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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 07, 2021

Does The Malay Mind Need To Be Liberated?

 Does The Malay Mind Need To Be Liberated?



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


Part One of Three


Dr. Rozhan Othman:          A mindset is more than just an opinion. It is a world view that develops through experience, conditioning, and socialization. In some situations social and political institutions are created to reinforce the mindset. The Malay mindset in Malaysia is distinctly different from that of the Malays in Indonesia, South Africa, and Sri Lanka. The mindset forms the weltanschauung or tasawwur. When this is not questioned or subjected to periodical scrutiny, it becomes a dogma. What would you consider to be the key drivers that shape the Malaysian Malay mindset, and what aspects of the Malay mindset has become dogma? How does this shape how Malays behave?



Bakri Musa:  You could cite three more groups of Malays who are nearby and more relevant examples – Malays in Singapore, Brunei, and Southern Thailand. Did you know that the first Malay with a PhD from Harvard was from Pattani (Southern Thailand)? At one time there were more Malays at UC Berkeley from Singapore than from Malaysia.


            As for Brunei, I met her Minister of Education back in 1970. I suggested that Brunei use its vast oil resources to build a center of excellence for education in the Malay world (Nusantara). He stunned me with his answer. No point spending money on educating Malays, he assured me, for then they would become independent-minded and you would have a revolt. Remember the Azhari Rebellion of 1962, he reminded me.


            Coming back to Malaysia, the drivers for the Malay mindset today are first, religion; second our medieval feudal culture, and third, the behaviors of others. Within Malaysia the others would be the non-Malays; abroad it would be the West. I would put the relative weightage as religion to be 75 percent, culture 20, and the third, 5.


            The behaviors of others account for only 5 percent, but that obsesses Malays to no end. I could not care less whether Malaysian Chinese can speak Malay. Indeed if they were to excel and the best Malay novels were to be written by them, what a slap in the face that would be for Malays. As for the West, look how obsessed was Mahathir with George Soros.


This Malay obsession with the “others” within Malaysia is reflected on the negative, divisive, and destructive efforts at closing vernacular schools. Professor Tajudddin is a fine product of the Chinese school system, and you want to close it?


            I worry less about the Malay feudal culture. It will collapse on its own weight. The continuing egregious behaviors of Malay sultans would only grease the slide. How long would Malays tolerate their sultans cavorting with foreign prostitutes and then be stuck with humongous alimonies to be paid ultimately by taxpayers?


Religion is what I worry about most. Caution here before all hell breaks loose. I am not referring to Islam, rather the variety propagated in Malaysia which some critics have labelled as the “religion of the ancient Bedouins.”


Malaysian Islam now has state imprimatur. Islam today is less a religion, more a massive bureaucracy. It has the biggest budget, personnel, and thus influence. It is the biggest driver of the Malay mindset and dogma. This is recent phenomenon. A generation or two ago Malay leaders had no qualms in sending their children to St. Johns Institution and the Convent of the Holy Infant Jesus.


In its first few centuries, Islam was a beacon for the world. Then a long decline. Only now are we seeing tantalizing rays of light emerging amidst the darkness. In part this is the normal trajectory with all civilizations. Ibn Khaldun wrote something about that.


We see this thin ray of enlightenment in the tiny Gulf States. Consider that 3 of the top 25 airlines are from this region – Emirates, Qatar, and Etihad. Those small Gulf States also have the highest number of branches of American universities.


The other source of enlightenment is the West. English is now the second most important language of Islam, next to Arabic. There are more English translations of the Qur’an in the last fifty years than in all the previous 1400 years. The West is also the beneficiary of those enlightened Islamic scholars who had been driven out of their native land. More new mosques are being built in America than any other houses of worship. All are self-funded, with no state help.


An ahadith asserts that nur would emerge from the west. If you interpret nur to be light or enlightenment and not literally as the sun, there is wisdom in that. The finest Departments of Islamic Studies are at universities in the West. The Islam in most Muslim countries, Malaysia included, is the sclerotic variety.


If we aspire to have nur emerging in our midst, then we must emulate the West, just as those early Muslims the Greeks. If that is too much, and we prefer the Arabs, then emulate the Gulf States, not Egypt or Saudi Arabia. Yet those are where we sent most of our students.


One way to change the Malay mindset is to bring in Western-type liberal education, free from the suffocating control of the Islamists. Malaysian public universities, where the faculty and students are overwhelmingly Malays, are the cause of the Malay mind being entrapped. Those pseudo-scholars are intent on indoctrinating their students.


I hate making that statement as it would offend those who are genuine and toil hard every day, unappreciated, and underpaid to change the situation. I know many of them and I salute them for their dedication despite the obstacles thrown in their way. Unfortunately they are not the ones elevated to the National Professors Council.


Therein lies the problem!


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