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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, February 14, 2021

Deoes The Mind Need To Be Liberated? (Second of Four Parts)

 Does The Malay Mind Need To Be Liberated?


Panel Discussion Via Zoom organized by LeadUS Malaysia, January 10, 2021, with co-panelist Professor Mohammad Tajuddin Rasdi. Moderated by Dr. Rozhan Othman.


Second of Four Parts


Dr. Rozhan:      Mindset change is a prerequisite to social transformation. In Japan, modernization became a focus of the Meiji Restoration. It dismantled the shogunate, transformed the feudal agriculture system, and embraced industrialization. This transformation included changing values and mindset. Work in an industrial setting requires precise scheduling and punctuality, something that was not required in an agricultural setting. The Meiji Restoration instilled punctuality by introducing watches and organizing annual watch synchronizing events to ensure uniformity of time across the country as well as emphasizing punctuality.


South Korea’s President Park Chung-Hee initiated the Saemaul Undong movement to bring modernization to rural areas. It also sought to dismantle the beliefs in superstition and shamans of rural dwellers. We see a similar change in China under Deng Xiaoping. He embraced capitalism and changed the Maoist attitude towards wealth and profit making. In all of these changes, there was a strong visionary leader driving the transformation. Do Malays need such a strong and visionary leader to liberate their mind or is a change led by strong leaders potentially problematic? Hitler was after all a strong leader who changed the German mindset.



Bakri Musa:  In all those instances you mentioned, there was a trigger mechanism, usually external, that toppled the comfortable coconut shell of that culture. How that society responded to that trigger would be the determining factor. With Japan it was the blatant intrusion, unmolested, of Admiral Perry into Edo Harbor in 1853. With that the Japanese realized how impotent and far behind the West they were. That prompted them to learn from the West. The Japanese did not delude themselves into thinking that they were superior, or the best.


            That is the first lesson. Recognize your deficiencies; this applies to society as well as individuals. 


            The Japanese sent thousands of their teachers, professors, and administrators to the West, not for weeks or months of culup (quickie) courses as Malaysia does, but for years. When they returned, they were guaranteed their old positions. They were to stay abroad until they felt that they had learned everything they needed to in their field. When they returned, they put in action what they had learned.


Among the five Charter Oaths they adopted, one was to seek knowledge from around the world; another, participation of all classes in the administration of the state; and a third, public discussions of all major decisions. No more top-down command or titah from the Emperor. The most consequential Charter Oath was that evil customs of the past be discontinued to be replaced by new ones based on just laws of nature.


            Implied in that was their collective acknowledgment that some of their old customs were evil. 


Granted, a few of those sent abroad learned only the superficial trappings of the West, as with their formal attires. One senior official took to dispensing with his erstwhile concubines and stuck with only one wife, trying to be “Western.” Well at least that was positive gesture.


Malaysia too sent thousands of her young abroad. Only a few absorbed the ethos of what made the West advanced and brought those home. Others were satisfied only with acquiring the colorful plumage of the Cockney crowd. Those sent to America gravitated towards the Creekside State Universities. No wonder on their return home they had a warped view of America. One former Chief Secretary went to Oklahoma State. Any surprise that he could not stand up to little Najib?


By contrast, look at the previous Trump Administration. How many cabinet secretaries and other top officials resigned in protest long before his debacle of January 6, 2021. They did not just resign, they criticized him publicly.


In contrast, how many Malaysian top officials have resigned over Najib’s 1MDB mess, much less criticized him?


            With China, it was Deng who recognized the destructive madness of Mao’s Cultural Revolution. In late 1970s when he came to power, the first thing Deng did was to ask President Carter to accept a few hundred Chinese students to top American universities. Today, Chinese students and scholars are a major presence at those places such that they are now viewed as a national security threat! American-trained Chinese scientists sequenced the Covid-19 genome within weeks. Fantastic!


A generation ago Mao would have sent those scientists to the ulus for their “re-education.”


            Deng was a diminutive figure and far from being charismatic, yet he transformed China. Those American-trained Chinese scientists he sent abroad rebuilt the country’s universities and academies that had been wrecked by Mao. When I first visited Beijing in the 1990s, most of the passengers in the plane were teachers, lecturers, and professors. Today the greatest number of students sitting for American tests like SAT and GMAT are from China. A generation ago, none!


Mandarin is far more advanced than Malay yet Chinese parents rush to enroll their kids in English schools. Their leaders do not accuse them of not mertabatkan (respecting) their own language.


            We do not need strong leaders for we could end up with a Hitler or Trump. What we need instead is an environment where our bright young people could get or be enticed into positions of responsibilities in government. Strengthen our institutions by having these smart courageous people helming them. This is one reason I am cheering for Anwar’s PKR. He attracted many smart young people like Rafizi Ramli, Nik Nazmi, and Sim Tze Tzin into his party. Rafizi excepted, they were all successful in the last election. The government had to arrest Rafizi so he could not contest in that election.


            Today he is out of politics. I do not blame him but what a loss for Malays, Malaysians, and Malaysia. Contrast the youthful vigor of PKR versus the sclerotic senescent UMNO.


Years ago I met a group of JPA scholars here in America. Unlike the masses sent abroad, they were among the rare species to be attending elite universities. They were discussing how to “bomb” their JPA interviews back in Malaysia so they would be denied a job. Thus freed of their scholarship bonds they could return to America! Those are the very people Malaysia should attract and retain, not those from the likes of Oklahoma State universities. Why did Malaysia not emulate Japan of the Meiji Restoration? Malaysia should have encouraged those bright students to stay back in America to gain experience.


On the flip side, I once met the Chairman of JPA while he was on an official tour of America. He complained to me how unimpressed he was with Malaysians who graduated from American universities. That chairman could not even differentiate between Stamford College versus Stanford University.


Where do you start to change things when you have those types in positions of authority?


Next:  Third of Four Parts:  Tipping Point in Malay History



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