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.
Excerpt #4:The Future:From Blue Chip To Penny Stock
Long before the twin tragedies of Malaysia Airlines (MAS)
Flight MH17 (shot down in eastern Ukraine in March 2014) and MH370 (disappeared
literally from thin air over the South China Sea less than four months
earlier), the company’s shares were already languishing at the bottom floor of
the KLSE at around 22 sen. Yes, that
is sen, as in cents, or pennies. Even
bottom feeders were shunning MAS shares.
that less than two decades earlier the Mahathir Administration paid RM8.00 for
those same shares! Factoring in for inflation and devaluation, it should be
about RM32.00 in today’s devalued ringgit. If you add in the expected
appreciation as per the KLSE Index, the shares should be trading at around
to 22 sen! Formerly blue chip MAS now
a penny stock! It would be cheaper to use MAS shares to wallpaper your
bathroom; they are useless for toilet paper.
are an apt metaphor for Malaysia. She too has taken a precipitous drop in value
as the result of the toxic leadership of Abdullah Badawi, Najib Razak, and
UMNO. I should also add Mahathir; however, he is now long gone though still
making some loud but ineffective noises. At any rate, the ugly legacy Mahathir
bequeathed upon Malaysia should and would have been ameliorated by now if she
had competent and diligent leadership.
Mahathir’s successors Abdullah and Najib are neither competent nor diligent,
and UMNO, the instrument of their leadership, is a corrupt and sclerotic
organization, unable to respond to changes. All three are Mahathir’s legacy.
That is the heaviest burden Malaysia has to bear.
The drop in
value of MAS shares is readily apparent and easily quantifiable, with the
burden borne exclusively by its unlucky shareholders. In contrast, the
devaluation of Malaysia, while also readily apparent to citizens, has yet to
register on her leaders. They still delude themselves as leading a blue chip
nation. The weight of the nation’s devaluation is borne not by them but by
Malaysians least able to bear it, the poor. Again let it be said so those
self-proclaimed champions of the Malay cause in UMNO and elsewhere can hear it
loud and clear, Malays are over represented in that stratum.
magnitude of this devaluation has yet to be appreciated or quantified. Consider
my old school The Malay College, dubbed “Eton of the East” by its proud old
boys. In the 1960s it prepared its students well for universities. Today it is
but an expensive glorified middle school; its students have to go elsewhere to
matriculate. This sorry state was reversed only recently with the introduction
of its International Baccalaureate program.
On a more
general level, in the 1980s there were still many Chinese parents who enrolled
their children in national schools. Today even Malays are deserting that stream
in ever increasing numbers, with both opting for Mandarin schools instead.
1980s I could still gather a few Malays at Stanford to invite them to my home
for Hari Raya celebrations; today there are no Malays there and few at the
other elite campuses.
1990s a young Malay doctor who had graduated a decade earlier from the
University of Malaya (UM) did sufficiently well in her US Medical Licensing
Examination to be accepted at a top American hospital for her specialty
training. That reflected her superior undergraduate medical education. Today,
the British Medical Council had long ago withdrawn its accreditation of UM’s
medical faculty. Yet that did not stop the university’s leaders from deluding
themselves that their institution could be among the top global 100 within a
few years. Not to be outdone, the vice-chancellor of another public university
bragged about his institution aspiring to be the “Harvard of the East,” within
apparent, Malaysia has no shortage of her Walter Mittys, or his local
counterpart, the Mat Jenins.
only the education sector. For the greater economy, in the 1970s Malaysia was
able to finance its ambitious and highly successful rural development schemes
like FELDA, as well as expand her schools, without resorting to any borrowing,
local or foreign. Today, public and private debts threaten to sink the nation
and its citizens.
FELDA, while Malaysia brags about floating the biggest global IPO with its
Felda Global Holdings(FGH), bigger in valuation than even Facebook, for a
reality check, visit its settlements. The roads are still unpaved while the
homes lack electricity and potable water. The schools on those settlements are
an embarrassment. Oil palm, the foundation cash crop, is still being harvested
in the old back-breaking and neck-stretching labor-intensive ways of the 1960s.
