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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.

Wednesday, October 02, 2019

Kampung Don Quixotes And Their Enemies (Re-post)

As Malaysians (or to be truthful, only Malays as non-Malays would be busy with being productive) await breathlessly for this Sunday’s (October 6, 2019) Kongress Maruah Melayu(Malay Dignity Congress), my thoughts flashed back to an earlier (over a decade ago) Kongress Permuafakatan Melayu(Malay Solidarity Congress). Like that earlier one, this Sunday’s Kongressis also organized by academics. I reprint below my commentary on that earlier gathering and await Monday morning to see how relevant my earlier observation was to the current one.
KampungDon Quixotes And Their Enemies
May 18, 2008

Leaders of Kongress Permuafakatan Melayu(Malay Solidarity Congress)*are obsessed with fighting imagined enemies of so-called Ketuanan Melayu. These kampung Don Quixotes are consumed with slaying foes that exist only in their florid imaginations. Like the deluded knight-errant de La Mancha, these leaders are oblivious to the fact that the world mocks them with undisguised contempt for their silly delusions.
It saddens me that this Congress was led by Ismail Hussein and Osman Bakar, intellectual giants for whom I have the greatest respect. Ismail was the long-time head of the Malay Studies Department at theUniversity of Malaya, while Osman was a former professor atGeorgetownUniversity.
It seems that every few years the Malay elite, as well as those who think that they belong there, go into spasms of agony and feel compelled to gather and pontificate on what ills our people.
The pattern is also predictable: a flood of shrill press releases, followed by an elaborate congress officiated by some “has-been” leaders, and the ensuing slew of high-minded resolutions calling on the government to “do something!” The hue and cry would persist for a few weeks, at most.
A few months later and all would be forgotten.Give a few more years and those same issues would again be resurrected, and the whole pattern repeated.
A few years ago there was the Badan Tindakan Melayu(Malay Action Front) led by Ghaffar Baba, after he lost his chance to be the country’s number one. A few years prior to that, there was the Forum of Malay Professionals.
Not-So-Hidden Hands
This latest congress was sponsored by GAPENA, the Malay acronym for the National Writers Association. Despite its pretentious “national” label, GAPENA is essentially a Malay entity.
Writing is not exactly a well-paying profession, more so for Malay writers. So for GAPENA to sponsor this event at an upscale facility and pay for the accommodations of the attendees must mean that it had a sugar daddy. Even the Bar Council, the body for a more lucrative profession, depended on the government to pay for its recent gala dinner for Prime Minister Abdullah and the fired judges.
Reading the papers presented and resolutions adopted at this GAPENA’s event, I am persuaded by the wisdom, “He who pays the piper calls the tune.” The papers and resolutions were so shamelessly pro-UMNO that they could have been ghost written by its operatives.
The congress attracted over 200 Malay NGOs.Many were sham organizations created overnight so their “president” and “secretary” could enjoy a three-day paid syok sendiri(self-indulgence) stay in Johore Baru.
The more than two dozen resolutions adopted dealt with Islam, politics, education, as well as Malay language and culture, among others. These folks obviously confused the problems of Malays with those of UMNO. Or perhaps this was a clumsy attempt by UMNO to use politically naïve and all-too-willing underpaid academics and writers to advance its cause.
The participants obviously did not ponder this simple thought. If after over five decades of UMNO rule the “Malay problem” is still getting worse (as this congress tried to impress upon us), would it not make sense now to let others take over?
This Congress also decided to set up a permanent secretariat,Majlis Muafakat Melayu Malaysia(4M) – Malay Solidarity Council of Malaysia. They initially decided to form “3M” without the “Malaysia,” but seeing that the famous trademark was already taken, they belatedly added the fourth “M.”In so doing they also revealed their insularity, for the problems afflicting us are also shared by others in the greater Nusantara (Malay world).
Their amateurism again showed when they failed to flesh out important basic details like how the secretariat would be funded.
My Resolutions SanAny Congress
Malays do not have to create phantom enemies; our problems are real and right in front of and within us. Peruse the daily headlines:  abandoned babies and rampaging Mat Rempits. Ponder the statistics on child and spousal abuses, school dropout rates, and other socioeconomic indices. We are overrepresented in all those spheres.
Besides, no sane Malaysian is suggesting doing away with Malay sultans, language, or culture. Likewise with abolishing Malay special privileges – the mortal and eternal fear of these folks. That would require a constitutional amendment. The votes are just not there, now or in the future.
These congresses serve only to divert our attention; they offer no thoughtful solutions. As such I offer my own resolutions,sanan expensive, elaborate congress for those participants as well as ordinary Malays to act on their own. I have found these suggestions useful for me and my family.
Resolution # 1 Education: On the evening of every school day, I would turn off the television set, help my children with their schoolwork, and read to them at bedtime. I would attend parent-teachers’ conferences and other school events. On special occasions like Hari Raya, I would give gifts of books.
The cost of my proposition ranges from zero (bedtime reading) to modest (books), but the benefits are immense and everlasting.
Resolution #2 Islam:  I would teach my children the tenets of Islam, that is, “Command good, and forbid evil!” Meaning, I would have them strive to live, and not merely recite, the words of the Koran.
As for Hajj, one of the pillars of our faith, I would first make sure that my children’s education was taken care of, my debts paid, and my old age provided for so I would not be a burden to others, including my children after my Hajj. For that reason I would not sell my land or assets to fund my pilgrimage.
Instead of undertaking an umrah or another pilgrimage, I would donate the funds to an orphanage. I do not know whether Allah would consider that to be more meritorious, but I am certain that those orphans would benefit and appreciate my gift more.
Resolution #3 Halal and Haram Issues: I will teach my children to discern halalfrom haram.For example, if they get paid a dollar from their employer, they should give three dollars worth of work in return; one dollar to cover the salary, another for the overhead, and the third for the employer’s profit. Anything less and you would be earning gaji buta(lit. blind salary), and that would be haram. Corruption is also haram, and so too breaches of faith and cheating your customers.
Resolution #4The Economy: To be economically successful we must emulate those who already are. Meaning, we have to save and invest, individually and as a society. When we spend, we have to be mindful of its opportunity cost and earning equivalent. Would it be better to spend RM100,000 on your daughter’s ostentatious wedding or on a payment towards the couple’s first house? At a societal level, is it better to spend the billions of Wang Ehsan to build the crystal mosque or fund our universities? That’s what the economists refer to as opportunity costs, or foregone opportunities.
As you smoke that expensive Cuban cigar in a posh restaurant, ponder how many days a villager would have to work to pay for it.As most high-flying Malays today are only a generation or two removed from the grinding poverty of the kampung, that thought ought to restrain their flamboyance. This earning equivalent is also what bankers consider before giving out loans, as for example, mortgage payments not exceeding a third of your income. That is being prudent. Cultivate those habits and it would also save you from the lethal clutches of the Ah Longs.
My resolutions do not require a permanent secretariat or a massive bureaucracy; each of us can implement any or all. Doing so would go a long way in ameliorating the “Malay problem,” and certainly more useful than those hifalutin ideas thrown about at this and previous or future congresses.

*Took place in Johor Baru on May 2, 2008 officiated by the state’s Crown prince. Two months earlier on March 8 UMNO’s BARISAN coalition suffered a humiliating setback when it failed to secure a two-third majority in GE12.


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