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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 29, 2020

Sultans As Barnacles On Malay Socitey

 Race, Religion, And Royalty:  The Barnacles On Malay Society



Introduction:  Sultans As Barnacles


(Last of Four Parts)


Conflicts between Malay sultans and their subjects have long been a constant feature in Malay society, as attested both in our history as well as literature and folklores.


Recalling examples from my memory, the sultans–all of them–were against Malaysia’s independence! Seeing what had happened to their kin in India and Indonesia, the position of Malay sultans was understandable though still not pardonable.


A decade earlier in 1946, the sultans ceded the nation’s sovereignty to the British, in effect turning Malaysia into a permanent British Dominion. Only a massive and peaceful rally by the rakyat (citizens, exclusively Malays then) made the British see the folly of their decision. They withdrew that Malayan Union Treaty despite the sultans having signed it.


More recent were isolated incidents of frustrated citizens acting out their anger over egregious conducts of various individual sultans. There was the celebrated case of one Private Adam who went amok with an M-16 rifle in hand, rampaging through the streets of Kuala Lumpur in protest of the killing of his brother by a member of the royalty who would later become King of Malaysia.


With the help of skillful lawyers and slick public relations, that account is today relegated to being just an urban legend. Private Adam was found not guilty on account of temporary insanity. As per the official narrative, he never had a brother and that he had a “troubled childhood,” hence the amok.


What is not in doubt is that the royal person involved (he went by the name of Mahmud then), was convicted of manslaughter in a case involving yet another victim. Only a pardon by his father, then Sultan of Johore, saved Mahmud. He, or Iskandar going by his later official name, was the only King in Malaysia and the world to have been convicted of killing someone.


Being born and bred near the royal town of Sri Menanti, I too have seen far too many examples of royal excesses. They were not enough for me to revolt or run amok. Instead I chose to get out of their way whenever possible.


To take a broader perspective, the Malays in the Philippines and Indonesia, as well as in Southern Thailand, have been without their sultans for generations. In Brunei they are still very much enamored with their erratic and medieval-minded sultan. Within Malaysia, Malays in East Malaysia as well as in Malacca and Penang have long ago been spared the burden of having sultans.


For most Malays, as well as for most of Malay history, not having sultans was the norm.


The concept of sultan in Malay society too needs critical examination. The current Sultan of Johore in one of his many moments of grandeur recently decreed that henceforth he should be addressed with the more exalted title of “His Majesty,” and not the hitherto traditional “His Highness.”


The British used that decorative appellation “His Highness” on Malay sultans for the specific purpose of disabusing them from having pretensions of being comparable to or on par with Her Majesty, the Queen of England. During the Japanese Occupation, the sultans dared not fantasize themselves being on par with The Emperor of The Sun, not even its bonsai version.


For Malay sultans today to equate or fancy themselves as being on par with the great kings and emperors would involve considerable “concept stretching,” to quote anthropologist Clifford Geerth. Their delusions of grandeur notwithstanding, Malay sultans are more African tribal chiefs than the Queen of England.


As is apparent, the performances of Malay sultans in history have not been praiseworthy despite their being regarded as Allah’s representatives on earth. That too–being head of Islam–was recent, springing from the colonialists’ decision to leave matters pertaining to Malay culture and faith to the sultans.


Culture encompasses a wide scope, leaving the colonials to tolerate the sultans’ abhorrent medieval habits as having multiple wives and concubines as well as slavery, however much those practices assaulted British sensitivity.


The portrayals of sultans in Malay literature and folklores too are far from flattering, in fact downright unsavory and disgusting. In canonic Hikayat Hang Tuah, the sultan commanded his chief knight to kidnap a maiden. The sultan was the law; no one dared contradict him. Everything on the land belonged to him, from the most beautiful village virgins to prized water buffalo bulls. Those evil medieval traits persist today, only the items coveted have changed to palatial palaces and prized timber concessions.


Malaysia today has a constitutional monarch, modelled after the British. That was achieved with no help from the sultans. They would rather remain absolute monarchs, hence their opposition to independence.


The sultans agreed to independence only after they were given heaps of special privileges. They were essentially bought or bribed. No wonder their later aberrant behaviors and egregious greed, which led the Washington Post to characterize Malay sultans as the “Monarchs of Mayhem.”


It took the murder of a hockey coach and a soldier running amok in the streets of Kuala Lumpur for a constitutional amendment in 1993, stripping those sultans of their immunity for their personal behaviors.