There is little or no innovation; no hydraulic lifts or mechanical harvesters to
relieve the onerous and treacherous human burden.
macro level, in the 1970s the Malaysian ringgit was on par with the Singapore
dollar. Today the ringgit vies with the rupiah
and rupees. Soon Malaysians would be
trading in millions just for their daily bread. I suppose that is one way for
the nation to brag about having many millionaires.
security, Malaysian homes are now fortified fortresses, with armed guards at
road entrances. Malaysians are well advised not to don expensive watches or wrist
bracelets if they value their hands. Malaysian borders are as porous as fishing
nets. At least those nets trap the big fish; Malaysian borders let them in and
out, their pathways greased by the devalued ringgit.
belaboring a point here. These are all painfully obvious to the average
Malaysian. My doing so is merely to illustrate in tangible and graphic terms
readily comprehensible by kampong folks the devaluation of Malaysia that is the
consequence of the toxic trio of Abdullah Badawi, Najib Razak, and UMNO. They
will continue to spew their lethal brew onto Malaysia at least until the next
general election, due no later than June 2018. For those now burdened by their
poisonous brew, that is a long time away. In nation-building however, that is only
a blink of the eye. I am optimistic that positive change will come with that
election if the process can be kept honest. Then Malaysians will have a chance
Black Swans and Many More Dark Crows
Excerpt #3:Intra Racial (Specifically Intra-Malay)
Conflict The Greater Threat
In an inaugural Millennium Essay for The New Straits Times (November 1999) I wrote, “The greatest threat
to Malaysia’s social stability is not inter-racial
confrontation rather intra-communal,
specifically among Malays.” There are three potential fault lines along which
Malays could fracture:religious,
cultural, and socioeconomic. Conflict on any one is unlikely to trigger a
severe crisis but a confluence of any two or all three could be cataclysmic.
is bad, and Malaysians already had a taste of it many times. The May 13, 1969
incident was only the most bitter. Bad as it was, the intra-ethnic or
intra-racial variety would be far worse. More Arabs had been killed by their
fellow Arab brethrens than by the Israelis. The carnage of the 1956
Arab-Israeli War pales in comparison to the current intra-Arab strife in Syria.
Malays and non-Malays are over tangible issues, as with scholarship quotas,
employment preferences, and economic set-aside programs. Those are what
Hirschmann referred to as “divisible conflicts,” potentially solvable through
negotiations. Differences within Malays on the other hand are over cultural
values, theological beliefs, and way of life. These are more difficult if not
impossible to resolve. If a pious kampong Malay feels that a proper Muslim
woman must don her hijab while her
urbane secular-minded sister disagrees, you cannot readily resolve that
difference. A compromise as with donning half a hijab would not resolve it.
The first half of this
wasted decade was helmed by Abdullah Badawi; he has now exited the stage before
he could inflict even more damage. Today Malaysia is burdened with his
successor, Najib Razak, who is equally intent in destroying the nation through
his ineptness and willful neglect.
In my book The Malay Dilemma Revisited (1999) I
wrote this of Abdullah. “He would be Malaysia’s Jimmy Carter, an honorable
enough man but a totally ineffectual leader.” I was half right, in his being
ineffectual. As for Najib, “[It] is difficult to evaluate as he carries the
burden of his famous father . . . . [O]bjectively, it is hard to find Najib’s
Mahathir was still
sharp and in power when I made those observations but he was too close to
Abdullah and Najib to read them the way I did.
When Mahathir named
Abdullah the country’s eighth Deputy Prime Minister in 1998, the reaction was a
yawn or two at most. Mahathir had had three previous deputies, and expectations
were that his fourth would end up like the rest, being replaced and denied the
However, when Mahathir
announced his sudden resignation, the realization set in that Abdullah Badawi
would succeed him. Like sheep, Malaysians accepted that and shifted allegiance
to their new shepherd-to-be, and the accolades began pouring in. The man’s
apparent lack of gross flaws normally associated with politicians only
increased his halo, and quickly blotted out the more pertinent point that he
lacked executive or leadership talent. The time too was opportune for Abdullah
for by this time the nation had grown weary of Mahathir. They wanted change and
overlooked Abdullah’s shortcomings. He also benefited from this cultural trait
of Malaysians; they are over generous with a new leader and wanted him to
Despite the glowing
praises, Abdullah Badawi was as hollow as a beetle-infested palm trunk. Many
mistook him for a samping sutra
(golden cummerbund) when he was but a common cotton sarong pelekat. Abdullah’s leadership was detached, incompetent,
and irrelevant. He was unfit to lead the country.
