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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, December 02, 2018

Temple Riots Reflect Failure Of Leadership And Institutions

Temple Riot Reflects Failure of Leadership And Institutions

M. Bakri Musa

The November 26, 2018 Seafield temple riot in Selangor was yet another needless example and tragic consequence of the failure of Malaysian leadership and institutions.

            You would not know that from Interior Minister Muhyiddin’s smug satisfaction and misplaced confidence when he announced its “cause”–a group of unemployable Malays being paid a measly RM 150 to 300 each to storm the temple.

            Muhyiddin was confused between, what Joseph Conrad wrote in Lord Jim, the fundamental whyand the superficial how.

            Buoyed by that delusion, Muhyiddin went on to assert that the riot was not racial. Only an idiot would utter such nonsense. Of course it was; listen to the ugly epithets and seething rage before, during, and after the riot.

            The idiocy continued. Mahathir announced that henceforth all houses of worship must have local authorities’ approval. Meaning, up to now they did not? Again, failure of leadership and institutions.

            Mahathir blamed the foreign developer’s ignorance of local racial sensitivities. Quite the contrary! If the developer’s intent was benign, he would have hired Indian youths from the estates, or cheaper still, illegal Banglas. That was vintage Mahathir, blaming foreigners.

Malaysia’s incompetent leaders and failed institutions allowed problems to fester until they pitted neighbors and communities against each other.

Consider stray dogs, a major public health issue what with rabies still a problem. In America, dogs must be immunized and identification chips implanted in them. Owners must also carry plastic bags to pick up the poop when walking their pets. Those sensible rules escape Malaysian authorities. Thus when stray dogs are rounded up, that becomes racial, what with dog owners being non-Malays and dog catchers, being public employees, Malays.

Seafield was a straightforward eviction problem. Only through much conniving and even greater malice did it become racial.

            Things have not always been this way. When I was young, the streets would be littered with fake paper money and neighborhoods assaulted with raucous gongs during Chinese funerals. That is still true in Malaysia. In Singapore, Lee Kuan Yew put a stop to all that. No one else, most of all a non-Chinese, more so a colonialist, would have dared do that. That simple fiat was effective and ignited no racial animosities. Everyone saw its wisdom.

            Drive by a mosque on a Friday noon in Malaysia. You can’t; the streets would be plugged with haphazardly-parked cars. Yet no Imam had ever advised his congregation to be considerate to other road users. Nor would a Malay mayor dare order towing those vehicles, or that mosques have adequate parking.

            In the late 1950s there was a potential major strike at Malayan Railway that threatened to degenerate into an ugly racial showdown, what with the engineers and workers being mostly Indians and their managers, being seconded civil servants, Malays.

            To the Malay managers, those Indian workers were getting uppity and should be shown their place. To the Indians, those incompetent civil servants masquerading as executives needed to be taught a lesson on workers’ rights.

            It took the wisdom of Ungku Aziz to see the incendiary potential of what to most was but another industrial labor dispute. He had no formal government position but he used his considerable influence as a respected economist to frame the dispute differently, an economic issue that would impact all Malaysians. He ignored the obvious racial angle and educated both parties, as well as the public. The strike was averted.

            Today, few remember that incident, akin to a plane that had landed safely after averting a potential mid-air disaster. That Seafield tragedy grabbed headlines and opened up raw racial wounds because those in charge were incompetent, like the pilot who failed to recognize and correct an inflight issue, causing the crash.

            Malaysia today desperately needs her Ungku Aziz. We also need a Lee Kuan Yew among the Indians to tell them that they cannot build temples on land they do not own. Likewise we need a Malay Lee to tell those unemployable youths that they would have a better future, as well as for Malaysia, not by being hired hooligans but by acquiring skills.

            Looking ahead to December 8, 2018 and the planned protest against ICERD, a competent Interior Minister would direct his Police Chief (or the latter would have done it on his own) to infiltrate anti-ICERD organizations and have FRU conduct visible anti-riot exercises. Meaning, be prepared! However, don’t count on that. They are allmenunggu arahan(awaiting instructions).

A few Muftis have come out against the protest. I applaud their wisdom and courage, in particular Kelantan’s Shukri considering that his state is ruled by PAS, a vociferous anti-ICERD champion. Those Muftis went beyond just advising; they gave good reasons based on our scripture.

            They also understand the fundamental whyof racial riots, whereas Muhyiddin only the superficial how. If only our other leaders have a modicum of those Muftis’ courage and wisdom, Malaysia would be better served.


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