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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, June 09, 2024

The Malaysian Malaise: On The Title

 The Malaysian Malaise:  Corrupt Leadership; Failing Institutions; And Intolerant Islamism

M. Bakri Musa

Last of Six Excerpts:  On The Title


The phrase “Malaysian Malaise” first appeared as the title of an Op-Ed piece in the New York Times September 20, 1999 by its conservative commentator William Safire. He was castigating then-Prime Minister Mahathir (as well as other Asian autocrats) for their intolerance and super sensitivity to criticisms. This was soon after Mahathir had jailed his erstwhile deputy Anwar Ibrahim and later, the conviction in Malaysia of long time Asia correspondent Murray Hiebert of the now defunct Far Eastern Economic Review. That was the malaise Safire meant, not only Malaysians’ tolerance of these Asian autocrats but also the acquiescence of their Western enablers in London and Washington. The same title (and theme) was repeated in a subsequent commentary by his colleague Philip Bowring on April 12, 2006.


            The shift in content but with that same title was later used in Elizabeth Segran’s “Letter from Asia” that appeared in Foreign Affairs, October 2013. She was referring to the general malaise of the political mood following the 13thGeneral Elections of May of that year. The Najib-led coalition then won the majority of Parliamentary seats, but the opposition Pakatan secured the majority of the popular votes. The malaise there was the huge letdown with the unfairness of the electoral process.


            In April 22, 2015 Global Gaming Business Magazine used the same title for their editorial on Malaysia’s affirmative action programs favoring Malays. A few more subsequent commentaries amplified on that same theme though with slightly altered titles, such as E H Imrantski’s “The Malaise of Malaysian Malays” (March 8, 2018) and Chandra Nair’s March 4, 2020 in The Diplomat (“Malaysia’s ‘Malay First’ Malaise”).


            Imrantski’s “The Malaise of Malaysian Malays” would be closer to this volume in content considering that most of my commentaries deal with Malay leadership and Islam, the Malay version. With the demographic and thus political dominance of Malays, the malaise of Malays is thus also the malaise of Malaysia, hence my choice of title.


            My reason for putting these commentaries in a book or printed form remains the same as with my earlier six collections. For the most part my essays have been published only in cyberspace as in my blog, social media like Facebook, and on-line publications.


            For this collection I have added two new features. One, a brief introductory background material (in parenthesis) to put each essay in perspective with respect to time and content. Two, I have also included a sampling of readers’ comments, as I did with my first collection in Seeing Malaysia My Way (2003). Three, I gave each essay readers’ ratings based on their responses on my Facebook and elsewhere. I assign one point for “Like,” two for each comment, three for sharing my article, four if the essay were to be picked up by other outlets (print or virtual), and five if I were to receive direct personal comments from readers. The five-star articles would have over 500 points; one-star, under 100. Unlike in my freshman class scoring, there is no Bell curve distribution to the ratings. The highest ranking articles were those on corruption among Malay leaders; the lowest, religion.


            Within each section I have arranged the essays in a sequence that would make the most sense. Thus on the section commenting on the 15th General Elections, I have placed them chronologically. Also in this volume I have also included the transcriptions of the four video conferences I had participated in, rendering my oral presentations as essays. One was in Malay (Isu dan Cabaran ke Arah Kesetaraan Dalam Pendidikan). I have added the English translation (“Issues and Challenges Towards A More Equitable Education”) in the main body while the original (in Malay) appears in the Appendix.


            I thank my California friend Amir Razelan for introducing me to Dr. Rozhan Othman of LeadUS Malaysia for the invitation to be on a panel with Professor Tajuddin Rasdi on the webinar “Does The Malay Mind Need To Be Liberated?” An American-trained architect and thus the beneficiary of Western liberal education, Tajuddin is not afraid to swim against the current socio-political trends. He has given his erudite and contrarian views on fields far outside his profession, in the best tradition of a public intellectual. I am also indebted to another public intellectual, the academic cardiac surgeon Dr. Ahmad Farouk Musa of the Islamic Renaissance Front (IRF), for inviting me to the other three virtual seminars. I treasure the exchanges with my fellow panelists Dr. Sharifah Munirah Alatas of Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia; Dato Dr. Madeline Berma, Fellow Akademi Sains Malaysia; and Prof. Zaharom Naim of University of Nottingham Malaysia, together with moderators “Uncle” Shamshir Alam and Nageeb Gounjaria, IRF’s Senior Research Fellow.


            Again, a big thank you to husband-and-wife team Jason and Su Pittam for the wonderful cover design. They have designed the covers of almost all my books. To my wife Karen, my first and critical reader, I am eternally grateful to Allah for blessing me with her.


December 2023

Morgan Hill, California


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