pronouncements upon assuming office in October 2009 made me question my initial
skepticism of him. Alas, it did not take long for him to live up (or down) to
my low expectations of him. Top-heavy Najib is busy spinning himself just to
remain standing, and he confuses that fast circular motion as rapid
The commentaries in
this book, written from January 2008 to December 2013 during the tenure of
these two leaders, are grouped in four themes, each dealing with Abdullah,
Najib, UMNO (the dominant partner in the ruling Barisan Nasional coalition),
and the Labu and Labi (the comedic team in P. Ramlees’ movies) dysfunctional
duo of Najib and Muhyiddin.
I conclude on a
cautionary note. My worse fear is that Malaysia would end up as a Pakistan and
Nigeria combined, wrecked with religious intolerance and extremism while its
economy and social structure crumbled under the weight of corruption. Like its
flagship Malaysia Airlines, formerly Malaysia Airline System or MAS (Malay word
for gold), the country too has lost its lustre. Like the company’s shares,
formerly blue chip Malaysia is today a penny stock.
evolution of my thoughts, within each section I have arranged the essays
I derive no pleasure
in penning these critical commentaries. I would prefer writing complimentary
columns extolling the virtues and accomplishments of Malaysian leaders. At
least then Malaysians could benefit and I could glow in the reflected glory.
My earlier essays had
been compiled in two previous books, Seeing
Malaysia My Way (2004) and Moving
Malaysia Forward (2008). I thank readers for their comments. Space does not
permit me to include some of the more perceptive responses and robust rebuttals
as I did in Seeing Malaysia My Way.
M. Bakri Musa
Morgan Hill, CA
December 2014 Next Week: Excerpt #4: From Blue Chip T.to Penny Stock
and Najib squandered Malaysia’s precious first decade into the new millennium.
It was a wasted if not lost decade. It would be academic to judge who is worse,
Abdullah or Najib. When both scored “Fs”, it matters less whether one is F
minus and the other simply an F.
is little prospect for change, at least until the next election due no later
than mid 2018. Even if there were to be divine intervention, Najib’s deputy,
Muhyiddin, is no better. Malaysia is doomed; it cannot escape its present sorry
nations do not progress, then ipso facto
they regress. Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable, noted Martin
Luther King. Corruption in Malaysia is now approaching the “tipping point”
where it would be irreversible and permanently cripple the nation a la Nigeria. Meanwhile religious
fanaticism continues unabated, abetted by Najib and his deputy. That too may
soon reach the point of no return when Malaysia would be another Pakistan. Then
Malaysia would be a Nigeria and Pakistan combined, wrecked with crippling
corruption and haunted by religious fanaticism.
two challenges are crippling enough but there are others, as with the
deteriorating institutions. In the judiciary, even senior judges think that
their job is to protect their paymaster, the government. Likewise, the Election
Commission sees itself as an agency of ruling Barisan coalition.
these are obvious to ordinary citizens; they do not need reminders from august
bodies like the UN. Its Human Development Index showed that Malaysia improved
by 1.05 percent in the decade of 1980-90; and 1.12 from 1990-2000. During the
decade 2000-13, it grew only half as much (0.58), justifying my calling it the
UNHDP Index is buried amongst the tons of all-too-frequent glowing reports by
foreign consultants and international bodies, all paid for handsomely by the
government of Malaysia. It took a catastrophic tragedy as with the
disappearance of Malaysian Airline Flight 370 from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing on
March 8, 2014 to expose on the world stage the nation’s inattentive military
radar operators and bumbling ministers. Malaysian leaders could not answer even
simple questions from the families of the victims.
fairness to Abdullah and Najib, the rot did not develop overnight. The Malaysia
of today is still burdened by Mahathir’s legacy, quite apart from his role in
anointing Abdullah and Najib.
is Malaysia, so the race factor is never far from the surface. Already
Muhyiddin, Najib’s deputy and presumptive successor, is threatening the nation
with another “May 13,” the horrific race riot of 1969. That is Muhyiddin,
always looking back, never forward. His is the collective mindset and caliber
of UMNO leadership, consumed with fighting the last battle.
issues they should be confronting are far different. Rampant corruption,
deteriorating institutions, vicious religious extremism, and an entrenched
rentier economy, among others, are what would doom Malaysia.
the racism and ethnic viruses can easily be reactivated (look at Northern
Ireland and the Balkans), Malaysia has a low probability for another
interracial conflagration of the 1969 variety despite attempts by the likes of
Muhyiddin to scare citizens, especially non-Malays.
