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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 15, 2020

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)



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