Nonetheless those aberrant behaviors continue. Today we have the King marrying a sultry Russian beauty queen, a wedding that lasted but a few months, with the headlines carrying lurid details contesting whose baby it was that was born very much shy of nine months following their wedding.


The fate and future of Malay sultans rest less with what is enshrined in the constitution, rather on their individual and collective behavior and conduct. Given a few more bad apples and it would not surprise me that they would soon be reduced to the status of the Sultan of Sulu.


Today’s Malaysians, more so Malays, are becoming less and less enamored with their sultans and are willing to voice that, often in very harsh language, when those sultans act inappropriately. That is a good development.


There is yet another aspect to my proposition that the institution of the sultans being a huge barnacle on Malay society. Malay leaders at all levels including the sultans are urging Malays to dispense with their special privileges crutch, to be not dependent on government and risk being reduced to being wards of the state.


That advice rings hollow. How could ordinary Malays be persuaded to give up their cherished special privileges when their leaders, especially the sultans, squat at the very top of the bountiful special privileges heap?


Returning to my opening proposition, Malaysia today faces a unique and dangerous challenge where forces aligned to race, religion, and royalty are coalescing to threaten the very future of Malays, and thus Malaysia. This threat is compounded by the fact that Malaysians, Malays and non-Malays alike, are blissfully unaware of this new emerging danger.


This volume, which contains my commentaries on race, religion, and royalty written during the past decade, is my effort to sensitize Malaysians to this clear and present danger.


So as not to leave on such a pessimistic note, I end the book with my observations on Anwar Ibrahim and the many bright new young stars he has attracted to his Parti Keadilan (Justice Party). I pray and hope that they would get to lead Malaysia, and soon. That would make my earlier pessimistic observations irrelevant and be of only historical interest.

Sunday, November 22, 2020

Race, Religion, And Royalty



Race, Religion, And Royalty:  The Barnacles On Malay Society



Introduction:  Pernicious Influence of Islamism on Education (Third of Four Parts)



The other major and negative influence of Islamism is on education. By Islamism I mean the movement that would use or exploit this great faith to pursue its political, social, and other agenda.


During colonial times Islam was relegated to the periphery, placed under the sole jurisdiction of the sultans. Mahathir in his first go around as Prime Minister back in the early 1980s was instrumental in bringing Islam into the federal government in many and major ways. His rationale or motive escapes me. If it was an attempt to project his image as the champion of the faith, then that failed miserably. His standing with the Islamists was not at all enhanced. Quite the contrary. They looked upon him with undisguised contempt, dismissing him as but a pretender because he lacked any formal religious training. Beyond that, Mahathir eschewed the traditional attire and trappings of the Islamists, as with donning overflowing robes and oversized turbans, as well as peppering his speeches with Qur’anic verses.


Coopting these Islamists into his administration, Mahathir succeeded only in emboldening them. Mahathir rode the Islamist tiger to pursue his political goals only to find that he could not dismount so easily. Mahathir should count himself lucky in that the tiger did not devour him.


Through Mahathir, the Islamists became entrenched in the affairs of the state. Nowhere is this omnipresence felt more than in education. Malaysian national schools are now fully Islamized, driving out non-Malays. Even Malays are abandoning the system in increasing numbers, opting instead for Chinese schools, much to the distress and embarrassment of the Islamists and language nationalists.


Islam today is also a potent political force. The political party that explicitly and unabashedly carries the banner of Islam is PAS. The origin of that acronym is unknown. The party’s original name was Pan Malaysia Islamic Party, or in Malay, Parti Islam Se-Malaysia. Its Malay acronym should thus be PIS.


At its peak a decade or two ago, that party attracted many bright young Malay professionals. Nonetheless at the polls, the party at best could garner less than 20 percent of the popular votes. As for those Malay professionals, many left in 2015 to form a breakaway party, Parti Amanah, leaving PAS firmly in the hands of the doctrinaires.


Malays today are enamored and obsessed with the associated Bedouinism of Islam. While Malay women of my youth were proud of their colorful and enchanting kebayas and baju kurung, today they are covered with the drab hijab. Today it is rare to see a Malay woman without one. To have your hair uncovered in public would elicit much starring and disapproval, if not outright censure. Only the most strong-willed, like former Trade Minister Rafidah Aziz, would be brave to appear in public san the hijab.


