Archive for the ‘MalaysiaKini – Essays 2005’ Category

Rebuttals On Malay College Essay

Saturday, December 17th, 2005

Rebuttals on Malay College Essay

My review of Khasnor Johan’s book on Malay College drew many responses, including a rebuttal from the author in the form of a Letter to the Editor. I will re-post that letter later, pending permission from Malaysiakini.

My piece was published on many websites and chat groups of Malay College’s “old boys.” Hence the many responses, including from some very distinguished alumni. These readers were obviously new to my work as they raised the same old trite issues that my earlier readers brought up over a decade ago. That is, they questioned my competence and indeed my right to comment in view of my residing abroad. By their tone, they dismiss me as no longer “one of us.” These readers focused on my personality and other irrelevant personal matters rather than on my ideas.

Then there are those who suggested I am good at only criticizing but cannot offer constructive ideas. When I write that Malay College does not even prepare its students for university, I am also implicitly suggesting that Malay College should have Sixth Form. In my book, An Education System Worthy of Malaysia, I suggested that Malay College and other residential schools eliminate their lower forms and concentrate only on Forms IV to VI.

One responder, a very distinguished old boy, asserted that I have an ego “as big as big school,” without once commenting on the substantive issues I raised. On the point that no alum has yet to contribute generously, he pointed to the piddling efforts at restoring Mr. Norton’s old residence and the surau.

Yet this ‘old boy’ is on the board of many corporations, statutory bodies, and the college itself. His hobbies include sailing fancy yachts; he no doubt has other equally luxurious toys. To the likes of him, those meager contributions are “substantive.” I wonder whose ego is “as big as big school,” his or mine?

It will be a long time, if ever, before Malay College will get its Halim Saad Library, Megat Najmuddin Aquatic Center, or a Nawawi Effendi Orchestra.

My essay is a book review. I would have thought that many old boys would be eager to get a copy of the book. Judging from the comments, few if any, had read the book! One admitted to buying it but thus far, he has read only a few pages. Presumably, he gave up after seeing his name was not in the index!

I thank the few who engaged me on the issues. How refreshing! Some agreed with me, others did not. One suggested that it is the responsibility of all old boys to contribute in their own unique ways. I could not agree more. Reviewing the book was my minor effort at doing this.

Surprisingly, again reflecting something that I do not know exactly what, the most eloquent and solid responses were on my website rather than on the college’s chat groups.

I raised many major issues in that review; sadly, no one bothered to comment on them. Malay College, for example, is still a “glorified middle school.”

In typical Malaysian fashion, many blame the college’s woes on others, especially those bureaucrats at the Ministry. Conveniently forgotten is that many of these top officials, including former Ministers of Education Anwar Ibrahim and Musa Mohamad, are old boys. Where is the supposed clout of our alumni network?

In her rebuttal, Khasnor Johan agrees with me that the title of her book over promises. She blames the college’s old boys for the choice of the title. I have always considered a book to be the author’s baby; others may suggest, but the author gets to name it. Her blaming her sponsors is a convenient cop put.

Her excuse for not having references was that it was not an academic book. She confuses the detailed footnoting of an academic treatise to the general referencing found in popular publications. Besides, when you are quoting word for word, you are duty bound to put the necessary attribution or credit regardless whether it is a dissertation or lay essay. We learn this elementary courtesy early in high school.

To my criticism that she offers no prescription as to what ails this national heritage, Khasnor responded that it is not her place to offer any. Hers was merely to chronicle, not to analyze and prescribe. Besides, that was not the mandate given, she claims.

Yes, there is a place for mere chronicling, of simply telling the story and leaving the analyses and interpretations to readers. They call that fiction writing.

“We report, you interpret!” is the canard perpetrated upon novice journalists and writers. The reality is that we implicitly filter though our analysis and judgment what and how we report.

You do not compartmentalize your brain. Just because you are commissioned to write a book does not mean you do not bring all your skills and intellect to bear on the project. Anything less and you do not serve your client or readers well. More importantly, you do not produce your best or enhance your reputation.

No Eton of the East

Tuesday, December 6th, 2005

SEEING IT MY WAY
M Bakri Musa
Malaysiakini.com Dec 5, 2005

No Eton of the East

Book review: Leadership: But What’s Next? Malay College Kuala Kangsar
1905-2005.

Writer: Khasnor Johan
Publisher: Marshall Cavendish Times Edition, 2005 Shah Alam.
248 pp; Indexed

Editorial lead: Malay College excelled when it was the only residential school. It thus represents a sorry metaphor for the Malay mentality – to excel there must not be any competition.

This year Malay College celebrates its centenary. Apart from the glittering and very expensive bashes, there are the adoring editorials, press releases, and the occasional books. Well, actually only one book, so far.

I bought Khasnor Johan’s Leadership: But What’s Next? tempted by its title. It promises a critical look. The foreword by Abdullah Ahmad, a distinguished alumnus and former Ambassador to the United Nations, sealed my decision.

Alas, the promise is unfulfilled. The book is long on description but pitifully poor on analysis. As for a prescription on what ails this “national heritage,” she offers none.

The author is a retired academic, formerly with the University of Malaya, an institution mired in its own controversy recently. I expected a semi rigorous if not scholarly production.

The author’s “research” consisted nothing more than snippets of interviews from legends of the college’s “old boys.” The quotes were more “man on the street” variety rather than weighty discussions and deep reflections. Her excuse is that she resides in Australia. The long (40 pages) Chapter 5, “What Old Boys Left Behind,” is nothing more than a laundry list of former students and their achievements, with no overriding themes or lessons learned. A commentator once cynically advised authors to include as many names as possible in the index; they are potential buyers of your book!

Rest assured that even though she cited me three times, that is not the reason I bought her book.

I would have expected that as a former historian she would still have her skills especially in research and writing. I was sorely disappointed. She never read any of the archives at the college or ministry (if she did, she did not refer to them). Thus, the glaring deficiency of this book is the lack of references. When she did quote, as she did from my first book, The Malay Dilemma Revisited, she did so without giving due credit or referencing it. This reflects sloppy scholarship, lack of diligence, or sheer laziness.

Malay College’s Trimesters

She breaks Malay College’s 100 years into three: from its inception in 1905 to its sudden closure in1941; from its reopening in 1947 after World War II to 1965 when its last expatriate headmaster, N. J. Ryan, left (the “Golden Years” to Khasnor and many collegians); and after 1965, when locals specifically Malays took over.

The British were intent on nurturing this “germ of an Oxford.” The college’s moniker, Eton of the East, reflects this aspiration. The British supported their aspiration with deeds; they sent only graduates from their best universities to teach at and lead the college.

There was only one snag. As admissions to the college were limited only to the royal and aristocratic class, the supply of talent among the students was necessarily limited.

Khasnor did not explore whether the British decided this on their own or they were merely pleasing the Malay sultans and aristocrats by ensuring that their sons would not be contaminated by mixing them with children of commoners.

Perhaps sultans and colonialists alike believed that we kampong children were content running around barefooted and half naked; educating us would be futile.

With rising nationalism and the consequent quest for independence after World
War II, there was a great and desperate need for Malays trained for the public service. The college had to open its doors to bright young Malays of less than noble heritage. To augment its output, the college discontinued its primary classes. The man responsible for liberalizing the admission policy was Datuk Onn, UMNO’s first president.

In the early 1960s, the Malay establishment belatedly recognized the acute need for Malays trained in the sciences. Malay College expanded its science classes.

Khasnor blamed this delayed introduction of science at the college to the generally low level of science teaching in Malaysia. That is not correct.

When I entered the college for my Sixth Form in 1961, my teachers and fellow students were stunned to learn that my old Tuanku Muhammad School in sleepy Kuala Pilah already had pure science classes at Form IV for many years while Malay College was still planning its own!

Racism of the Malay Elite

Many lament Malay College’s decline in the last few decades. The “old boys” blame the slide to Malays taking over the leadership of the college. Khasnor endorses this assessment. This is racism of the worse kind; Malays lacking confidence in their own kind. To Khasnor and those old boys, Malay headmasters and teachers were no match to the earlier expatriates.

Conveniently overlooked is that those Malay headmasters were never given a chance. Except for the first, Abdul Aziz Ismail, who stayed for a few years, all the rest had brief tenures, with one lasting barely a few months, just enough for an entry on his resume. Unlike their British counterparts who treated their postings at Malay College as terminal appointments, these Malay educators treated their stints at Kuala Kangsar as steppingstones on their way to be Undersecretary for Procurement at the Ministry.

