koran orseerah! Tell that to those whose rote response to today’s complex problems is to endlessly chant, “The Koran (or seerah) has all the answers!”

We degrade the Koran when we reduce it to a how-to manual; worse, a talisman or a Muslim’s lucky rabbit foot. Soak a verse of Surah Yaseenin your tea and that would protect you from illness. Chant this Ayat72 times and your debt would magically dissipate, or there would be no need to be vaccinated. Plaster a verse on your dashboard and that would protect you even if you were to text while driving. That simple!

They chose to ignore the other prophetic tradition:  First tie your camel securely, only then pray it does not escape.

Martin Luther observed that a Christian cobbler would best demonstrate his piety not by making shoes decorated with fancy crucifexes but by making them cheap and durable so the poor could afford them. Likewise, a Muslim engineer would best demonstrate his imannot by carving Koranic verses onto fancy arches but by being diligent in his calculations and meticulous in his construction so the bridge would not collapse with the first rainstorm.

Today the Koran and hadith are being exploited to end a discussion rather than illuminate it. “The Koran (or hadith as narrated by Bukhari, Muslim, Termidhi, etc.,) says . . . ,” the ulama would assert with arrogant certitude, as if his interpretation is the only valid one. Koran and hadith should stimulate discussions, not close them.

Then there are those who would dispense entirely with hadith. To them, Prophet Muhammad, s.a.w., was but a human fax machine, a robotic intermediary mouthing whatever God had placed in his vocal cords. Once you received your message, the fax machine is superflous.

Hadith scholar Jonathan Brown put it best. When we read the Koran, we implicitly put on the lens of the holy prophet. Like lens, hadith enhances and clarifies the Koran as well as helps us focus. We could only achieve that if we are not preoccupied with and distracted by the chain of narrators, or argue endlessly on the authenticity of what was uttered a millennium-and-a-half ago.

If the prophet had to remind Ibn Jabal that the answer may not always be in the Koran or hadith, we too would be wise to follow that precept.

Sunday, November 04, 2018

A Collective Malay Shame And Tragedy

A Collective Malay Shame And Tragedy
M. Bakri Musa

Reading the US Department Of Justice’s (DOJ) criminal indictment of November 1, 2018 relating to 1MDB, as well as its earlier (July 2016) civil forfeiture lawsuit on assets allegedly linked to it, I am struck by three singular observations.

First is the appalling avarice of the alleged culprits; second, the utter impunity with which they conducted themselves; and third, the sheer stupidity of the man without whose authority those shenanigans would not have been possible–Malaysian Official 1, as referred to in both charges. The world now knows him as Najib Razak. While he is not facing any DOJ charges as yet, in Malaysia he faces three criminal ones that could put him in jail for the rest of his life.

This 1MDB heist is by far the most complex and largest in terms of monetary value. The sheer hubris of the perpetrators to think that they could get away with it. As for Najib, he is not terribly bright, just wily enough to know that his fellow ministers and UMNO leaders could be bought cheaply with the loot from 1MDB.

As for his rise in UMNO, that too is more the consequence of Malay culture. Malays are suckers for terhutang budi, an excessive sense of gratitude. With Najib, it was for his father, Malaysia’s second Prime Minister who died unexpectedly while in office in 1976.

Had Najib not been a Bin Tun Razak, he would be but a middling civil servant, at best. At worse, he would have been flogged and jailed decades ago for “close proximity.”

Think of it; had those religious police in Port Dickson been in their usual zealous mode then and ignored his Bin Razak status, or the powerful had not been terhutang budi, Malaysia would have been spared much grief today, and a whole lot less debt.

The trail of financial liabilities of 1MDB, though massive and painful, is at least quantifiable. Not so the associated lost opportunities. Had the billions not been squandered on luxuries in London, Beverley Hills, and New York or funding soft porno movies, but on improving national schools and FELDA settlements, we would be that much closer to the goals of Ketuanan Melayuand Vision 2020.

This being Malaysia, the dangerous race factor is never far from the surface. That is the most pernicious and consequential legacy of 1MDB. Already there are ugly rumors, and not just within UMNO but also other segments of the Malay community, blaming those smart, greedy Chinese once again taking advantage if not outright cheating sweet, innocent Malay leaders. Even Najib is now distancing himself from Jho Low. This potential explosive component is the most dangerous and incendiary, and one that cannot be unquantied.

Even uglier and more painful to express publicly is this:  Malays are downright ashamed by the outrageous behaviors of their corrupt leaders. Not stated but obvious is that all those charged in Malaysia are Malays, not ordinary ones but top leaders.

Malaysians must thank Mahathir for appointing Tommy Thomas as Attorney-General. It is amazing what you can achieve when you put a premium on honesty, integrity, and competence. Yes, there were many Malays who complained of Thomas not being a Malay or Muslim, as well as on his less-than-polished Malay. Regardless, he put to shame his predecessor, Apandi Ali. He, together with Najib, Zahid, Azeez and others, is but an unmitigated disaster and gross embarrassment to Malays and Muslims, bar none.

By normal reckoning, Apandi should have been impeached. Again in a perversion of values, Najib made him a Tan Sri, and the Agung agreed. Like it or not, to many non-Malays as well as Malays, the likes of Najib and Apandi represent the best that our community could offer. That hurts! As for those other champions of Ketuanan Melayu, their goals would be achieved that much faster and more efficaciously if they would first get rid from their midst these characters.

            It is good to be reminded that with DOJ’s filings, a pivotal defendant in its criminal case has already pleaded guilty; with its civil, at least two have agreed to settle.

Much can be deduced from the local reactions, and even more so from the lack of same among some notable quarters. It is not surprising that simple kampung folks still believe Najib despite those charges as well as the boxes of gold and cash hauled from his residences. They still believe that the money was for them!

What stretches one’s credulity is that UMNO leaders too bought Najib’s snake oil, and they included many lawyers and accountants, as well as an Oxford graduate and even an Ivy League PhD!

Then there is the stunning silence of the ulama and sultans. Sly Najib had diverted some 1MDB crumbs to fund free Hajjs. I imagine the same dynamics work with the sultans, except that crumbs would not do it for them. That is the greatest Malay shame and tragedy.