Islamic scholars and ulama today have difficulty differentiating between the universal values and attributes of Islam from its desert-specific Bedouin trappings. The Malay masses follow in tandem in blind obedience.


For a historical perspective, during colonial times Malays also readily aped the British with gusto, from our attire down to our foods and manner of eating. We substituted toast and jam instead of nasi lemak and sambal for breakfast. You were not considered classy if you were to use your hand to eat instead of fork and knife. In the 1950s it was common to see newspapers carrying advertisements for Guinness stout . . . featuring a young Malay couple! Today such a couple would be lynched, and the publication sanctioned if not banned.


Aping the superficial trappings of foreign cultures is not a new phenomenon with Malays.


PAS leaders are confused or cannot decide whether they should be politicians or ulama. They tried to be both and succeeded in neither. The party today has about 18 out of the 222 parliamentary seats, and no representatives in four state legislatures. In two other states, only one.


Despite the increasing role of Islam in Malay life, poor Malays still turn to churches for help. That further heightened the ire and suspicions of the Islamists. They see that not as charity but sophisticated proselytizing. Expect the situation to get worse with Covid-19. Meanwhile mosques are getting more grandiose. When poor or sick Muslims turn to them for help, they would first have to endure a long humiliating sermon. During this Covid-19 pandemic I have yet to see any mosque having a food distribution program. Instead, in defiance of the state public health rulings, they continue having mass gatherings in mosques. “Fear Allah more than Covid-19” was their ill-informed lame excuse.


More pernicious and dangerous is the suffocating influence of the Islamists on the apparatus of the state beyond merely the religious. Education was only one. Even the judicial system is not spared. The Islamists want the Syariah system to override secular courts, in effect to usurp the constitution.


Non-Muslims, meaning non-Malays, are spared this burden and plague. We continue to lament why Malays remain marginalized.


Next:  Sultans As Barnacles (Last of Four Parts)


Sunday, November 15, 2020

 Race, Religion, And Royalty:  The Barnacles On Malay Society


Second of Four Parts


Introduction:   The Race Barnacle


Racial conflict is a recent phenomenon in Malaysia, the consequence of the influx of Indian and Chinese immigrants brought in by the British colonials during the early part of the 20th Century to man their tin mines and rubber plantations.


The worst racial “incident” was the May 1969 race riot, worst both in terms of the number of casualties as well as the impact it had on the nation’s collective psyche. The latter in part was because it took place at the center of power of the new nation.


Today, conflict over race is displayed under the euphemistic banner of Ketuanan Melayu, or crudely put, Malay hegemony. Visit the many huge shopping malls of Klang Valley during Hari Raya, Christmas, and Chinese New Year. The lavishness of Christmas and Chinese New Year eclipses that of Hari Raya, making Ketuanan Melayu but a cruel hoax. Likewise, drive through the major cities of Malaysia and you would have to look hard to see signs of Malay enterprises.


Nonetheless Malay nationalists, the intelligent and sophisticated as well the ones less so, pin their hope and legitimacy on that long-ago geographic name of Peninsular Malaysia, Tanah Melayu–Land of the Malays–to justify their Ketuanan Melayuaspirations. Much less clear is what exactly do those nationalists want with their Ketuanan Melayu. Pogrom against non-Malays? Deprive them of their properties and citizenship?


Before the arrival of the immigrants, there were of course no racial conflicts. Conveniently forgotten however, were the frequent and on a much lesser scale inter-tribal and inter-clan clashes among Malays. The deadliest and most protracted occurred across the Strait of Malacca in Sumatra–the Aceh Civil War. That started way back during the heyday of Dutch colonial rule and ended, at least officially, only in 2005, nearly a century and a half later.


Less noted was the religious component to that conflict. The Aceh fervently believed that their interpretation of Islam was the only valid one, the rest were but adulterations of the faith. That confirms my central thesis that when the second element is injected, in this case variations within Islamic theology, the conflict becomes more deadly, protracted, and volatile.


The Religious Barnacle

Less recent and less traumatic was the conflict over Islam among Malays early in the last century, between the more progressive Kaum Muda (The Young Generation) and the (not unexpected) more conservative Kaum Tua (Old Generation). Their skirmishes were less physical, more theological, with their proponents championing their causes and polemics in their respective publications and religious institutions, not on the streets or in the kampungs.