The only and alas very brief shining moment for the college was during the 1960s and 70s when it made merit the criterion for admission and emphasized the sciences in the curriculum. Unfortunately, instead of learning from and enhancing that success, the ministry and the college rested on their laurels.

The slide began. Instead of being a shining model for the many new residential schools, Malay College became an ordinary school, with equally ordinary achievements. I dare not compare Malay College with its counterparts in other countries, like Singapore’s Raffles Institution (now a Junior College), or the real Eton back in the United Kingdom.

Today Malay College does not even prepare its students for university matriculation; they have to go elsewhere for that! The “college” is reduced to nothing more than a glorified and very expensive middle school.

Malay College and the other residential schools are expensive, with the students’ entire tuition and living expenses borne by the government. These schools chronically complain about not getting enough funding from the government. Yet no one suggested that the children of the well-to-do must pay their way.

These students thus learn early and well on how to get a free ride. At its multitude centenary celebrations, many graced by the sultans and other dignitaries, the rich and famous among the College’s “old boys” ostentatiously displayed their wealth. Yet there is not a single structure or project on campus donated by them.

Malay College excelled only when it was the only residential school in the country. It thus represents a sorry metaphor for the Malay mentality, that is, to excel, there must not be any competition! Today’s insistence on rigid quotas and preferential policies by the Malay establishment reflects this ingrained mindset; thus no competition for UMNO’s top positions!

Excellence in an environment sans competition is a dubious distinction. Even a dim candle would look bright in dark room if it were the only candle.

Legacy Of Lost Opportunity

Saturday, November 12th, 2005

[Reprinted from Malaysiakini.com, SEEING IT MY WAY, November 8, 2005]
M. Bakri Musa

Legacy of Lost Opportunity

With Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi entering his third year in office, many are disappointed that his previous bold commitments for reform were nothing more than a politician’s promise. Still, there are those who claim that the man is capable of greatness; just give him time, or a chance.

Unlike many, I am not disappointed with Abdullah’s performance. I did not expect much, and he did not deliver much. His wife’s illness was certainly a major factor lately, but my low assessment of his capability is based on his performance long before that.

Abdullah served in many senior cabinet positions before becoming Prime Minister. He has a long track record; all we have to do is scrutinize it.

There is nothing substantive to his legacy as Education Minister. Today, he expounds on the importance of English, but he did nothing to stem the decline of English in our schools and universities when he was in charge of that ministry. Of significance, the number of religious teachers exploded during his tenure.

Today, he decries the corruption and inefficiency of the police force, and the pubic applauds him for appointing the Police Commission. What is conveniently forgotten is that as Home Affairs Minister, he was in charge of the force. As for the Commission’s Report, it is stuck in some cabinet committee somewhere.

Abdullah Badawi’s ability to execute is severely wanting. In our system of governance, a minister is the chief executive of his or her ministry, not a ceremonial head or chairman of the board. Abdullah is more comfortable playing the role of the detached, imperial sultan who issues endless edicts, or titahs. Malaysians, in particular Malays, are more than willing to indulge him. Witness the increasingly common sight of citizens and subordinates kissing his hand. Nor does he discourage such displays of fealty.

Like Carter, Not Reagan

In my book The Malay Dilemma Revisited, I likened Abdullah Badawi to America’s President Jimmy Carter, a decent and honorable enough man, but a completely ineffective leader.

Abdullah’s number one fan, later to be his son-in-law, Khairy Jamaluddin, vehemently protested and intimated that Abdullah would be more like Ronald Reagan. Such flights of fancy ignore certain realities.

Reagan was a man of firm convictions, and he was not shy in expressing them even if that meant embarrassing his guests or hosts. His famous “evil empire” characterization of the Soviet system may have discomfited many diplomats and heads of states, but it expressed Reagan’s firm belief.

In contrast, Abdullah’s convictions and beliefs, if he has any, are mushy. That is why he has not clearly articulated them. When he did express them, as his resolve to get rid of corruption and for Malays to dispense with special privileges, he crumbled at the first obstacle.
He should have seized the opportunity provided by Isa Samad and Kasitah Gaddam to sack them immediately. Instead, he let the matter drag. In the end, they were not fired but simply resigned. They were not even forced to do so; they quit more to spare poor Pak Lah unnecessary embarrassment.

When UMNO Youth’s leaders called for expanding the New Economic Policy with its rigid quota system, there was not a whimper of admonishment from Abdullah. He tacitly went along with the rhetoric, forgetting his earlier “Towering Malay” aspirations.
Reagan never hesitated in firing his key personnel. Donald Regan, who served as both Treasury Secretary as well as Chief of Staff, felt the sting of Reagan’s ruthlessness. Donald Regan complained in his memoir how he was made to feel like an office boy when Reagan fired him. The former chairman of Merrill Lynch did not take his dismissal easily.

Reagan’s widely acknowledged lack of intellectual depth did not prevent him from hiring and engaging the best American minds. Milton Friedman, the Nobel laureate in Economics, was a frequent White House visitor. Reagan’s cabinet included many luminaries.

Excuses After Excuses

Abdullah’s many admirers are perpetual optimists. When Abdullah succeeded Mahathir, they assured us that once Mahathir’s long shadow had receded, Abdullah would then really shine. Later, the excuse was, “Wait till after the election!” Having won an overwhelming mandate from an electorate longing for change, Abdullah still hesitated. His supporters then used the excuse that he had to secure his position in UMNO. Wait till the UMNO General Assembly! Now it is his wife’s death. “Wait ‘till the mourning is over!” I can already hear the next excuse, “Wait till the second term!”

These are expressions less of conviction, more of hope.

Surprisingly, Abdullah is getting favorable reviews from one unlikely source, south of the causeway. Knowing the state of press freedom there, one can reasonably conclude that the establishment too shares the same view of the man.

Today’s Singapore leaders, unlike their elders, have become more sophisticated. They have finally learned the finer ways of the Malays. Flatter a Malay, and he willingly parts with his heirloom. The British learned that very quickly, which was how they managed to get the Sultan of Johore to part with Singapore. The British managed to “advise” the Malay sultans by giving them the pretension that their thrones were on par with the British crown, and their rickety wooden istanas comparable to Buckingham palace.

Singapore’s younger Lee has learned that the way for Temasek to invest in Khazanah, or the island to have its cheap water rights to Johore secure, is to stroke Abdullah’s ego. Unlike Mahathir, whose massive ego would be difficult for anyone to massage, Abdullah’s is more manageable.

I have no problem with Singapore investing in Malaysia. Greater integration between the two makes great sense, not just from the business or economic perspective. I would encourage that. Singapore however should not get any preferential advantage; it must pay the market, and Malaysia must get the best price. Meaning, Malaysia should welcome any entity to invest in its GLCs.

Fortunately, Malaysia has come a long way in the last fifty years. We have had many relatively honest and fair elections. The private sector is vibrant, and Malaysians are very much in tune with the world. The Internet has effectively broken the government’s monopoly and control on information. The nation has thrived despite not because of its government.

Viewed thus, Abdullah’s lack of execution is a blessing; he could not muck up the system even if he tried. Were Abdullah to have the ruthlessness and efficiency of Pol Pot or Saddam Hussein, then Malaysia would be in great trouble. He is not, and Malaysians ought to be grateful. Nonetheless, I never underestimate the ability of an individual to create havoc. An idiot with a match could burn down a city, but only if the place is full of garbage and does not have an effective fire department.

Abdullah is a man of modest ambition, and he has far exceeded that by becoming Prime Minister. He now awaits his retirement and the expected Tunship.

While we could be smugly satisfied were Abdullah to finish his term without creating a mess, in today’s world however, if you are not progressing, you are by default regressing, as the world around you forges ahead.

Viewed from this perspective, the first two years of Abdullah’s tenure as Prime Minister was simply a lost opportunity. He secured a massive mandate in the 2004 elections, but squandered it. I see nothing in his record or personality to suggest that the rest of his term will be any different. Abdullah’s legacy then will be one of lost opportunity.

Continuing Carnage on Our Carriageways

Thursday, October 20th, 2005

[Note: I wish all my readers a safe and pleasant holidays. May you all enjoy the pleasure of the company of your friends, colleagues and loved ones during the coming Hari Raya 'Idilfitri and Deepavali. Sadly, the reality for many Malaysians, especially with the rush to "balek kampong," is the carnage on our dangerous carriageways. Let us all be extra careful, courteous and generous in keeping with the spirit of the holidays. M. Bakri Musa]

The Continuing Carnage on our Carriageways

Reposted from SEEING IT MY WAY, M. Bakri Musa (Malaysiakini.com) October 18, 2005

The human and economic costs from the continuing carnage on our carriageways are lost behind the horrific daily headlines of smashed vehicles and mangled bodies.

