(function() { (function(){function b(g){this.t={};this.tick=function(h,m,f){var n=void 0!=f?f:(new Date).getTime();this.t[h]=[n,m];if(void 0==f)try{window.console.timeStamp("CSI/"+h)}catch(q){}};this.getStartTickTime=function(){return this.t.start[0]};this.tick("start",null,g)}var a;if(window.performance)var e=(a=window.performance.timing)&&a.responseStart;var p=0=c&&(window.jstiming.srt=e-c)}if(a){var d=window.jstiming.load; 0=c&&(d.tick("_wtsrt",void 0,c),d.tick("wtsrt_","_wtsrt",e),d.tick("tbsd_","wtsrt_"))}try{a=null,window.chrome&&window.chrome.csi&&(a=Math.floor(window.chrome.csi().pageT),d&&0=b&&window.jstiming.load.tick("aft")};var k=!1;function l(){k||(k=!0,window.jstiming.load.tick("firstScrollTime"))}window.addEventListener?window.addEventListener("scroll",l,!1):window.attachEvent("onscroll",l); })();

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 21, 2021

The Malay Mind And WWII

 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.


Third of Four Parts


Dr. Rozhan:  World War II was a tipping point in Western colonial history. The defeat of Western colonial powers by Japan, an Asian country, shattered the perception of their invincibility and superiority. That catalyzed the independence movement in many countries. One development not often mentioned is that the Japanese Occupation exposed the impotence of the traditional feudal elite. In Burma, India, and Indonesia, that contributed to the dismantling of their traditional feudal power structures. In Malaya, the traditional feudal elite quickly toed the British line after the war. The sultans supported the British-sponsored Malayan Union Treaty that would have made the country a permanent British Dominion. Despite that and unlike in other countries, the Malay feudal elite was maintained after Merdeka. What does this say about the Malay mindset then and how does this shape the current Malay outlook?



Bakri Musa:  WWII was the tipping point of not just for colonialism but also Malay culture. There were three other tipping points in our culture – the coming of Islam, intrusion of Western imperialism, and the path we chose towards independence. Each affected the collective Malay mindset.


The true measure of a culture is how well it prepares its adherents to major events, especially when unexpected and catastrophic. Compare the Asian tsunami of 2004 to the Katrina hurricane a year later.


            To the simple, science-illiterate Indonesians the tsunami was not the result of tectonic plate shifts deep beneath the Indian Ocean, rather Allah sending them a message. With that, the century-long Aceh rebellion ended in short order.


            Americans are educated, sophisticated, and have vastly more resources. Yet a decade after Katrina the deep social and racial divide exposed by that tragedy only worsened. Instead of effective rehabilitation, America was mired in endless lawsuits. Meanwhile the thousands of mobile homes built for such an emergency were left to deteriorate in warehouses, undistributed.


Culture explains the difference between the two reactions.


I would gave an A+ grade for Malay culture for the path we chose towards independence. We did everything right. We chose the right leaders and they in turn picked the right strategy and perfect timing. As for the sultans, they were against independence initially. As it was not worth fighting them and dividing our society, our leaders essentially bribed them with exalted titles, generous civil allowances, and other expensive privileges.


Had the sultans balked and our independence delayed, Malaysia would have been forced by the British to receive the millions fleeing Mao’s Cultural Revolution in the 1950s that had landed on the then-British colony of Hong Kong. The impact of that would have made the Vietnamese refugees a few decades later seem like a mere trickle.


As for the Japanese Occupation, well, we are still here and intact. That says something about our culture. An interesting aspect to the Occupation was first, there were no lazy Malays then. Second, how easy the Japanese disposed of the Malay sultans. They were simply ignored, and Malays did not miss their sultans.


Today when I see Malay sultans acting up, I wish someone would show them pictures of them genuflecting to those Japanese soldiers back during WWII. To put Malay sultans on par to kings and emperors would involve considerable “concept stretching,” to quote Clifford Geertz. Malay sultans have more in common with Papua New Guinea tribal chiefs than the British monarch.


I remember my mother telling me stories of fishing in Sri Menanti River with the future Queen of Malaysia during the war. There was nothing regal about her in her tattered sarong. A few years later there she was being sembah on the throne. We the rakyat put her up there.


Third, the Japanese recognized talent amongst us. P. Ramlee was discovered by the Japanese. So was Ungku Aziz, and Tun Razak. Today our culture and our sultans honor plunderers and thieves.


As for the coming of Islam, I would give a B grade for our response. We accepted the faith willingly but only the theology. We learned nothing about trading from the Arabs. We translated only the religious texts and hikayats, none on the sciences. Nonetheless the greatest benefit to our society was that those early Muslims introduced the written word into our culture. Anytime that happens it gives that culture a quantum leap in advancement. If only our forefathers had learned something from those brilliant science and mathematical geniuses of the ancient Arab world!


By contrast, I would give only a passable grade to our response to colonialism. We failed to differentiate between the hideousness of the Portuguese and Dutch versus the less malevolent British variety. There was a thing or two we could have learned from the culture that brought in the Scientific Revolution and ushered in the Industrial Age. As our Munshi Abdullah noted, we were not even curious to learn from a society that could make steel float, referring to the warship Setoris that the British had anchored off Singapore harbor.


The consequential difference between the Dutch and British as colonizers is this:  today Malay elites still look fondly to the Brits. Having a condo in London is still the supreme bragging rights among Malays. The Indonesians however have nothing but contempt for the Dutch. Today’s Indonesians are learning English, not Dutch.


Had we accepted what little the British had afforded us, as with sending our children to the few English schools, imagine how far ahead we would be today. Think of the few Malays who bravely broke the trend – Ismail Ali, the brilliant (and honest) first Governor of Bank Negara, Tun Suffian, first Chief Justice and one still held in high regards, and Majid Ismail, orthopedic surgeon, all Queen scholars. Think also of Za’aba. He attended St. Paul Institution in Seremban, a Catholic school, despite his father forbidding and subsequently disowning him because of that.


The cultural hypocrisy of our sultans and leaders was that they were (still are) Anglophiles, sending their children to English schools, or today, International Schools, while they exhort the masses to do otherwise. This glaring duplicity is missed by many.


An unexplored enquiry remains. Why did our culture readily embrace the then new and alien one brought in by the Muslim traders, and then once we became Muslims, we remained closed or even hostile to later foreign cultures? Was the West a crude and thus ineffective colonizer or were the early Arab traders subtle and sophisticated? It seems that way today what with Malays unabashedly embracing Arabism.


Despite independence and we being in charge, Malays are fast being left behind. This time we cannot blame the colonials. We must change our mindset. Begin by holding our leaders accountable. If we cannot do that or fearful of doing so, then ignore them.


My parents did that with respect to my education. They noted that while the Minister of Education when I was young, Tun Razak, was exhorting Malays to send their children to Malay schools, he was surreptitiously sending his – all five of them – to English schools, and in England to boot! My late father decided that until Malay leaders heed their own advice, he would ignore them. He was right then and even more so today.


We see this hypocrisy even with religious leaders. They pray, fast, undertake Hajj umpteen times, and adorn themselves with overflowing robes. Then when given illicit funds aka bribes, they consider that borkat – gift from Allah!


The most effective way to liberate the Malay mind is to ignore current Malay leaders of all varieties. Think for ourselves.


Post a Comment

<< Home