Today that conflict is being resurrected, only this time the labels have changed to “liberal” or “progressive” Islam versus the conservatives and the orthodox. Unlike the earlier Kaum Muda/Kaum Tua conflict, this time the other two equally incendiary elements of race and royalty, as well as socioeconomic class, are being injected into it, making the schism potentially that much more dangerous.


Islam is more than a religion for Malays; it defines Malayness. The constitution is explicit in that a Malay is someone who professes Islam. Malayness is thus not only a social, cultural, or biological construct in Malaysia but also legal.


There is more. Unlike other Malaysians, Malays are subject to, in addition to the country’s secular laws, the Syariah. In the beginning, the Syariah courts were but a minor and very junior player in the country’s judicial system, concerned primarily with inheritance and aspects of family law among Muslims. Today, in tandem with the increasing Islamization, Syariah courts are on par with secular ones. There are those, and not just the zealots, who would have the Syariah override the constitution, on the specious argument that the former is “God’s laws,” the latter, man-made. Even more remarkable, there are few restraints or expressed opposition (except not unexpectedly from non-Muslims) to that aspiration.


When Islam entered the Malay world in the 13th Century, its assimilation into local society was peaceful and seamless. Both ruler and the ruled saw the evident superiority of this new belief and embraced it with great enthusiasm. The change between pre-Islamic and Islamic Malay society and culture was even more dramatic and transformational, a shift from animist and polytheistic belief into a monotheistic one. Islam also brought in the written word into the hitherto oral-only Malay tradition. Anytime that happens, it brings about a transformational change for the better to that culture.


Those observations notwithstanding, the reality is that Islam is not synonymous with Malay. My earliest culture shock came as a young boy holidaying with my family in Port Dickson in the 1950s when the country was still under colonial rule. One evening while strolling on the beach I saw a group of young Malay girls chatting away but dressed in the traditional black nun’s habit. This was the days when Malay women had not yet taken on the hijab. In case I had any doubt that they were not Muslims, they all carried the Holy Bible in their hands, and hung across their chests, their very visible crucifixes.


They were Christian Malays from across the Strait of Malacca in Sumatra. They were no less a Malay than I am.


With heavy state involvement at all levels in Malaysia today, Islam is also a massive bureaucracy, with religious functionaries held in high esteem not because of their piety or knowledge but because of their state imprimatur. Peruse the civil honor lists at both state and federal levels. A disproportionate number goes to these religious functionaries. They have become the handmaidens of their political masters, a manifestation of a vast and fast expanding pernicious ulama-state complex. When there was an unexpected change in government as following the 2018 General Election, the whole religious bureaucracy at all levels was disrupted.


This elevated status accorded to religious functionaries extends to other institutions. The honor of being a Professor Emeritus is heaped disproportionately on those from the Islamic Studies Departments. Young Malays could secure a scholarship for religious studies in Egypt much easier than for an engineering course at a local university.


Those with religious credentials are well compensated by the state. What is surprising and not widely acknowledged is that those few in the private sector, especially banking, are also well rewarded for putting their blessings on financial instruments and transactions to make them “Syariah compliant.” Never mind that they know zilch about economics or modern business and financial practices. If they become too stringent or try to be a purist, the banks could always hire another religious scholar. There is no shortage of them. All that Citibank needs to tap the Islamic market and offer “Syariah-compliant” mortgages and loans is to have these ulama certify their products as such, and magically they would become halal.


Never mind that those Syariah-compliant financial products cost customers much more than the usual commercial ones. “Interest-free” Syariah-complaint “Islamic” mortgages cost as much as 300 basis points more than conventional loans. Comparisons are made much more difficult if not impossible as those interest-free loans have myriad hidden administrative fees tagged on.


Despite that, these Islamic financial products are popular. Islam sells with Malays; hence the rush by “secular” banks to enter the field.


Next:  Pernicious influence of Islamism on Education (Third of Four Parts)

2021 Budget - Lessons Not Learned

 2021 Budget – Lessons Not Learned!


M. Bakri Musa


The 2021 Malaysian Budget repeats the same old mistake – the erroneous belief that throwing money at a problem would solve it. As in the past, billions are again being allocated to Bumiputra institutions like JAKIM and JASA, as well as to MARA and UiTM. Despite such generosity, now and in the past, there has been no appreciable improvement in Bumiputra competitiveness vis a vis non-Bumiputras.


