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M. Bakri Musa

Seeing Malaysia My Way

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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, July 25, 2021

Corrupt, Inept, and Unimaginative Leaders Fancying Themselves Otherwise

 Corrupt, Inept, And Unimaginative Leaders Fancying Themselves Otherwise


M. Bakri Musa


The need for honest, competent, and accountable leadership is never more acute than during a crisis. It is a cruel perversity that Malaysia during this Covid-19 pandemic is cursed with corrupt, inept, and dishonest leaders who fancy themselves as otherwise. This blight afflicts leaders at all levels and in all spheres, from the Agung and his fellow sultans to Prime Minister Muhyiddin (or whatever his name) and his cabinet. The lowly nurse giving blank vaccine shots reflects this systemic rot. More stunning is the Health Minister’s reaction that those affected just be revaccinated, a shocking ignorance of the underlying problem.


            Pandemics are an integral part of human history. As such there is much that we can learn from the past.


            First, a much needed reality check:  all pandemics will end, with or without enlightened leadership. The challenge is how to accelerate the process, minimize the damage, and anticipate as well as respond to the ensuing inevitable social and physical turmoil. That is where leadership is critical. It would make all the difference.


It is also worth reminding that unlike the Spanish flu which occurred in the backdrop of the already horrific World War I, this Covid-19 pandemic is not burdened with unneeded global conflicts. Regional wars there are, and many. For those caught in them, their pain and sufferings are magnified that much more. Also unlike the Spanish flu, we now have vaccines and our medical care is a quantum leap more advanced.


For Malaysians, this pandemic is not another horrible May 13, 1969 “incident,” much less the Japanese Occupation or the Great Depression. Just to be reminded of those past horrors would inject a much-needed dose of realism if not optimism. Even if current Covid-19 fatalities were to exceed that of the Occupation, there would be no associated infrastructure damages. Our schools, bridges, and factories remain intact, ready to re-serve the community once the pandemic is over.


Effective leaders as well as ordinary citizens can do much to alter the trajectory of this pandemic. Within America, its course is very different in Alabama versus California, a difference that has all to do with leadership as well as citizens.


In any epidemic there are those who for a variety of reasons would be spared. Herd as well as personal immunity is a factor. Another is the instinct for survival. Somehow humans learn intuitively how to avoid getting infected. As for those who fail to heed sound advice and thus fall victim, the kindest view would be letting evolutionary forces play their full merciless role. May Allah lighten the load of their surviving kin.


Pandemics may be democratic in that they do not differentiate between natives versus pendatangs, legal versus illegal residents, or leaders versus followers. Both Boris Johnson and Donald Trump fell victims, their braggadocio notwithstanding. The damages wreaked by pandemics however, are not unselective. As in the past, this pandemic affects disproportionately the poor, the marginalized, and the disenfranchised.


The significance for Malaysia, as in America, is that those are also surrogate indicators of race. Whenever race is injected in a crisis, that adds yet another volatile mix.


In America, apart from the visible poor minorities, another subset of Covid-19 victims are white evangelical Trump conservatives disdainful of and hostile to vaccines. They view face masks and social distancing as infringements on their personal liberties, not as effective public health measures. They forget that the greatest, irreversible, and ultimate loss of one’s personal liberty is death.


In Malaysia the victims of Covid-19 are disproportionately Malays. The associated socio-economic correlates aside, these Malays have much in common with American white evangelicals with their dangerous “fear God (or Allah) more than the virus” mindset.


Unlike those Christian evangelicals, Malays have the wisdom of our Holy Prophet to guide us. Mindful of the Islamic precept on the sanctity of life, Allah’s most precious gift, the Prophet advised us that when we hear of a plague in a land, do not go there. If you are already there, do not leave.


There is no equivocation in that ahadith, as with except for Hajj, funerals, Hari Raya, or Friday prayers.


The Prophet went further and declared victims of pandemics as syaheed (martyrs), dying in the cause of Allah. They have an express ticket to Heaven, or so is the belief. As such we could dispense with the usual funeral rites. Besides having a sound scientific rationale (to prevent contagion), that belief would also be a much-needed salve for those who feel they have not done their duties to their loved ones in their last hour.


Malaysia’s corrupt, inept, and irresponsible leaders notwithstanding, that should not be the excuse for Malaysians not to do their part to protect themselves and their families. With or without the vaccines, continue wearing masks, maintaining social and physical distancing, and washing your hands frequently. Only then pray to Allah that He would protect us.


According to Stanford’s Walter Scheidel in his The Great Leveler, pandemics, like wars and revolutions, are great equalizers of society. Malay society today is at its most unequal, and the current abysmal failure of Malay leadership will have severe consequences. If this pandemic were to destroy those leaders and our feudal culture, then those sacrifices of the syaheeds would not be for nothing.


As for the current clueless Malay leaders, remember them come the next election. To paraphrase an oft-quoted Qur’anic ayat, Allah will not change our leaders unless we do it ourselves.


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