Excerpt #3: Intra-racial
(Specifically Intra-Malay) Conflict Greater Threat Than Inter-racial
Malaysia’s Wasted Decade 2004-2014.The Toxic Triad of Abdullah, Najib and UMNO Leadership
Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad stunned his followers when he
announced his resignation at his UMNO’s General Assembly in June 2002. He had
been in office for over 22 years. The unexpected announcement triggered mass
hysteria among his followers. Senior ministers and party leaders openly wept,
and pandemonium broke out in the hall.
The scene resembled a
chicken coop at dusk when the birds were settling down in their comfort zone
when suddenly their head rooster flew the coop, or attempted to. The cacophony
settled down and calm returned only after senior leaders cajoled Mahathir to
delay his retirement until October 31st the following year, and he
hysteria and mass crying were reflective of how dependent UMNO members were on
Mahathir. He was their messiah, and now he was abandoning them.
Abdullah Badawi as his successor, and five years later Najib Razak took over
from Abdullah. The handover from Mahathir to Abdullah went smoothly, with both
formally dressed in their traditional Malay baju
and samping sutra as they smiled and
shook hands while exchanging the instrument of office in front of the King. The
next day Prime Minister Abdullah awarded Mahathir and his wife the nation’s
highest honor, the Tunship.
The shift from
Abdullah to Najib five years later also went smoothly, at least on the surface,
with beaming smiles all around. Prime Minister Najib also awarded Abdullah his
Tunship, as well as one to his new wife who had no discernible service to the
nation. That seeming cordiality and civility however could not mask the earlier
intrigue and shadow plays engaged by both leaders.
Abdullah and Najib may
have been consumed with their own shadow play nonetheless there was no
mistaking who was the master puppeteer. Mahathir directly picked Abdullah, and
then forced Abdullah to choose Najib.
Soon upon assuming
office, Abdullah sought a mandate and secured an overwhelming victory in 2004,
eclipsing and embarrassing Mahathir’s less-than-stellar performance in 1999.
Abdullah’s boys (his advisers were all males) made sure that no one missed the
comparison. Being amateurs and new to the game, they treated their victory as
the ultimate trophy and failed to capitalize on it.
They or rather their
patron Abdullah paid dearly for that neglect. In the following election of
2008, his coalition suffered a humiliating setback. It was returned to power
but with a hugely reduced majority at the federal level, while losing five
states to the opposition.
Mahathir saw his error
with Abdullah soon after the latter took office. Even Abdullah’s 2004
impressive electoral win did not persuade Mahathir otherwise. That victory
however, blunted Mahathir’s withering criticisms, reducing him to a grumpy old
man. With Abdullah’s subsequent electoral setback, Mahathir was emboldened and
his criticisms gained traction, amply aided by Abdullah’s own inept performance.
His forced ignominious resignation in October 2009 gave way to Najib, with
enthusiastic support from Mahathir, at least initially.
Mahathir is a poor
judge of talent and character. His initial enthusiasm for Najib, as with
Abdullah, was misplaced and soon soured. When Najib subsequently suffered an
even worse electoral humiliation than Abdullah in the May 2013 election,
Mahathir ratcheted up his scorn for Najib, labeling him a “weak leader.” He
openly expressed his regret for his earlier support for Najib and publicly
rebuked him. To date, a much older and less vigorous Mahathir has yet to be
successful in undoing his error with Najib. Malaysia remains cursed with
Najib’s clueless and rudderless leadership.