Stripped of their fancy acronyms, JAKIM and JASA are but public works programs for otherwise unemployable Bumiputras. Those institutions go beyond. They are responsible for Malays not being competitive. There is little incentive to; the likes of JAKIM and JASA are ready to employ you. If you want Malays to contribute to the socioeconomic development of the nation, as is the aspiration of all Malay leaders, then get rid of those institutions.


            As for the billions for MARA, they will continue to squander that by sending Malays to third-rate universities abroad, though thankfully not in the same massive numbers as in the 1970s and 80s where they sent Malays abroad even for Sixth Form! As for UiTM’s bountiful windfall, none will be used to recruit English and Philosophy Professors. Then we wonder why our students have abysmal English fluency, and are incapable of critical thinking.


            The “help” Malays are getting from their government reminds me of an old Reagan advice to ranchers in the west. “When you hear, ‘I am from the Feds and I am here to help,’ run to the hills fast!”


With JAKIM distracting Malays to be obsessed with getting into Paradise, there would be that much fewer left to ensure that we do not suffer our own collective Hell right here and now in Tanah Melayu. For every Malay consumed with revealed knowledge or prophetic traditions, that would be one fewer to do research on Covid-19, or clean the environment.


What Malays need are better engineers and architects, not more exquisite Qur’an reciters and mesmerizing ulama with their fire-and-brimstone sermons. Consider Malaysian masjids. One showpiece mosque in Kuala Lumpur has acres of open marble floors that are unwalkable because they are exposed to the blazing Malaysian sun. I suppose, to be charitable, that was part of the design – a preview of how hell would be like! Even with recently completed masjids, there are extension cords everywhere as the designers did not anticipate the electrical outlet needs. In Kelantan, the most “Islamic” state, you cannot get clean water to do your ablution.


When we do get those few Malays away from this obsession with religion, we do not let them practice their craft. Instead we seduce them into doing something else, like administrative chores.


It breaks my heart to see those few Malays of my generation who were trained in the sciences being seduced into becoming pseudo-ulama. I would have thought they would have served as much-needed role models for the young in the kampungs by being productive in their respective fields.


It is sad to see the first Malay PhD in mathematics now touring village mosques giving khutba (sermons) on the supposed past glory of Islam in the Malay world. A more worthy legacy would have been for him to establish Institutes of Mathematics to encourage the young to pursue the subject. Another, also of my vintage, abandoned his doctoral work in mathematics at a prestigious university to go into religion.


I am also saddened to see the few precious Malay scientists and professionals not being rewarded and honored, not for their sake but as a societal statement to inspire the young. The honor of Emeritus Professorship is being heaped not upon those few precious Malay pioneers in the sciences and professions, but in Malay and Islamic Studies. We already have a glut of them. Meanwhile we keep harping on the lack of Malays in the sciences!


My late father had an apt observation on that misplaced priority:  Membajakan lallang (adding fertilizer to lallang–a particularly tenacious weed).


A Christian cobbler would best show his faith, wrote Martin Luther, not by carving crucifixes on the shoes he makes but by making them durable and cheap so the poor could afford them. Likewise Muslim engineers would best demonstrate their faith in Allah not by carving intricate Qur’anic verses on the bridges they build but making sure that during floods more water would flow under than over, and that there are no unexpected right angle turns at mid-point.


Islam is a great faith. It has withstood hordes of Mongol invaders as well as Stalin’s brutal suppression. The faith does not need defenders, least of all from these characters in IKIM and JAKIM.


Islam cannot advance in Malaysia if Malays are overrepresented in the socially dysfunctional categories. Getting rid of JAKIM and JASA, as well as MARA and BTN would be a great first step. Thus far that reality has not even registered on Malay leaders.


Non-Malays should relax; quit worrying about all those goodies showered on Bumiputras. Heed the wisdom of Plutarch:  The man who first brought ruin upon the Roman people was he who pampered them by largesse and amusements.


Remember, when Malays holler “Tanah Melayu untuk Melayu!” (Malaysia for Malays!) that is not a threat, it’s more a desperate cry from those betrayed by their leaders.




No Guided Constitutional Monarchy

 No “Guided” Constitutional Monarchy

M. Bakri Musa (www.bakrimusa.com)



Alas the accolades heaped upon the Agung for not acceding to Prime Minister Muhyiddin’s earlier request for Emergency Rule had not yet ebbed when the Agung startled Malaysians with his unprecedented “advice” for Members of Parliament to pass Muhyiddin’s forthcoming 2021 budget.