The human toll is unquantifiable. There is no way to measure the grief of those who have lost their loved ones, or the pain of those maimed. The economic consequences can be estimated, and that alone justifies making concerted efforts to address the issue.

As a surgeon, I am fully aware of the human dimensions of such tragedies. Years back during Ramadan, a car with four Indonesian students crashed on a dangerous highway outside my town, killing one of its occupants. The police had difficulty contacting her next-of-kin. Fortunately, I was able to help.

After introducing myself as a surgeon calling from a hospital in California, the mother’s immediate plea was for me to say that her daughter was fine. My slight hesitation in replying conveyed the tragic news. I confirmed her worst fears. After the quiet sobs, she pleaded that I say a prayer for her daughter. I did.

After three decades as a surgeon, I have seen thousands of such scenes, or variations thereof. I have also contributed academic papers on the topic.

The economic costs in property damages are huge, but miniscule compared to the expenses of medical care and rehabilitation. The loss of potential income of the dead and maimed in turn dwarfs those medical outlays.

The costs of improving that highway near my town have been recouped many times from the savings in not having to care for the injured.

Unfortunately, like other major problems in Malaysia, road safety gets the occasional brief attention from the leaders in the form of speeches at important gatherings, followed by a spate of commentaries. The problem is then considered solved, and conveniently forgotten.

In my talks to Americans posted to Malaysia, the one topic I emphasize is personal safety, in particular, road safety. By whatever measure – relative to the population, miles of road, number of users and vehicles – Malaysia’s road accident rates are among the highest, many folds higher than America’s.

The roads, the vehicles, the users

We can learn from others. Accidents do not just happen; we can plan, practice and teach road safety. There are three variables: the roads, the vehicles, and their users.

I am appalled at the lack of basic safety features on Malaysian roads. Stretches of busy highways do not have safety medians to prevent head-on collisions. Busy intersections have short exit and merge lanes, causing unnecessary and dangerous backups. Road signs are not clear, and when there are signs, they are often obscured by billboards or overgrown trees. Curves are not adequately banked. There are no “smart” lights designed to change when there is no traffic in that direction. Intersections with “round abouts” and “stop” signs are overloaded.

These are all elementary stuff, written in all road design textbooks. If it is too expensive to send our engineers abroad to learn these safety features, then get those experts to Malaysia to teach ours.

America too experienced horrendous accident rates in the 1950s and 60s, soon after the completion of the interstate freeway system. Since then the designs have improved considerably, and so have the accident rates.

Two developments occur in tandem: better-made cars with safety a priority, and improved driver education.

Today’s cars come with safety belts, air bags, antilock brakes, and sturdier frames. Consumer advocates like Ralph Nader did much to put safety a priority in the design and manufacture of cars. America’s generous tort system ensures that manufacturers would pay a heavy price for neglecting the safety of their products.

Car mechanics are certified and liable for their work; hence they use only genuine parts. A jury-rigged brake job may suffice for a leisurely drive in the kampong, but deadly on the freeway. Cars are inspected annually for smog emission, giving mechanics an opportunity to warn owners of worn brakes, bald tires, and other potential hazards.

Drivers too have improved their skills, with driver education now taught in schools. Senior citizens and those with visual problems and medical illnesses like diabetes and seizure disorders require medical clearance before getting their driver’s license. There are regular public service announcements that give useful road safety tips like keeping a car length distance from the car ahead for every 10 MPH of speed.

Drivers are educated that there is a definite delay in the human response time. At a leisurely 30 MPH, it is inconsequential; on the speeding freeway, it could be fatal.

The lethal combination of alcohol and driving is constantly emphasized, and reinforced by rigorous random roadside stop checks. Malaysia fortunately is mostly spared this particular hazard. An unknown one lurks, however: drugs.

Recent rapid increases in gas prices have a safety bonus; drivers are driving less and slower.

System Error of Pervasive Corruption

Improvements in roads, cars and users would all be for naught if the entire system malfunctions. The greatest contributor to system failure is pervasive corruption.

Corruption in awarding construction tenders resulted in crashed flyways, collapsed bridges, and below-specifications highways, not to mention bloated costs. Without corruption, the money saved could be used for improved safety measures.

Corruption in the Road Department resulted in “Kopi oh!” licenses, a hazard for their holders and others. Perverted national priorities allow the national car manufacturers to ignore safety in their products. This in turn encouraged foreign manufacturers to dump their defective cars onto local markets.

Rampant corruption among enforcers, in particular the traffic police and road department personnel, contributes and aggravates the problems. Traffic violations from speeding to overloading trucks are solved at the “local” level. Violators and enforcers mutually benefit from such corrupt exchanges, but society pays a horrific price.

Overlapping jurisdiction is another factor. The Road Department inspects commercial vehicles; the traffic police have no mechanics to inspect dangerous vehicles already on the road. In America, unsafe trucks are pulled off the road immediately by the highway patrol until the problems are corrected, imposing a double burden on their owners with fines and loss of use; likewise with overloaded trucks. These are effective deterrence.

There is more to solving the safety problem than endless exhortations for drivers to be careful. Human considerations aside, economic imperatives demand that we solve it aggressively and in its totality.

UMNO in Fantasyland

Tuesday, August 2nd, 2005

SEEING IT MY WAY
M. Bakri Musa (www.bakrimusa.com)Malaysiakini.com August 2, 2005

UMNO in Fantasyland

Editorial lead: Until there is a serious self-examination by UMNO leaders, speeches about towering or Glokal Malays will go no further than that.

I am appalled at the lack of outrage with former Sabah Chief Minister Osu Sukam’s massive gambling debts. I am not surprised at the depravity and venality that an individual is capable of, but I am astounded that someone like him could rise to such heights in UMNO. That is an indictment of the system.

The best that Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi could muster was to declare that Osu had “failed as a leader.” That must surely rank as the greatest understatement. Former Prime Minister Tun Mahathir, the man who appointed Osu, was curiously quiet. UMNO Youth leaders, those self-appointed guardians of Malay honor and Ketuanan Melayu (Malay hegemony), also did not see fit to comment. As for UMNO Disciplinary Board, it has already closed shop!

Presumably to all these people, Osu is not an aberration; his egregious behavior no longer shocking, rather the norm for UMNO.

UMNO ulama, usually quick to condemn Malays for not wearing the tudung, are also strangely silent. If as a Muslim Osu openly flouts God’s laws, imagine the respect he has for such man-made ones as our anti-corruption laws. The police too are waiting for someone to lodge a report, all in the best tradition of our civil service, Saya menuggu arahan! (I await orders!) To the authorities, Ayah Pin’s Sky Kingdom commune poses a greater threat than Osu Sukam.

That gambling debt was uncovered not by some inquisitive journalists or aggressive investigators from the Anti Corruption Agency, but in sworn court documents.

Isa and Osu Show

Osu Sukam’s gambling mania, Federal Affairs Minster Isa Samad’s “money politics,” and Rafidah Aziz’s Approved Permit controversy are all part of the same sordid political landscape. The characters that emerge would depend on what part of the scene we care to look at carefully.
A few years ago, the Australian authorities caught Muhammad Taib, then Chief Minister of Selangor, with literally millions of dollars in his pocket. His counsel succeeded on a technicality: Muhammad Taib did not understand the customs declaration written in English! The facts of the case were never disputed. Nonetheless that did not prevent him from being reelected UMNO Vice President. Now he is busy lecturing UMNO members on – you guessed it! – the evils of corruption.

This Osu Sukam had no significant assets, inherited or acquired, before entering politics. His chief minister’s salary would not even make a dent on the interest payments of his debts! If the government could not convict him of corruption, then surely it could at a minimum nail him for income tax evasion.

At its recent general assembly, UMNO’s Deputy President Najib Razak talked loftily of “Glokal” Malays capable of competing locally as well as globally. Meanwhile UMNO Youth leaders, the future of the party, were clamoring for extending quotas, special privileges and other elements of the New Economic Policy. That is, more “crutches.” The obvious irony was lost on everyone.

Surprisingly, there was little discussion of the “Towering Malay Personality.” That was last month’s flavor! Nor was there any chest thumping over Selangor’s impending celebration of its “developed” status. Give UMNO members credit; even they are not buying that baloney!