Toxic Triad of Abdullah, Najib, and UMNO Leadership
M. Bakri Musa
of Congress Catalogue No:2014914568
ISBN13 978 1500776305Indexed 308 pp; US $14.95
Now available on online stores like Amazon.com
The tragedy of state-owned Malaysia Airlines (MAS) Flight
MH370 that disappeared amidst mystery and without trace over the South China
Sea on March 2014 exposed to the world the gross incompetence and lackadaisical
attitude of Malaysian officials, from senior ministers dismissive of pleas from
victims’ families to radar operators uncurious of strange intruding beeps on
their screens. Malaysians have long endured these; their surprise was that the
world was surprised.
essays chronicle the continued erosion of Malaysia’s once reliable
institutions, the corrosion of its economy through endemic corruption and crony
capitalism, and the polarization of its citizens along race, region and
religion. These are the crippling consequences of the toxic leadership of the
triad of the vacuous Abdullah Badawi, rudderless Najib Razak, and the sclerotic
ruling party, UMNO. Not an auspicious beginning as Malaysia enters the new
flagship airline MAS is an apt metaphor. Formerly blue chip, it is now a penny
stock; likewise the nation. As with the mystery of Flight MH370, Malaysia’s
myriad problems remain unattended.
Part I:The Vacuous Abdullah Badawi18
Part II:The Rudderless Najib Razak
Part III:The Labu and Labi Team of Najib and Muhyiddin220
Part IV:The Dinosaur That Is UMNO246
The Future – Blue Chip To Penny Stock283
Index 306 About the Author324
Musa is a surgeon in private practice in Silicon Valley, California.
Malaysian-born and Canadian-trained, he left his native country in 1963. He
keeps a close track of the social and political developments in Malaysia,
including a 30-month stint as a surgeon there from 1976-78.
He has given presentations on
Malaysian affairs at Stanford University’s Shorenstein Asia-Pacific Research
Center, The Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, DC,
The University of Buffalo, and Rochester Institute of Technology. Apart from
scientific articles in scholarly journals, his lay commentaries have appeared
in mainstream Malaysian papers The New
Straits Times and The Sun Daily.
He was a long-time columnist for the on-line portal Malaysiakini (Malaysia Now) and a regular contributor to Malaysia Today and The Malaysian Insider.
Beyond Malaysia, his Op-Ed pieces
have appeared in The New York Times, International Herald Tribune, and The Far Eastern Economic Review. He has
also appeared on National Public Radio’s “Marketplace.” All eight of his
previous books have been on Malaysian socio-political affairs, the latest, Liberating The Malay Mind, was released
He is now completing his memoir, Cast From The Herd. Memories of Matriarchal
Malaysia, chronicling growing up there. He maintains a blog that also
serves as a repository of his essays at www.bakrimusa.com, and www.bakrimusa.blogspot.com as
well as on Facebook.
The Curse With The Obsession With Single-Issue Politics
The Curse of The Obsession With Single-Issue Politics
M. Bakri Musa
We Malays are obsessed – and cursed – with the single-issue
politics of bangsa, agama dan negara (race, religion and nation). We
have paid, and continue to pay, a severe price for this. Our fixation with
those three issues detracts us from pursuing other legitimate endeavors, in
particular, our social, economic and educational development. Perversely and
far more consequential, our collective addiction to bangsa, agama dan negara
only polarizes us.
and followers alike, have yet to acknowledge much less address this monumental
and unnecessary obstacle we impose upon ourselves. The current angst over hudud
(religious laws) reflects this far-from-blissful ignorance. With Malays over
represented in the various dysfunctional categories (drug abusers, abandoned
babies, and broken families), and with our graduates overwhelmingly
unemployable, our leaders are consumed with cutting off hands and stoning to
death as punishments for thievery and adultery. Meanwhile pervasive corruption
and endemic incompetence destroy our society and institutions. Those are the
terrible consequences of our misplaced obsession with agama.
If we focus
more on earthly issues such as reducing corruption, enhancing our schools and
universities, and on improving economic opportunities, then we are more likely
to produce a just and equitable society. That would mertabatkan (enhance
the status of) our agama, bangsa dan negara on a far more impressive
mistake, if we remain marginalized or if we fail to contribute our share, then
it matters little whether Malaysia is an Islamic State or had achieved
“developed” status, our agama, bangsa dan negara will be relegated to
the cellar of humanity. Our hollering of Ketuanan Melayu (Malay
Supremacy) would then be but a desperate and pathetic manifestation of Kebangsatan
Melayu (Malay Poverty).
A Historical Perspective
For the first half of the last century, our fixation was, as
to be expected, on nationalism. Our forefathers were consumed with the struggle
to be free from the clutches of colonialism, and the right to be independent.
