(function() { (function(){function b(g){this.t={};this.tick=function(h,m,f){var n=f!=void 0?f:(new Date).getTime();this.t[h]=[n,m];if(f==void 0)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=e>0?new b(e):new b;window.jstiming={Timer:b,load:p};if(a){var c=a.navigationStart;c>0&&e>=c&&(window.jstiming.srt=e-c)}if(a){var d=window.jstiming.load; c>0&&e>=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&&c>0&&(d.tick("_tbnd",void 0,window.chrome.csi().startE),d.tick("tbnd_","_tbnd",c))),a==null&&window.gtbExternal&&(a=window.gtbExternal.pageT()),a==null&&window.external&&(a=window.external.pageT,d&&c>0&&(d.tick("_tbnd",void 0,window.external.startE),d.tick("tbnd_","_tbnd",c))),a&&(window.jstiming.pt=a)}catch(g){}})();window.tickAboveFold=function(b){var a=0;if(b.offsetParent){do a+=b.offsetTop;while(b=b.offsetParent)}b=a;b<=750&&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.

Tuesday, February 27, 2024

The Malay Dilemma Today Part II: The Lessons From Ireland And Quebec

 The Malay Dilemma Today


Part Two:  The Lessons From Ireland And Quebec

M. Bakri Musa

Second of Three Parts


[In Part One I related the folly of our culture’s penchant for peraga (showing off) and the consequent stark as well as embarrassing reality that a developed Malaysia has not translated into a corresponding prosperous Malay society. In this second part I suggest that Malays emulate the Irish of the 1950s and Quebecois of the 1960s in overcoming our current challenges.]


            Today’s Malaysia reminds me of Ireland of the 1950s and Quebec of the 60s. Malays today, like the Irish and French-Canadiens then, are in the tight clutches of our nationalists and co-religionists, with our young flocking to study Arabic, hadith, and revealed knowledge instead of English, science, and mathematics. The Irish and French-Canadiens of yore were consumed with their rosaries and catechisms; Malays today, ratib and zikir.

            The Irish then were obsessed with resurrecting their dead language, Gaelic. Malays today would have our young not study any other language but Malay. Learning English is seen as showing contempt for our mother tongue instead of, as it should be, acquiring a much-needed added skill.

            Major enterprises in Malaysia are in the hands of non-Malays while Malays are consumed with politics. In Ireland then, major businesses were in English control while the Irish were obsessed with endless dreams of reunification with the North; the Quebecois, separation from Canada.

            With Irish education under tight church control and consumed with religious instructions, the leading educational institutions were thus the English-affiliated ones. If there were to be any ambitious Irish parents who dared dream of a better future for their children by enrolling them there, they risked being excommunicated. “Murtad” in local lingo. In early 1960s Mary Robinson, later to be Ireland’s first female President, had to get a special dispensation from her Archbishop to attend Trinity College.

            It took the enlightened Sean Lemass, Prime Minister from 1959-66, to clip the powers and influences of the Church by stripping its control over education and social policies. Freed from the suffocating controls of the church, the Irish could now abandon their inferior Catholic schools and colleges to attend the much superior English ones. 

            Lemass also liberalized the media, including state-owned ones, thus exposing citizens to the wider world and the consequent diversity of viewpoints. He not only tolerated but encouraged criticisms of his leadership and policies, a reflection of his confidence and competence. And despite the then Irish antipathy towards things English, he made English, not Gaelic, the language of Ireland. The Irish unabashedly celebrate their James Joyces. By contrast, our National Laureate Muhammad Haji Salleh feels that writing in English is a disservice to his race and nation. He of course is fluent in both languages.

            A decade later across the North Atlantic, Quebec’s Jean Lesage did likewise for the French-Canadiens.

            The choice for Malays is to emulate the Irish and Quebecois so we too could be counted to be among the developed. Curtail the influence of religion on education and social policies. Separate state from faith. That is Malaysia’s greatest challenge. Besides, as per American scholar Abdullahi An Naim, Islam thrives when it is free from the state. A faith coerced is no faith.

            The Qur’an is divine guidance to a life along the straight path. Reading the guide alone no matter how diligent or exquisite, will not do it. You have to live the message.

            “Malays are lazy,” “Melayu mudah lupa” (Malays forget easily) and other stereotypes that pass for ‘explanations’ and ‘solutions’ reflect intellectual shallowness. If indeed Malays are lazy, the next and immediate question should be, “Why?” Perhaps because they had so little to show for their efforts. American farmers are not “lazy” because they have price support for their products, the country’s commitment to capitalism notwithstanding. Beyond that they get subsidized loans and tax advantages to buy farm machinery, thus enhancing their productivity. As a parenthesis, there were no lazy Malays during the Japanese Occupation. The occupiers made sure of that!


            As for academic and other under-achievements, back in the 1950s economist Ungku Aziz suggested doing simple blood tests as well as measuring the heights and weights of kampung kids. Those are indicators of health. Done diligently it would provide invaluable insights that could lead to effective remedies. The late Ungku intuitively knew that their ‘laziness,’ underperformance, and lack of motivation were the consequences and not the cause of their poverty. 


            Half a century later the MIT husband-and-wife team of economists Abhijit Banerjee and Esther Duflo won the Nobel Prize for their insights on underperforming poor rural African schoolchildren. The pair found that the most effective intervention was not better schools, skilled teachers, or free lunches rather . . . dispensing regular deworming pills! Those kids were not lazy or stupid; they were lethargic because there were infested with worms! My parents knew something about that as a child I used to take those pills.


            As a young surgeon in Malaysia in the late 1970s, a Malay socialite was upset that she was assigned to me instead of the other much older and more senior surgeons with Datuks to their names. I aggravated her disappointment when I made a fuss over her low blood count. The other doctors, she complained to my nurse, could spot her anemia a mile away. Besides, she likes it as that made her look “more white.” As for being lazy, she had maids galore.


            I overheard her conversation and explained that I was more into finding out why she was anemic. She could be bleeding internally or have a rare condition where her stomach could not absorb Vitamin B12, essential for blood formation. That particular malady is especially sinister, for apart from causing profound anemia it could also be associated with a virulent form of stomach cancer. That grabbed her attention.


            Facts by themselves are meaningless. Or as per Arthur Conan Doyle, “There is nothing more deceptive than an obvious fact.”


            ‘Obvious facts’ like “Malays are lazy” and “Not good at business” have deceived and continue to dupe many Malays including leaders like Mahathir.


Next:  Last of Three Parts:  Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim’s Manifest Destiny


Post a Comment

<< Home