            This royal “advice,” or “guided” constitutional monarchy from the palace if you will, has all the stink of an overripe durian. At least with that you could salvage it into tompoyak paste, a delicacy if you can get past the odor.


            The Agung issued that menasihat (advice) only a few hours after Muhyiddin had presented his proposed budget to him. The Agung had barely enough time to skim the headings and he already had his advice for the rakyat.


            Something about Malay language. You and I menasihat each other, but sultans decree. Therein lies the danger. Already those in UMNO and Muhyiddin’s camp are making this point of the menasihit being a titah(decree), and to be obeyed as such, to suit their political expediency. Indeed, a few paragraphs into the palace statement, it used the word titah to describe it, just in case you missed the message. There was no subtlety there.


            Those who think that this was merely an advice from a concerned King are ignorant of Malay language, culture, or norms. To go against a titah is derkaha. That would make those who would vote against the budget traitors.


            It is not coincidental that the palace issued the statement in Malay and with no accompanying English translation, as is the practice. I would like to see palace officials (or anyone else) translate the first few words of the fifth paragraph of the October 28 Palace Statement:   “Al Sultan Abdullah bertitah [my emphasis]demikian selepas menerima menghapad YAB Perdana Menteri. . . .” (The Agung decreed this following an audience with the Prime Minister . . . .)


            Back in 1957 the incompetent but egotistic President Sukarno, unable to perform the basic tasks of governance, introduced “guided democracy,” with him being the “guider” of course. With that as a beginning, a decade later he was replaced by a brutal dictator, Suharto. That reign of terror would not end till 1996.


            Malaysians be warned! Do not go down this well-trodden path of “guided” or “menasihat” of anything from anyone. The path to hell is paved with good intentions.


Members of Parliament should do their job they were sent to do. They are paid by the rakyat. MPs must listen to those who sent them there and paid their salary, not anyone else even if he were to heap upon you exalted titles of some ancient supposedly glorious Mashuri dynasty.


            An earlier Agung said it best. “Democracy as a political system does not become a democracy because it is given that appellation. The true meaning of democracy can be summed up by the phrase ‘government by the people.’”


Now that is sound nasihat (advice)! That earlier Agung, Raja Azlan Shah, had also served as the nation’s Chief Justice.


            He went further. “Any form of pressure or arbitrary limits imposed on the people in their free exercise of the right to choose their own government will be a clear abrogation of any parliamentary system of government. Similarly, major bills must not be rushed through Parliament. The people should have an opportunity to express their views.”


            An annual budget is a major if not the bill for the government. This Agung wants it diluluskan tanpa sebarang gangguan (passed without any interference).


            That is a very dangerous mindset, to equate robust parliamentary debates as gangguan (interference). Palace advisors must be disabused early and in no uncertain terms of this treacherous path that they have chosen to follow.


            If this Agung believes that the current Covid-19 pandemic presents such a clear and present danger to the nation such that parliamentary bills must be passed without gangguan, he should have approved that earlier request for Emergency Rule.


By giving this titah to support Muhyiddin, the Agung has implicitly endorsed him as the legitimate Prime Minister. As such, his earlier denial of the advice from the “Prime Minister” for an Emergency Rule set a very dangerous precedent. The King reigns but does not rule.


            The King’s titah to the rakyat was misplaced. He should have directed it instead to Muhyiddin. That advice is the same one Malaysians have bombarded on Muhyiddin during the last few months, that is, get Parliamentary endorsement of your leadership. If you do not or cannot, then get out! This manufactured political crisis is Muhyiddin’s, not Malaysia’s.


            Malaysia’s system of constitutional monarchy is unique in many ways but it is still in its infancy. Malays have just emerged from the old ugly days of feudalism. Many still yearn for those days. As such our system of constitutional monarchy should be strengthened and not breached under some misplaced pretext of loyalty or stability. It is still fragile.


            It was not so long ago following the 2008 elections when the Menteri Besar of Perak said this to his sultan:  “Patek memohon derhaka ….!” (I, your slave, beg to commit treason ...!) Imagine the people’s representative being a slave to the sultan!


            In a constitutional monarchy, sovereignty lies with the rakyat, not the raja.


            To switch my earlier metaphor of an overripe durian, this attempt at breaching the clear lines in a constitutional monarchy and parliamentary democracy must be plugged before the entire edifice crumbles. Don’t let the nation be swamped. Malaysian MPs should be like the brave Dutch boy – stick your finger in the dyke, and do it now with the budget session next week.

