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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.

Wednesday, October 19, 2022

Anwar Ibrahim's SCRIPT For A New Malaysia

 Anwar Ibrahim’s SCRIPT For A New Malaysia


M. Bakri Musa


In terms of output, by word or page count, Mahathir far exceeds any other Malaysian leader. By content or intellectual weightage however, Anwar Ibrahim is in a class of his own. His latest, SCRIPT For A Better MalaysiaAn Empowering Vision And Policy Framework For Action, published by Institut Darul Ehsan, Selangor, lives up to this billing, the catchy acronym included (Sustainability, Care & Compassion, Respect, Innovation, Prosperity, and Trust).


            Buzz words like sustainability, innovation, and prosperity, together with the latest, climate change, are de rigueurin today’s manifesto, political and otherwise. Less emphasized or never mentioned is trust. At the book’s launching on October 2, 2022, Anwar emphasized this, the “T” in SCRIPT. I agree with him that trust is a poor translation of the much broader and deeper meaning of the Malay word amanah with its associated profound religious connotations. Fidelity, of being true to one’s self, mission, and responsibility, would be better.

            Breaches of fidelity (pecah amanah) are rampant in Malaysia today, from the highest officials to the lowly traffic constables. It is the root cause of the Malaysian malaise, the genetic core of this virulent destructive social virus now plaguing the nation. By “highest official” I do not mean only former Prime Minister Najib Razak. His recent conviction is but the tip of a huge iceberg. Consider Johor Baru’s Forest City, approved sans environmental studies, or the clear cutting of virgin jungles in Pahang resulting in ravaging floods. No marks for guessing their royal backers. Both instances are gross breaches of fidelity, not only by the rulers but also those entrusted to enforce the rules.

            Pecah amanah is the defining issue in the upcoming election. Anwar should be unrelenting and unsparing in pounding this. Targets abound, as with secular leaders in their Armani suits jetting to London to visit their country estates while the country faces devastating floods, or religious ones in their overflowing robes endlessly quoting the Holy Book while oblivious of their own sins of accepting bribes and makan gaji buta (undeserved income). They must be exposed for what they are–dangerous and destructive. They are but parasites sucking on the rakyat. Unlike their counterparts in nature, these political blood suckers do not even bother camouflaging themselves or their activities. They are blatant. That is the Malaysian tragedy.

            Reformasi is right to focus on building trust among leaders as well as followers and in institutions as well as with personnel. With trust comes respect, and from there, compassion. Trust also encourages innovation which is key to prosperity.


            Related to amanah but not its exact antonym is munafik, commonly but inadequately translated as hypocrisy. Being of Qur’anic origin, munafik too has deep religious connotations. If pecah amanah implies your knowing that what you are doing is wrong, munafik is your spinning it as otherwise, neigh even beneficial and praiseworthy! To wit, Tun Razak exhorting Malays to enroll their children in Malay schools; meanwhile sending his to England. More sinister, ulama extolling the robbers of 1MDB and labelling the crumbs of the loot these ulama received to fund their Hajj as borkat (gift from Allah).


            Anwar’s reach, intellectual and political, extends far despite his being out of power. His prescient The Asian Renaissance released just before the devastating 1997 Asian Contagion caught the attention of global leaders hitherto smitten with the yet to be exposed, flash-in-the-pan Asian Miracle facade. Anwar paid a severe price for his subsequent falling out with Mahathir, as did his then young family and the reformasi movement. If Anwar’s coalition were to win the upcoming 15th General Elections, then all those pains and setbacks would have been worthwhile, more so for Malaysia.


            Anwar’s current critics are trapped by their inability or unwillingness to escape his image as a young ambitious and impatient ABIM leader decades ago, ignoring his subsequent and far more consequential experiences and development. Most transformative must surely be his incarcerations, including solitary confinement, not once but twice. Few have been tested as much, and fewer still have emerged stronger and wiser. Nelson Mandela comes to mind when I think of Anwar today. Like Mandela, Anwar has even forgiven his tormentor. That’s magnanimity!


            Pardoned following the 14th General Election, Anwar immediately resumed his mission. His reformasi initiatives following that electoral victory were sabotaged by Mahathir. While Anwar did not physically suffer this time, Malaysia did and still does, cursed with Muhyiddin Yasin and later, Ismail Sabri. Egregious corruption and blatant cronyism, not to mention gross incompetence, are once again the Malaysian norm.


            Malaysians need SCRIPT. It is an effective message and must be messaged effectively. For that, learn from Ronald Reagan. Not gifted intellectually, he knew his limitations and thus corralled accomplished individuals to be on his team. Anwar already attracts many outstanding young talents like Rafizi Ramli, Sim Tze Tzin, and Nurul Izzah. Anwar’s greatest challenge is not to take in the likes of that semburit renegade Azmin Ali. He skipped on his bills and cannot even get along with his family. Anwar should pay attention to such details. Anwar and reformasi paid a terrible price for that lapse. I am gratified that for this coming election Anwar had spurned gestures from Mahathir to join forces. Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me!


            The future of Malaysia is with the young, not the has-beens, no matter how great they think they had been. Look forward, not backward in picking your team.


            Visuals are integral to messaging effectively. Reagan was ever so conscious of his backdrops and the people he invited to be beside him during “photo-ops.” At the recent launching of SCRIPT, there were many foreign diplomats and journalists in the audience, reflecting Anwar’s aura. Alas the program, Anwar’s superb performance excepted, was subpar. The long introductions and salutations to extraneous personnel were unneeded and distracting. People came to hear Anwar, not his publisher or emcee. Anwar’s interviewer read from her script. Well, she looked scripted. Her fumbling with her microphone was a distraction. Anwar had to help her! The questions from the floor too were more commentaries. 


            Anwar should do multiple book discussions with academics and opinion shapers, from the establishment as well as social media, from peninsular as well as West Malaysia, both in Malay and English, but please no rojak jumbling presentations that are now the Malaysian norm.


            Malay voters are pivotal in this election. As such I was surprised that the participants, being all Malays, did not use Bahasa at least in the introduction, and then switch to English for the main program out of respect to the many foreigners in the audience. Again, the visuals, as per Reagan.


            Pecah amanah is Malaysia’s root problem. That consciousness has to be continually hammered among voters so they can vote out the current corrupt bunch. To that end, have a free pdf or e-edition of this book as well as a Malay version, complete with its own cute acronym. Anwar did not write SCRIPT anticipating the royalty payments. The rewards for all Malaysians, now and future generations, would be promising if they were to give Anwar and his team the opportunity to execute SCRIPT.


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