Only a few weeks ago UMNO was consumed with money politics, yet not a word was uttered about it at the assembly. Instead, the controversy was on doling out Approved Permits (AP) for importing cars. I wonder what the flavor-of-the-month will be in September!

It is as if the organization and its members were afflicted with a collective Attention Deficit Disorder. The distinguished Royal Professor Ungku Aziz aptly called this the belalang (grasshopper) syndrome. The critter hops from one field to the next, leaving only its droppings and barren leaves as its legacy. A farm could tolerate a few grasshoppers, but not a swarm. That could lay bare a lush field within hours. This plague now threatens Malays, as well as Malaysia.

The professor chose an appropriately agrarian metaphor in contrast to my clinical one in the hope that UMNO members would get it. They did not.

The AP controversy degenerated into an unseemly public spat between Tun Mahathir and his erstwhile ardent supporter Trade Minister Rafidah Aziz, with Prime Minster Abdullah reduced to being an irrelevant bystander. In the end, nothing was changed; it was business as usual until next year’s assembly.

During the spat, it was the Iron Lady, not Mahathir, who cried. Unlike the real Iron Lady of Britain, this kampong variety is for turning (against Mahathir), as long as she keeps her cabinet post!

Chanting Shaman

These UMNO shenanigans are all manifestations of the same underlying systemic pathology: corruption. Yet the dreaded “C” word was never uttered. There was an air of unreality or fantasy in all the official pronouncements. They, leaders and followers alike, were obsessed with battling the signs and symptoms of the disease but blissfully ignored the underlying cancer.

UMNO repeatedly asserts that it represents Malays. Indeed it does. Sadly, the picture it presents of our race to the world generally and to non-Malays in Malaysia specifically is less than flattering. As a Malay, this is what I find so highly offensive.

I believe that Allah in His wisdom has granted Malays our fair share of the wise, honest and talented. It has been my privilege to meet many of them in Malaysia as well as abroad.

What baffles me is why they are not found in UMNO. That fact that UMNO attracts the likes of Isa Samad and Osu Sukam, and worse, the likes of them thrive in UMNO, reflects less on Malays but more on UMNO. At least that is my hope.

What incenses me most is when non-Malays presume (not unreasonably in view of the pronouncements of UMNO leaders) that these UMNO characters represent the typical if not the best Malays. It infuriates me even more when these UMNO Malays exhibit the ugly stereotype of our race.

UMNO’s failing is systemic, not of individuals. Stated more directly, UMNO is corrupt to the core. Suspending few selected individuals is not enough. That would be like killing the rooster to scare the monkeys, as the Chinese would say. It would attract their attention with the commotion, but only briefly. Then they would be back to their, well, monkey business.

The cancer in UMNO has metastasized. The patient needs both radical surgery and aggressive chemotherapy. Unfortunately, its healer is incapable of anything more than reciting supplications and dispensing sermons. Malaysia needs a cancer surgeon, not a chanting shaman.

Lamentably there is yet no serious self-examination on the part of UMNO’s leadership. Until this is undertaken, talks of a towering Malay personality, “Glokal” Malay, and Ketuanan Melayu will remain just that. Or to use the colorful local lingo, it is all cock talk!

Special Privileges for Indians – Readers’ Responses

Saturday, July 30th, 2005

Dr Bakri, Salam Sejahtera:

Below is a response to your article. I thought you might be interested to read it. While your observations are perspicuous, I think you are wrong to say that Indian-Malaysians in general are looking for special treatment. The MIC fellows do, but as you rightly pointed out, they are decrepit anyway and are increasingly being dismissed as utterly ineffective in the putting forth the community’s cause. What we want is access to decent education, scholarship, jobs, etc. This we do not quite get. Even the best among us are denied opportunities!

Case in point: Karthikeyan, who scored 13A1s in SPM recently and was recognized as one the best students in the country. His father is a security guard, and illiterate; his mother, an occasional factory worker. Alas he was denied scholarship by the PSD. Instead, he was offered a place in the UTM to study IT. Only after some backdoor maneuvering did he get the coveted PSD scholarship.

As I see it, many in the community are tired of the BN government’s willful neglect of Indian-Malaysian’s welfare. Government officials are never going to lift a finger on their own volition to help us. If anything comes our way, it is mostly by accident or given grudgingly. I sincerely believe that Indian-Malaysians should build their own parallel system of help. That would perpetuate if not aggravate racial divisions.

Finally, your views on Tamil schools are plain wrong. Enough research has been done on the effectiveness of mother language education, particularly at the primary level. Please read UNESCO’s position paper:

http://portal.unesco.org/education/en/ev.php-URL_ID=12871&URL_DO=DO_TOPIC&URL_SECTION=201.html

I am aware of your take on the use of mother language as a medium of instruction. (I remember reading many years ago how your father chose to send you to an English school instead of the nearby Malay medium pondok school.) The situation in Malaysia today however does not warrant simple conclusions. Although many Tamil schools continue to exist in a derelict state, they manage to give a decent education to the poorest of the community. (The student mentioned above, Karthikeyan, is a former Tamil school student, and so am I.) These students, if they were to attend “national” schools, are less likely to get anywhere – too many impediments, despite the superior facilities. The fact that Indian leaders had not sent they kids to Tamil schools only speaks loudly of their hypocrisy.

I did not quite expect to write this much … but, well ..:)!

Wassalam.
elan.
—–

Equality, Not Special Privileges, is What Indians Need
Tan Sri Ramon Navaratnam

[Reprinted from Malaysiakini.com July 7, 2005]

I think the good Doctor Bakri Musa has given Malaysian Indians the wrong diagnosis, and thus the wrong prescription!

While I agree with his thesis that some Malays have fallen into a “Trap of a Dependency” syndrome, I do not believe that Malaysian Indians want to “fall into the same trap,” as he puts it!

All we Indians want is fair and equal access to the basic needs provided by the government. Why for instance cannot Tamil Schools be given more assistance or Tamil made a compulsory subject for Tamil students in national schools? This way the quality and standard of education will rise significantly especially for the bottom 30 percent of the depressed and under-privileged Malaysian Indian population!

The Indians have not asked for “Special Privileges” as suggested by Doctor Bakri. The Crimea State Medical School episode throws open to question the quality of our medical graduates from all questionable medical schools, some of which are in Iraq, Iran, and many other places around the world, some even closer to us!

Surely we should be more concerned and review the quality of all those dubious medical colleges where many Malaysians are currently studying!

In the case of the Crimea Medical School, what was wrong was not the need to review the quality of the teaching but to be fair in the assessment of standards. The process and procedure of de-recognition from 2006 and the announcement of the new accreditation policy also leave much to be desired!

Poverty eradication regardless of race is stipulated in the NEP, but has it been implemented as such?

All that we ask is to promote equality to wipe out poverty as promised in the NEP, regardless of race!

“Modern development economics” as Dr Bakri mentioned, prescribes empowerment to enable the poor and the underprivileged of all races to pull themselves up by their own bootstraps to move forward. But is this being done equitably today?

With due respect, Dr Bakri has to come back to Malaysia to see for himself the reality on the ground and help us all create a more just and equitable society or Bangsa Malaysia that will truly promote greater national unity in our country. We who are here are trying our best to achieve!

We have to be more balanced and fair in making judgments especially on other Malaysian ethnic groups, please!

Thanks and regards,
Tan Sri Ramon Navaratnam
———

Look Who’s Riding the Indian Malaysian?
Sam

[Reprinted from Malaysiakini.com Jul 11, 2005]

I refer to M Bakri Musa’s “Indian Malaysians should avoid trap of special privileges.”

As an Indian, I can assure Bakri that the community in general has never depended on privileges. Rather, the trap of the “Barisan Nasional perspective” of national issues should be avoided.

There are indeed Indian Malaysians in danger of being dependent on special privileges, but they invariably comprise the office bearers of the MIC and other sundry political parties hanging on to the BN’s sarong while claiming to represent Indians. They form a tiny minority.

The vast majority of Indians, in case Bakri is unaware, have fended for themselves against increasingly unequal odds over the past 48 years. They include the former rubber tappers and their children.

They also include government servants who spent their life savings for their children’s tertiary education overseas since social engineering requires other lesser qualified students to be given preference at local universities.

In fact Bakri might be interested to know that the basic relationship between the politicians and the average Indian has not been one of the former handing out benefits to the latter, rather the other way around.

The average Indian has put a great deal more money into such black holes as the National Land Finance Society, Maika Holdings, etc. than he has received from or via Indian politicians. The politicians and political appointees managing these organizations have on the other hand become pretty comfortable financially.