With merdeka a reality in 1957, the obsession then shifted from negara
to bangsa, from merdeka to bahasa (language). Today with
Malay language specifically and customs generally accepted as the national
norms, our mania has now shifted to agama.
passion for negara and bangsa had a definite and definable
endpoint (independence and Malay as the national language respectively), what
is the goal with our obsession on agama? ISIS Malaysia? And as for entry
into heaven, only Allah knows that.
forgotten, or are unaware in the first place, the price we paid for our earlier
obsessions. Consider our nationalistic fervor of yore. While we Malays were
consumed with treating the colonialists as white devils and fighting them,
non-Malays seized every opportunity to work with and learn from them. In our
smugness and misplaced sense of superiority we asserted that we had nothing to
learn from those colonials and outsiders, blithely ignoring the obvious
evidences to the contrary, just like the Japanese before the Meiji Restoration.
As a result
when independence came, non-Malays were much more equipped to take full
advantage of that fact while we Malays were still consumed with endlessly
shouting merdeka and rehashing an established reality. A decade later we
found ourselves marginalized while the non-natives were busy taking over
opportunities left behind by the British. Then like a wild boar caught in a
trap of its own making, we lashed out at everyone and everything, with ugly
consequences for all.
It took the
brilliance and foresightedness of the late Tun Razak to first of all recognize
the underlying pathology and then craft an imaginative and effective remedy.
As for our
struggle for independence, let me inject a not-so-obvious observation. Our merdeka
came less from the battles of our jingoistic warriors, more from British
realization that colonialism was no longer chic. Indeed it became an affront to
their sensibilities. I would be less certain of that conviction had our
colonizers been the Chinese or Russians. The Tibetans and Chechnyans will
attest to that.
We owe a
huge debt of gratitude to the British for another reason. They cultivated
sensible leaders amongst us and dealt harshly with the radicals. Consequently
we were blessed with post-independent figures like Tunku Abdul Rahman and Tun
Razak while spared the likes of Sukarno and Ho Chi Minh.
Had we been
less arrogant culturally and instead learned from the British, we would have
been able to give full meaning to our merdeka. There was much that we
could have learned from a nation that ushered in the Industrial Revolution and
the Scientific Age.
Folly of The National Language Obsession
The May 1969 race riot should have taught us the obvious and
very necessary lesson that we must prepare our people well so they could make
their rightful contributions and not be left behind. It did not. Instead we
shifted our obsession, this time to language. Bahasa jiwa banga
(Language the soul of a race), we deluded ourselves.
we sacrificed generations of precious and scarce Malay minds to the altar of
the supremacy of Bahasa. We also squandered what precious little legacy
the British had left us, specifically our facility with English. Imagine had we
built on that!
is now the national language, a fact affirmed by all. Less noticed or
acknowledged is that while non-Malays are facile with that language they are
also well versed in others, in particular English. Not so Malays, with our
leaders eagerly egging on our fantasy that knowing only Malay was sufficient.
English now the de facto language of science, commerce and international
dealings, not to mention the language of global consumers especially affluent
ones, our Malay-only fluency is a severe handicap. We are lost or ignored
abroad, or even in Malaysia within the private sector. Again we are being left
out because of our misplaced obsession.
part is that we are only now just recognizing this tragic reality. Deputy Prime
Minister Muhyyddin (who is also in charge of education) was stunned to learn
that our students fared poorly in international comparisons. He is still
stunned for he has yet to come up with a coherent solution.
Our Current Delusion with Religion
Judging from the current obsession with hudud, we
have learned nothing from our earlier follies with bangsa dan negara.
Faith is a
personal matter. This is especially so with Islam. Our Holy Book says that on
the Day of Judgment we would be judged solely by our deeds. We cannot excuse
them based on our following the dictates of this great leader or the teachings
of that mesmerizing ulama. Islam is also unique in being devoid of a clergy
class. There is no pope or priest to mediate between us and Allah, or a prophet
who died in order to expiate our sins.
vociferous and overbearing ulama class imposing itself upon us is a recent
innovation (bida’a) in our faith.
evident, this obsession with hudud does not bring Muslims together. Far
from it! Hudud also creates an unnecessary chasm between Muslims and
non-Muslims. Islam should bring us together.
the Koran is the word of Allah, its message for all mankind and till the end of
time. That is a matter of faith. While hudud is based on the Koran it is
not the Koran. The present understanding of hudud is but the version
interpreted by the ancient Bedouins. It is the handiwork of mortals, with all
its imperfections. We should not be bound by it but be open to more enlightened
readings of the holy book.
dearly for our earlier obsessions with race and nationalism. What would be the
price this time for our fixation with religion? Look at the Middle East today.