Race, Religion, And Royalty: The Barnacles On Malay Society - Introduction (Part One of Four)

 Race, Religion, And Royalty

The Barnacles On Malay Society


M. Bakri Musa (www.bakrimusa.com)

(First of Four Parts)




Race, religion, and royalty have long defined Malay culture and society. Today those three elements have degenerated to be the treacherous troika of Malaysia’s increasingly dangerous identity politics. This development more than anything else threatens to radically alter Malaysia’s political dynamics, and with that, the nation’s stability.


There is yet another related and equally (if not far more) consequential aspect that is not appreciated. That is, race, religion, and royalty are the barnacles on Malay society that not only impede Malay progress but also threaten to sink Malay society and culture. That in turn could have a severe and adverse impact on Malaysia. There cannot be stability if the nation’s majority ethnic group were to be left behind or remained marginalized. It is unfortunate that this is fast becoming the sorry and tragic reality for Malays.


The narrative or “explanation” spun by Malay leaders and followers alike has been to blame others. In colonial times, the “others” were the colonialists; today, after more than six decades of independence, with the government as well as all the major levers of powers dominated and controlled by Malays, the “others” are now non-Malays and the West.


This weakness or tendency to blame others is not unique unto Malays. South African Blacks still wallow in their victimhood status at the hands of the minority whites. The Chinese, at least until a generation or two ago, still blamed the humiliations they suffered under the British during the Opium War. White Americans today blame illegal immigrants for what ails America, with President Trump spending billions to build a wall at the southern border.


That Malays are not unique in this blame-the-others game is no consolation. Nor would that help solve the problem.


My commentaries on race, religion, and royalty penned within the last decade examine this neglected but important proposition that the three elements have become barnacles on Malay society. They impose a severe and costly drag, becoming the major factors contributing to Malay backwardness. Unresolved, race, religion, and royalty could be the undoing of Malay society and culture.



Conflicts Based On Race, Religion, and Royalty

Conflicts based on only race, religion, or royalty have plagued mankind throughout history. Those involving any two of the three simultaneously, as with race and religion or religion and royalty, are likewise not unusual. However, conflicts where all three are invoked and in parallel are rare. I cannot think of any. Rare or unheard of it may be, that is the unfortunate grim prospect facing Malaysia today. The nation is now deeply polarized along race, religion, and attitude or loyalty towards royalty. This is never more keenly felt than within the Malay society.


During the last decade of the last century there was the Rwandan civil war that pitted the Tutsis and Hutus. Not too long before that, there was the Biafran War in Nigeria, with the Ibos against the rest. A non-African would find it difficult to tell a Tutsis from a Hutus, or an Ibo from the rest. Those conflicts were based solely on ethnicity, a variant of race.


The turmoil still plaguing India is based on religion–Hindus against Muslims. Indians are ethnically or racially similar. You can’t tell them apart by their physical features, the language they speak, or their personal mannerisms. Both Muslims and Hindus shake their heads to signal yes and no. As for intra-religious conflicts, the centuries-old Sunni-Shiite divide in Islam is still being played out today in all its lethality and brutality.


Royalty too is no stranger in many conflicts. Within my memory and closest to Malaysia geographically and culturally was the 1962 rebellion in nearby Brunei. Only the quick intervention by the British through its mercenary Gurkhas saved the sultan. A decade and a half later, the Iranian Revolution forced the Shah of Shahs to flee his country. The Iranian Revolution that triggered it is still ongoing.


All those horrors occurred during my lifetime and memory. The history books document many more, and much worse.


Less common but not rare is where two of the three elements of race, religion, and royalty are combined, or where their dynamics paralleled. The centuries-old and still very deadly Arab-Jew conflict reflects this combination, with tribe and religion in play. The “troubles” in Northern Ireland between the Irish and English is but a residuum and reflection of a much bigger divide between the two that has plagued the Emerald Island for centuries. That too is a combination of ethnicity (Gaelic versus English) and religion (Catholic versus Protestant).


To reiterate for emphasis, a conflict involving all three–race, religion, and royalty–is rare. That is where Malaysia is headed towards on its current trajectory. With all three elements involved and in parallel, once the conflagration is ignited, expect it to be much more vicious, protracted, and difficult to resolve. That makes preventing such a catastrophe from happening be the highest priority.


Next:  The Race Barnacle  (Second of Four Parts)