In other words, Barisan Nasional Indian politicians have been having a good ride on the broad backs of several million Indian Malaysians.

Sam

Political Grandstanding or Sinister Policy Shift?

Friday, July 22nd, 2005

Political Grandstanding or Sinister Policy Shift?
SEEING IT MY WAY M. Bakri Musa
Co-written with Din Merican*

[Reprinted from Malaysaikini.com, July 19, 2005]

Our “reformed” Royal Malaysian Police recently raided the home of Raja Petra Kamarudin, editor of the website Malaysia Today (www.malaysia-today.net), and seized his computers. To Malaysiakini readers, it is déjà vu.

The police routinely resorted to the Internal Security Act to raid the private residence of citizens. That is nothing new, and sadly, no longer shocking to Malaysians. This time however it is the home of a respected editor. After the public debacle over the Malaysiakini raid two years ago, we would have thought the police would be more circumspect. They never learn!

A benign take on this episode would be to assume that it is a case of political grandstanding ahead of the UMNO General Assembly next Tuesday, July 19th UMNO must regularly demonstrate its prowess against those who may challenge its “Ketuanan Melayu” (Malay Hegemony) obsession, and UMNO’s role as “protector” of the Malay sultans and their subjects.

Hollowness of the Government’s Assurance

A more sinister view would be that this action merely exposes the hollowness of the presumed liberal stance and attitude of the Abdullah Badawi Administration towards open discourse, especially in cyberspace, on matters of public interest. The raid on Malaysiakini made a mockery of the government’s oft-stated commitment to keep the Internet free of official censorship. Malaysia has yet to recover from that blow.

At that time Prime Minister Mahathir took the brunt of the heat for the actions of members of the xenophobic UMNO Youth even though the action was initiated by Abdullah Badawi’s Internal Security Ministry. We commented on the folly of UMNO Youth’s action and the immaturity of its leadership. Our hard-hitting commentary angered many in the movement including some who were our friends. Nonetheless, we did it because we believe that it is unhealthy to censor dissenting views and opinions. Such actions also damage Malaysia’s image.

Robust public debates are the essence of democracy. Further, such clumsy and bumbling attempts at censorship and control are futile in this age of the Internet. You could no more control the flow of information than you could atmospheric flow. The communist rulers of China and the mullahs in Iran have tried, and both failed. When the police closed the case against Malaysiakini, we thought that there would be no more raids of this nature. We were rudely mistaken.

Raja Petra Kamarudin’s brand of analytical and aggressive investigative journalism is alien to Malaysia, where the reprinting of ministerial speeches and press releases constitutes “newsgathering.” It is no surprise then that the uncensored and independent Internet news portals have been rapidly gaining readership at the expense of the mainstream media.

Two particularly hard-hitting series received wide readership and comments. The first was on corruption in the Negri Sembilan Royal Family, and the second, the meteoric career of Khairy Jamaluddin, trusted advisor and son-in-law to Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi. In both, Raja Petra cited names and specific instances.

Both series are practically road maps for the police to investigate. Such expose ahead of the UMNO General Assemby could have devastating political consequences. The police therefore, took the more sycophantic approach by raiding Raja Petra’s home in an effort to please and appease the Minister of Internal Security, who is Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi himself.

Kampong Kisssinger-Lite Wannabe

It is well known that the ambitious Khairy is not popular among certain factions of UMNO. He is feared not because of his talent rather for his being the Prime Minister’s son-in-law. In short, the old familiar Malaysian refrain of “who, not what you know.”

Khairy who did his thesis on Machiavelli at Oxford subscribes to the Florentine’s dictum that it is better for the Prince to “be feared than loved.” Interestingly that too was Henry Kissinger’s doctoral dissertation at Harvard. What we have here is a kampong version of a “Kissinger lite.”

The seizure of Raja Petra’s computers hardly interrupted Malaysia Today’s operations. News articles continued to be posted, and readers were as eager as ever to register their views.

Raja Petra, like all prudent and responsible editors, web operators, and bloggers, must have taken the necessary precautions, like backing up files and having mirror servers elsewhere.

In the battle of ideas, the removal of hardware is a primitive and ineffective strategy. More productive and constructive would be to counter with superior ideas and respond frontally to the criticisms. Indeed later on the same day of the police raid on Raja Petra, Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi preached the same message in a speech to the Mass Media Conference organized by his own Ministry of Internal Security. In it, he chastised the mainstream media for their sensationalism and at the same time admonished government officials who could not tolerate public criticisms. He should have done the same thing for his cabinet colleagues and fellow Barisan Nasional politicians.

Alas that was vintage Abdullah Badawi at his best, good only at preaching. He has been dispensing homilies ad nauseam ever since he took over the country’s leadership. He is, as one of my readers put it colorfully, “lebai pantai ratit saja.” (A rabbi good only at chanting!”) If Abdullah had written that speech himself, then he should be the first to heed his own advice. If, as more likely, that it is the handiwork of Khairy Jamaluddin, then he (Khairy) should be the first to heed his own message.

If this raid was merely political grandstanding, then we feel sorry for Raja Petra and his family who had to bear the terrible burden. The only consolation is that this annual circus that is the UMNO General Assembly will be over by the end of next week. If this raid portends a sinister shift in public policy, then we feel sorry for the whole nation.

* Din Merican is Senior Research Fellow with the Phnom Penh-based Cambodian Institute for Cooperation and Peace. This is his personal commentary.

Indian Malaysians Should Avoid Trap of Special Privileges

Saturday, July 9th, 2005

Indian Malaysians Should Avoid Trap of Special Privileges
M. Bakri Musa

[Reprinted from Malaysiakini.com July 5, 2005]

Indian-Malaysians are falling into the same trap as Malays; they refuse or are unable to view their community’s problems beyond the parameters of race. Indian-Malaysian leaders and intellectuals are even clamoring for their own special privileges a la Bumiputras. That would be a regressive move.

The recent controversy over not recognizing Crimean State Medical School is instructive. Indian-Malaysian leaders vehemently protested, to the extent that one of them was suspended from his cabinet position. Their objection was because most of the Malaysians affected are of Indian origin. I would have thought that the debate would be on how to ensure that our future doctors get the best training.

As for special privileges, we should strive to restrict (with a view of eventually eliminating), not expand them. Having special privileges for Malaysian-Indians would create the same problems for them that Malays now face: increased inequities within the community, reduced competitiveness and productivity, and worse, perpetuation and aggravation of already rigid social classes. There is no indication that Indian-Malaysians (or any other group granted privileges) have any special qualities that would spare them these blights. Indeed the problems would be worse for them.

Disproportionate Flow

Unlike the relatively homogenous Malays, Indian-Malaysians are very diverse. The problems faced by Maniam on the rubber estate are very different from that of Maidin anak/lelaki Mahmood who runs the neighborhood mamak stall, which in turn are vastly different from the tribulations of Dr. Menon of Bangsar. Rest assured that with special privileges, the benefits would flow disproportionately more to the advantaged over the disadvantaged, just as they are with Malays. Meaning, the Menons would benefit far more and at the expense of the Maniams.

Special privileges quickly breed in their recipients an undue sense of entitlement that is difficult to eradicate. The more privileged the group, the greater is this sense of entitlement. Among Malays, members of the royalty, being the most privileged, are the most insistent in demanding their “rights.” For example, the sultans insist that state land is theirs for the taking, no questions asked, not even by the chief minister. A few have been known to take the law into their own hands. When these sultans incur gambling debts on their frequent trips abroad, they expect the ambassador and the state treasury to bail them out.

Next are members of the political elite, specifically the “UMNO Putras.” Multimillion dollars are exchanged in UMNO’s money politics; none asked where the bounty originates. Of course it comes from rent-seeking activities made possible through special privileges.

Those poor folks in the kampongs and squatter settlements remain underprivileged. They do not demand anything and are resigned to, “It’s just our fate!”

As in India, Indian-Malaysians are rigidly stratified socially despite the lack of an overt caste system. With special privileges, the fate of the Tamils on the rubber estates will remain unchanged and be no different from those of kampong Malays.

One of the smartest things Nehru did on India’s independence was to pension off the maharajas and nawabs, and deprive them of their special privileges. He knew that such privileges in a rigidly stratified society would only aggravate class differences and be socially destabilizing. The social turmoil and instability in Malay society today is in part attributable to the skewed distribution of special privileges.

Indian-Malaysians constitute less than seven percent of the population, a very small minority. Their problems are further compounded by the fact they are also divided ethnically, socially and politically.