Ponder Nigeria with its Boko Haram. Contemplate being under the brutal ISIS,
the messianic Talibans, or the puritanical Saudis.
We have yet
to recover from our earlier follies with nationalism and Bahasa, yet we
blithely continue making new ones with our current obsession on religion. The
mistakes we make this time could well prove irreversible.
with this public fixation with religion. Instead focus on adil and amanah
(justice and integrity), the tenets of our faith. We cannot be Islamic if we
are devoid of both. This should be our pursuit, from eminent Malays to
not-so-eminent ones, from Muslims and non-Muslims alike.
leaders do not lead us there, then dispense with them and pursue our own path
forward. Unlike the earlier colonial era, this time there is no superior power
except for Allah to guide us find and groom enlightened leaders. We are on our
own. As per the wisdom of our Koran, Allah will not change our condition unless
we do it ourselves.
Bakri Musa’s latest book, Malaysia’s Wasted Decade
2004-2014. The Toxic Triad of Abdullah, Najib, and UMNO Leadership, has
just been released. It is available at major online outlets like Amazon.com.
Last of Three
Parts: Leveraging Residential Schools
[In Parts One and Two I suggested that we should focus on
enhancing Malay competitiveness and productivity instead of forever begrudging
the success of non-Malays or bemoaning the presumed deficiencies of our race
and culture. We should begin with our young, the best of them, those at our
residential schools. Have high expectations of them, put them through a
demanding program, and expose them to rigorous competition.]
The key to
any high performing school is the teachers. Both Korean schools (Daewon and
Minjuk mentioned earlier) actively sought graduates of top universities to be
on their staff. Such highly qualified teachers inspire their students. And when
it comes to writing letters of recommendations, those teachers carry much
weight, especially when students apply to their teacher’s alma mater.
You do not
need and it is impossible for all your teachers to have sterling credentials,
only that there should be a critical number of them to set the tone and change
the culture. Besides, there are many excellent teachers who are graduates of
at MCKK of yore, with Oxbridge and London University graduates on its staff. At
KYUEM, a local college prep school with exemplary record of student achievements,
most of its teachers are local but there are sufficient graduates of top
universities, including the headmaster, to set the pace and establish a high
level, it would be difficult for a local graduate to understand the intricacies
and nuances of applying to top foreign universities, or the challenges of
present pay scheme there is little hope to recruit such top graduates. This is
where the private sector could help by sponsoring highly educated foreign
teachers. Petronas sponsors Formula One and the KL Philharmonic. Why not
economics teachers for MCKK? Such “endowed” appointments are very common at
American schools and colleges. If MCKK were to charge wealthy parents it could
also hire its own foreign teachers.
You do not
have to pay as high a salary as in Singapore or South Korea as Malaysia has
much cheaper living expenses. Thailand has no difficulty getting excellent
expatriate teachers at US$30-40K per annum.
For every three
students we send abroad, we could recruit two American teachers and benefit many
more students at home. In terms of actual loss of foreign exchange, it is far cheaper
to recruit one American teacher than to send a student abroad as that teacher’s
salary would be spent locally with the attendant multiplier effect, while the
entire student’s scholarship money is expended abroad.
foreigners would not generate resentment from their local colleagues. Local
teachers at KYUEM are paid less than their expatriate colleagues yet they do
not resent the preferential treatment. Of course if you do get a Malaysian who
is a graduate of a top university and is an excellent teacher, then he or she
too should be paid as well as the foreigner. There should be differential pay
based on the quality of the teacher, not citizenship.
Apart from recruiting
from abroad, there are Malaysians who are graduates of top universities whom, given
the augmented pay, SBPs could employ as teachers, or at least tap as mentors.
Policy Makers and
Stable, competent, committed, and inspiring leadership;
those are the essential ingredients to a successful organization, more so a
school. The headship of SBP should be a terminal appointment. There should be
nothing else after that except retirement and glowing in the reflected glory of
your students’ success. The appointment should never be a stepping stone for someone
on his way to be Undersecretary for Procurement at the Ministry.
should also serve for a sufficient term. As Howell noted, “No headmaster can
leave his mark on a school and have a lasting influence on its development in
under five or six years.”