Preoccupation of Leaders

As if those were not enough, their leaders are derelict in their duty to champion the causes of their followers. These leaders are more concerned with being accepted into the Malay establishment. Give them a datukship, and these Bumiputra wannabes become “more Malay than a Malay.”

While these leaders are consumed with integrating and ingratiating themselves to the Malay elite, the message they urge upon their followers is the very opposite. “Maintain your identity, language and culture!” “Send your children to Tamil schools!” Never mind that these schools are dilapidated, poorly funded, have declining enrolment, and are dead end as an institution. They themselves do not send their children to such schools; they know better. Besides, their children deserve more!

Indian-Malaysians should learn from successful minorities elsewhere. American Jews would not have been successful had their leaders insisted that their followers send their children to Hebrew schools. Even traditionally Jewish institutions like Brandies University use English. Visit its campus and you could not distinguish it from any other American university. Many Jews even anglicized their name in order to blend in with the mainstream.

In the past, some Indian-Malaysians, especially those who were Muslims, had successfully integrated. While they may not openly acknowledge it, today many ministers, including a former prime minister, are descendants of such Indians. Ironically, they are among the most strident champions of “Ketuanan Melayu!” (Malay supremacy).

Indian-Malaysian leaders would be doing their community a great service if they were to close these Tamil schools and encourage parents to send their children to national and other schools. At the very least, their children would then have a far superior education than they would have had at their vernacular schools.

Indian-Malaysian leaders are preoccupied with building a local university and medical college. This is nothing more than an exercise at stroking their massive egos. These leaders should instead focus on improving the schools. Those children need much more help than the students accepted into medical schools. It would also be considerably cheaper and produce far greater benefits.

Contrary to the chauvinistic chanting of their leaders, the Tamil language, culture and way of life would not disappear with the closing of Tamil schools.

The ways to improve the plight of Indian-Malaysians lay less with communalistic appeals and more with adopting the insights of modern development economics. Improve their education through good schools, equip them with marketable skills, give them their freedom to practice their trade, and most of all be less paternalistic towards them. On second thought, we could also usefully apply those lessons to Malays.

True Malaysian: More Readers’ Responses

Thursday, June 9th, 2005

On Being A True Malaysian: More Readers’ Responses

[Letters are arranged from the most recent]
Dear HC:

Ethnicity and religion are here to stay, but we have to find ways and means to seek common grounds for unity, and use diversity as our strength. To me nothing is more damaging and dangerous than this “us” versus “them” mindset, and using religion or any other means for differentiation. That benefits no one in Malaysia, except the politicians (in the short term to get elected and stay in power).
I often look back nostalgically to those days in 1950s and 1960s when I used to go, eat and sleep in the homes of my Chinese and Indian friends without fear of being “contaminated.” Their parents were always sensitive that I was a Muslim; they bought halal chicken and meat, and never cooked and served pork when I was their guest. I did not have to proclaim, “I am a Muslim,” as they understood and respected who I was.
My friends also used to stay at my place. There was plenty of mutual understanding and tolerance. We studied together, exchanged notes and had discussions. But my friends and I also competed in school, to be the best in our studies and in sports. We readily acknowledged who among us emerged as the champions.
Today we seem to be divided because wittingly or unwittingly, religion has become part of national politics. The British used our ethnicity to isolate us, under their “Divide and Rule” strategy, and kept us as separate communities with different economic functions. After 1969, Tun Razak emphasized national unity by making the eliminating the identification of race with economic function as one of the objectives of the NEP. Today, Malays are in business just as the Chinese and Indians. Of course, more work needs to be done to create a viable Bumiputra Industrial and Commercial Community, especially after the 1997-1998 economic crisis.
In the 1980s, the Malays were caught in the global resurgence of Islam, precipitated by the Iranian Revolution (1979). Islam became part of our politics, for which UMNO (Anwar Ibrahim in particular) and PAS ought to bear some responsibility. The MCA, MIC and other parties in the Barisan coalition were also responsible, for their apathy permitted these Islamists to exert major influence in our politics. Now we are in the era of contentious politics. That worries me a lot.
So I am wondering whether we have become entrapped by the “British trick” except we are using religion (since in the case of the Malays, Islam is synonymous with Malayness) to keep us apart. We should get back to Rukun Negara principles. Our education system should seek to promote integration, not assimilation). We need a sense of common destiny. This is vital.
I could be entirely wrong in my analysis. I welcome your take.
Best regards,
Din Merican
—————————

Hey friends (S, HC, O and S in particular):

I agree that the best way for us to have an informed discussion is to avoid making broad, unsubstantiated claims. As we all share a common goal in finding solutions to the pressing and contentious issues in Malaysia, let us proceed in a manner that seeks to promote better understanding of the issues without unnecessarily speculating.
While personal anecdotes and experiences might be helpful, we should be careful not to extrapolate and extend them to explain issues in their entirety.
As you mentioned, the twin prongs of the NEP were to reduce poverty and to eliminate the identification of race with economic function. We cannot deny that considerable progress has been made in terms of the second objective (compare the figures in 1957-1970 and 1970-2000):

Clerical & related occupations: 1970 2000
Malays 35.4% 56.8%
Chinese 45.9% 32.9%
Administrative and managerial occupations
Malays 24.1% 37%
Chinese 62.9% 52.3%

Another way of looking at employment shifts is to look at the proportion of Malays in various sectors. In 1970, 62.3% of Malays were involved in agriculture; in 2000, only 21.5%.
In terms of the first objective, progress has been made too (although some might argue that poverty levels were reduced because of economic growth rather than state policies, while others might dispute the poverty measurement method). The poverty level in 1970 was 49.3%; 1990, 7.5%; 2002, 5.1%.
We should perhaps focus on some of the negative consequences of NEP (rise in intra-ethnic disparities as opposed to inter-ethnic disparities, and the growing sense of entitlement) rather than the successes of the policy in achieving its stated objectives.
As for private sector employment, employers’ hiring standards are not based on qualifications alone. Chinese are often overrepresented in SMALLER companies because these companies frequently employ family members or recruit new trainees through informal channels on the basis of kinship. In certain companies, the socialization process is easier when workers of the same ethnic group are recruited, hence reinforcing the pattern of ethnic-based employment. In certain industries, knowledge of Mandarin and Chinese dialects is required to communicate with suppliers and clients, and educational qualifications are of less importance.
I do not necessarily believe, for the reasons mentioned above, that a fair national policy would reduce this clannishness. Historical and cultural barriers (we can thank the British) have created ethnically segmented markets that persist even as gaps in educational qualifications between ethnic groups are reduced.
Such sweeping generalizations as private sector employment being dominated by non-Bumiputra are ill-advised. Employment policies of LARGER non-Bumi corporations are monitored by the authorities and there are annual reports that have to be submitted detailing the ethnic composition of the workforce. Due to pragmatic considerations, positions at ALL levels have increasingly been filled by Malays over the years. It might interest you that in the finance industry for example, pressure from the central bank to increase Bumi employment at every level led to a competition for competent Bumi top management that “Bumiputera senior managers and technical professionals could command an economic rent of 20 to 50 per cent because of the short-term supply shortage” (Birks and Hamzah, 1988). This implies that the lack of Bumis at higher level positions is not due solely to discriminatory policies, which brings me to my next point, the claim that Malays do not secure significant professional positions in non-Bumi companies.
This can partly be explained by company policies where upward mobility is largely internal. In order to recoup the costs of training, companies prefer to limit hiring at mid-level positions and then allow employees to rise through the ranks. This strategy also helps prevent high turnover rates that could be to the company’s detriment.
A considerable number of Malays have only started to acquire industry skills recently (previously they were content with public sector employment due to the expansion of that sector in the 70s and early 80s – from 22 state-owned enterprises in 1960 to 1014 in 1985. They eventually collapsed due to inefficiency and massive losses. Thus they have limited role in preparing Malays for higher level employment in the private sector.
Let us examine the assertion that large non-Bumi corporations have been happily riding the tide of their own profitability at the expense of the poor and needy Bumiputras. How else should non-Bumi corporations respond to state policies that blatantly favor Bumis if these corporations do not collaborate with their Malay counterparts? Do you really think that the “poor and needy Bumiputras” would gain access to the contracts if those “Ali-Baba” partnerships were disbanded? Foreign firms would probably be the main beneficiaries of any reform (think about the Japanese firms who heavily profited from the Look East Policy in the 80s).
I am not denying that some people have excelled by overcoming whatever obstacles in their way. I am merely saying that similar to Bumiputera tycoons, most of the non-Bumi ones did not compete on a level playing field (as they received monopoly rights, concessions, subsidies, etc.), so they did not really make it “fair and square.”
Best,
B O
—————

Hello BO:

Good reply on the subject so far. It is not erroneous that Bumi participation in non-Bumi company is at the polar ends: mainly as directors or office/dispatch boys. This is decided on and dependent upon how much political connection or wealth that particular Bumi has. The rest of the Bumis … well, they just don’t (or very difficult) get significant positions in those companies.
Non-Bumi companies constitute the back bone of Malaysia’s economy. It is the law in Malaysia that non-Bumi companies hire Bumi staff (look at it as a scheme to teach them how to fish). From what we have seen, this law is being mocked by hiring Bumis only for lowly positions, while reserving managerial, professional and executive positions to non-Bumis. In short, S, if he is really from a kampung, with no wealth or political connection, will find it difficult, if not impossible to have a career in such company. Even if he made it pass the entry level, he will encounter a significant amount of discrimination in the workplace. (sorry, no PhD thesis to show you the data for this….but from personal experience and from those who has been there …)
Most Malays (those without wealth or connection) find refuge in companies like Renong, Proton, KLAS, MIMOS, etc.