He or she
must also be a graduate of a respectable university, again to set the tone. He
need not have an advanced degree. Given the choice, all things being equal, I
prefer someone with a good bachelor’s degree over a candidate with a higher
degree but from a less stellar institution.
individuals, little is known about nurturing great institutions. One thing is
certain however. Like individuals, if institutions are held under tight control
and not given the freedom to grow, they will quickly become sclerotic and
unresponsive. The job of policymakers is to select capable individuals to helm these
schools. Once that is done, they should be given the leeway to carry out their
mission without micromanagement from the ministry.
This means SBPs
must have full autonomy–academic, administrative, and financial. They hire and fire the teachers. The ministry’s
lever should be at the macro level, as with selecting the board of governors
and through funding.
of success should only be this: number
of their students ending up at top universities. All other measures, except
where they contribute to this singular goal, are irrelevant. At Speech Day the
headmaster should be announcing which top universities his or her graduating
students would be attending, just like the graduation exercises at top American
The policy does
not end with these students being accepted to top colleges. They must also be
assured of a scholarship and then be given the freedom to choose whatever field
of study. If they are smart enough to be admitted to those top institutions, then
they are smart enough to plan their future wisely, certainly better than those folks
at JPA, MARA, or Khazanah.
It pains me
to see bright young Malays pursue a course of study for which they have minimal
passion because that is the scholarship they were being awarded, based on
supposed “national interest.”
for matriculation (sixth form) is misplaced. I would wait after the students have been accepted to a top university. That
would free them to choose whatever route (matrikulasi,
twinning programs, Sixth Form, IB, or A level) that best suits them. Meanwhile use
those funds to support IB and “A” level programs at SBPs to benefit many more
have graduated, do not tie their hands with rigid rules like having to return
immediately or work for a specific entity. Grant them some freedom. If they are
offered graduate work or a job abroad, let them. Do not stand in the way of
their pursuing their aspirations.
stipulation is that they should serve the nation in whatever capacity they see
fit for a specified period during the first decade after their graduation. Only
when they fail to do so would they have to reimburse their sponsor.
GLC and Private
Khazanah through its subsidiary already has a successful
model–KYUEM. It prepares students for “A” level. That is more productive in
developing quality human capital than the route Petronas and Tenaga chose in setting
up their own universities, which are nothing more that puffed-up technical
colleges. Khazanah is also involved in joint ventures with the government
through the “smart school” programs.
There are other
ways for private sector involvement. One is the current system of letting anyone
set up a private college and charge whatever the market will bear. That would
benefit only the few wealthy Malays.
alternate route would be for Khazanah to pursue its own path a la Singapore’s Raffles Education
Group. Freed from governmental strictures, Khazanah could lead the way with its
string of prep schools modeled after KYUEM. Without the residential component,
the cost would be considerably less. Then it could proceed to a university,
modeled not after local ones but the likes of the American University in Beirut
or the Aga Khan University in Pakistan.
as valid a sector for private investment as tourism or health. It is doubly profitable,
enhancing both human and financial capitals. It would certainly be more
productive than pouring money into a floundering airline.
It is time for
Malays to discard the old destructive narrative of the “lazy native” imposed
upon us by the colonialists and slavishly perpetuated by our intellectually-indolent
“nationalists.” When the colonialists concocted that narrative, they benefited
from it. It was their rationale for bringing in hordes of foreign indentured
labor. When our latter-day Hang Tuahs aped that, they only made a monkey out of
themselves. What benefit do they derive by denigrating our culture and nature?
We need a modern
relevant narrative, grounded in solid social science. Our problems stem from
our being not competitive and productive. Fix that and we solve our problem. Bend
our rebong now and a generation hence
our bamboo groves would be more to our liking. By then we could not care less
whether the likes of Perkasa’s Ibrahim Ali and Tun Mahathir would eat their
words. They and their myths would have long been forgotten.
As for me, Insha’ Allah (God willing) I look
forward to one day meeting many young Malays at San Francisco Airport on their
way to Stanford and Berkeley. That would be the sublime and truest expression
of Ketuanan Melayu.