B————–
Bravo B:

I almost gave up on myopic tunnel vision on the postings. They cannot even continue from or even digest a simple message from Bakri’s posting.
This is where I disagree with Bakri Musa – his assertion that the increase in the costs of projects is due to preferential policy. Bumiputras are not solely to be blamed for this; they do not have a strong grip of the core of the supply chain. The rent seekers among them (which constitute a minority), instead of taking the opportunity to build their business, take the easy route of being merely “proxies” to the non-Bumi companies, which in turn end up doing the bulk of the work and thus reap the bulk of the profit.
If one were to blame the poor and corrupt implementation of this NEP, one has to look at not just the government but also the non-Bumi large corporations that have been happily riding the tide of their own profitability at the expense of poor and needy Bumiputras.
This is just one example on how the Bumi policy has been turned around to benefit the non-Bumis. I have more to say about this issue, and several others, raised in these discussions, but I am to bogged down with work to do any writing. God willing, I will do so in the near future.
Peace
O
—————–

PL:

I think you could be misleading N by putting too much faith in the Malaysian private sector. You ought to be more critical about Malaysian private institutions; they too are heavily dependent on the government. Look at their moribund performance on the KLSE.
The quality of private universities here too is suspect. Malaysian universities, private or public, pale in comparison to Harvard, Stanford or Yale. To me, the ownership of a university is not relevant. I know of some state universities in the US that are as good, for example, Michigan and the University of California. It is the culture of the institution that matters to me.
We must be frank about the prevalent culture of mediocrity and conformity (bodekism) here in Malaysia. N deserves some help. He wants to come back; that is laudable, but he has some reservations. I have written him expressing a view which may sound unpatriotic.
On balance, N should stay in the US to get more experience before returning home. Nothing is more dangerous that a young man who is disillusioned with the system.
There have been numerous instances where brilliant scientists who answered our government’s call to return home and contribute; and they have been disappointed. I know a few who have come back and have now gone elsewhere including nearby Singapore. Dr. Bakri Musa too has similar experience (please read his book, The Malay Dilemma Revisited). Of course, there is no publicity in the press about the fate of Malaysian expats.
Regards,
Din Merican
—————-

Dear S and HC:

It is erroneous to say that non-Bumi companies are willing to take Bumis only as drivers for the CEO unless you are trying to convince me that drivers make up 20-30percent of the workforce. In that case, almost every company staff member (including the tea lady and office boy) would be chauffeur-driven. Unlike traditional paternalistic family firms, most of the large organizations that you mentioned have Bumiputeras in high-level positions. Here are a few examples:

YTL directors: YB Dato’ (Dr) Yahya bin Ismail, YB Mej Jen (B) Dato Haron bin Mohd Taib, Syed Abdullah bin Syed Abd Kadir
Berjaya directors: Tan Sri Datuk Abdul Rahim Bin Haji Din, Dato Suleiman Bin Mohd Noor, Dato Hj Mohd Yusoff bin Jaafar, Mohd Zain bin Ahmad, Dato Mohd Annuar Bin Zaini
Genting deputy chairman: Tun Mohammed Hanif bin Omar

Many of the successful Chinese and Indian entrepreneurs in Malaysia have not been immune to the system of political patronage. Over the years, it has become increasingly clear that a substantial number of non-Bumi tycoons have benefited from crony capitalism and inefficient rent-seeking behaviors.
Best,
B
—————
Dear HC:

Our system can be better and fairer. To me, helping the Malays does not mean that we must deny other citizens the chance to enter university, or to sacrifice the quality of our education system. Both are not mutually exclusive. Malays need help, but they should never misuse the system and waste taxpayers’ money (non Malays too pay taxes and lots of it!!).
University education should be for those who can satisfy a set of academic criteria which must be applied as impartially as it is possible. In addition to the usual academic criteria, there must be a means test in the award of scholarships. The rich or well connected Malays, for example, must start paying for their children’s university education and not get a free ride because of their special status. Those who are given loans to further their education at university must pay back to free resources for others. That is the duty and commitment of the borrowers.
Academic brilliance is not the monopoly of any single race. There must be equal opportunity. America is a good example of upward mobility based on merit. People there have a chance to live the American dream through hard work and grit, as N C and Dr. Bakri Musa will tell you.
I am sure Dr. Bakri will respond to all the e-mails he has received on his True Malaysian article. I am glad that Dr Bakri has the courage to pen his thoughts on what is obviously a very contentious topic. You should visit his website www.bakrimusa.com.
Best regards,
Din Merican
———————

Dear All:
I believe one should take a look at the whole big picture, not only at the academic point of view (which is just a small part of the world) but from the business, trading and commerce perspectives.
First, the number of Bumiputera is more than non-Bumiputera, so obviously positions held or space allocated in the university to Bumiputera will definitely be more. Why is there injustice that if allocation is based on the race ratio? Look at the tycoons in business: Genting, Sunway Group, Thai Thong, timber tycoons, YTL group, property tycoons, all Chinese; while Maxis and Astro are Indian. I notice that none of these organizations willingly take a Malay or Bumiputera in their organization, except as a driver to the CEO. This is a fact. The managers in these organizations hire their own kind.
There are many Chinese tycoons even though they are not well educated, but they are tycoons nonetheless. My friend’s father-in-law is a timber tycoon, and my ex-secondary classmate married nephew of YTL Group and had her wedding at Marriot Hotel, a grand wedding. Some Malays just have their wedding by the roadside with tents.
These large non-Bumi organizations which dominate the economy should give a helping hand to those poorly-educated Bumiputeras, by hiring them, or perhaps sponsor them. The NEP is necessary to close the income gap between Bumis and non-Bumis. If the government does not do anything about it, it will only get worse. The whole nation cannot move forward and be a developed country because there are people who are left behind and be a drag on the economy. We have to see the big picture.
I am glad that you have a sense of belonging to Malaysia, and maybe you can use your doctorate to help the poor people in Malaysia and reduce the income gap and eventually abolish the NEP.
SA
————–

Dear N:

The key to returning home is to be in the private sector. How, I do not know. The private sector is vibrant back home.
Perhaps the way to reform higher education is through strengthening private institutions. Consider the fact that Stanford, as well as Harvard, Yale and most of the top institutions in the States are private. The key is to have private universities as well as research institutions that can get government funding.
Let us discuss how this would be possible.
P—————-

Dear Dr. Bakri:
I would like to comment on your article. Your thesis is that non-Bumiputera (henceforth NB) do not “feel like true Malaysians” because they are denied special privileges. I believe this thinking is flawed.
I hope to return to my home country on finishing my doctorate here. I am not too concerned about the financial impact of returning (with at best an 80 percent pay differential even adjusted for cost-of-living disparity), nor the fact that I will not be able to do the kind of work that interests me because the industry in Malaysia is insufficiently developed for the kind of technical work I enjoy. What concerns me greatly is that I will not be able to contribute my skills and (mediocre) talent to the progress of our country. I fear the skin ceiling, of not being able to make an impact and be given significant responsibility commensurate with my abilities, thus invalidating my reason for returning.
I believe many NBs currently residing abroad share my apprehension. The roots of our concern lie not in policies that promote the advancement of Bumiputeras, instead in the propagation of policies and ideas that tout the idea of dominance (Kedaulatan/Ketuanan Melayu).
Let me start with an example in our local universities. We all know the famous Terrence Gomez and K.S. Jomo case. Let us disregard them for a moment and look at the organization of our most celebrated institution, University Malaya. Of 12 departments, there are only 2 NB deans, one Indian and one Chinese. Similar numbers persist for Assistant Deans and other academic positions. Such a trend exists for nearly every local public university. I do not believe that there is any NB Chancellors or Vice Chancellors of local public universities (I may be wrong).
I really struggle to believe that there is such a disparity in academic prowess and/or administrative ability that there is not more representative distribution of responsibilities. Does this race-based provision in our local public universities do anything to advance the lot of Bumiputeras? Some might argue that they serve the same function as the rise of the Bumiputera business technocrat in the 1990s, that of role-model and inspiration. Of course, I fail to see how this idea holds water. How does the appointment into an important academic position of someone with little research productivity save a doctorate from, say, Kalamazoo State, inspire the next generation of Bumiputera academicians?
The same argument applies to most of our local institutions. There are some who explain the lack of NB participation in the civil service and other non private-sector institutions as an example that NBs are not interested in serving the nation and are only concerned with making money. That argument disgusts me. I firmly believe that it is not the lack of patriotism that prevents NBs from pursuing such a career, it is the not unfounded conception that one would spend the rest of one’s life doing inconsequential work, not because of one’s ability or lack thereof, but because of policies that promote the idea of dominance, not equanimity.
My point is that we should be careful to appreciate the subtleties of these policies, a point you do not make in your article. We should also recognize that there are both explicit and implicit special privileges, and it is precisely the latter, and not the former, that the majority of the disenfranchised overseas Malaysians despise. I am all for policies, especially in education, that strive to better the lot of Bumiputeras. What I and others fear is the propagation of policies that promote Bumiputera dominance, and that will alienate non-Bumiputeras and prevents them from being true Malaysians. Your article mentions that we should not let others determine our identity as Malaysians. How can we not when these policies have sunk so deeply into our national psyche that they are now not merely edicts, but a culture?
You mentioned that those of us who attend elite institutions or who are otherwise successful despite nongovernmental help, have successfully breached policies of special privileges and thus should not be concerned about these policies as we never needed them anyway (if I read you correctly). As mentioned, we are not immune to the effects of special privileges even though we have thrived despite of it.
Let me end by saying that I do not and never have believed, that Malays want this idea of a rightful dominance. Instead it is a dangerous idea espoused by a few in power and we must not allow it to thrive.
My other point is more personal. Like many others, I have been fortunate to receive substantial financial support from American institutions for my education. When all is said and done, I estimate that the total amount I will have received is in excess of US$400,000. I should owe a far greater debt, and feel more attachment to America for the opportunities which I have been privileged to enjoy, as well as the opportunities which will hopefully await me upon graduation. Yet I irrationally feel, at my heart’s core, a strong attachment to my home country, an infatuation with her and her people that persuades me to sacrifice much in the future in a vainglorious attempt to bring about some good in the country of my birth. However this desire will be for naught if I am convinced that I cannot bring about any progress, and share in the future of my country, despite my best efforts, because of the color of my skin. I believe I am not alone in this, and that many of our country’s best feel the same way. It is this that disillusion, not the 5 percent discount in the purchase of a house given to Bumiputra buyers.
NC
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Sdr Bakri,

Assalamu’alaikum,
I was on medical leave for a while after my eye surgery. It went well and I am now recovering fast. Of course I still stick to old rules like avoiding certain foods and to take my beta-carotene tablets, and Chinese medication. I can tell you that I am having my sight back. Thanks to modern technology, but above all, to Almighty God.
I read your article with interest. I have been away from home for about 20 years. I share some, if not all of your views. We have our own complexes: superior, inferior, or other. One thing I do not agree is that someone would forget his or her childhood language. This is something built in, psychologists or linguists will tell you that it is intrinsic, within you. It is not something I will forget even if I live in a remote world for a very long time, I may forget certain technical words, but I will never forget my language. I completely disagree with your Chinese fan.
I have studied 911 events and talked with Americans on the subject. I would reserve my comments, but the “cave man” is incapable of orchestrating such an event as 911. It was just too complex; it required the cooperation of so many departments and organizations. My own conclusion is contrary to the official story, so our cave man is not the culprit even though I am not a conspiracy theory maniac.
When I was in UK 30 years ago, I was approached by an English man who said to me that we Malays were so privileged. He had been fed that propaganda by many Malaysian Chinese. I asked him what was the ratio of Malay and Chinese students abroad before the NEP? Of course he did not know. Well, it was 1:5 or so in favor of the Chinese.
We all have our own little experiences. Now I am back home I cannot accept this notion of whether you are a “true” or “not true” Malaysian. There is no such thing anyway. Just be a Malaysian, that is all, do not distinguish people by the word “true.” I am a Malaysian alright, there is no “true” in it. Just like we have problems with some members of the Islamic Party (PAS) who say that their Islam is the true Islam, so they are true Muslims, others are not “true” Muslims. Come on, only God can say that.
I am now studying into another big subject of my interest, Kundalini.
So, all the best to you and your family, keep up the good work.
Best regards. Wassalam. Note: If you were to Americanize your name, you should use Moses Baker!
I

True Malaysian: Readers’ Responses

Sunday, June 5th, 2005

On Being A True Malaysian: Readers’ Responses
[Note: Responses have been edited for clarity and brevity. MBM]

Dear Bakri:
It is a long article, but I will pose some questions.
I am curious at your statement on not extending these privileges to those of other races and restricting them only to poor Bumiputras. Most of the people I know advocate extending assistance to all in need regardless of race. They are not asking for “special privileges,” because they have seen the sinister outcome of nourishing a crutch mentality. If we remove race from all of our policies, that will go a long way to mitigate the animosity that exists among the different ethnic groups today. Note that Bumiputras will still benefit most under this new proposal, if you contend that they are the largest group of the underprivileged, and by corollary they would be the largest recipients of such assistance.
On the question of being able to speak Malay, is it mandatory to be able to speak it for one to be a Malaysian? It would be in your best interest to, but I am not sure that it is a requirement for your “Malaysian-ness.” Much like it is in your best interest to be able to speak Spanish and, alas also English, in California, but it is not mandatory. The question on the minds of many Chinese is, “What do I gain by studying Malay? Would it improve my chance of getting into school, of advancing in government institutions?” The sad fact is that most Chinese have been disillusioned by the reality, so many of them do not care much about studying the language. In no small measure this is a protest to the racial policies.
HC
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Dear Bakri:
I tend to agree with HC. I do not think that non-Bumis are asking for special privileges, just equal opportunity based of merits and economic background.
JK
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Dear Bakri:
That will only happen when race is no longer a consideration in Malaysia. Right now, I’ll just join you, arm in arm, in our dreams.
RL
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Dear Bakri:
I think we should also be truthful with ourselves. If “special privileges” is a term applied only to Bumiputras (pardon my ignorance but I cannot be sure that it applies only to them), then let us just face the truth head on and call it “racial discrimination.” I am too, for getting rid of race as a policy and simply providing more assistance to ALL under-privileged people, regardless of race. Then, whether you restrict or extend it is not my concern. The race card is the true Malaysian dilemma, and it need not be so. Underneath our skin, we are all equal in the eyes of God/Allah. I consider that I have Malaysian characteristics, for example, in the kinds of food I enjoy, but I have never considered myself a “true Malaysian” nor do I aspire to be one, whatever that means. I have often imagined what Malaysia would be like if we were all treated equally and fairly as simply Malaysians.
I will continue to pray for such a day to come. You may say that I am a dreamer, but I am not the only one.
Regards,
RL
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Dear Bakri:
Quite the contrary, I think when Malaysia has reached the enlightened state of being race-blind, we can freely call ourselves Malaysian or Malaysian-XXX, whatever that suits your fancy. Until then, obliterating your ethnic background will not achieve anything positive, just look at how the Indonesian Chinese are being treated. They speak Indonesian, adopt Indonesian names, even convert to Islam, and what is the result? They are despised and persecuted more for losing their dignity. I say be proud of your heritage and stand up for your rights. The Jews were being persecuted for thousands of years, yet never backed down and forsake their heritage and identity. That’s courage and perseverance.
HC———-
Bakri,
I am glad you stated your points clearly. Being Malaysian is a state of mind. I could be something else, even an American the way an immigrant Pole or Italian is, and it would not have made much difference to me as a person.
In today’s world, one’s nationality is increasingly irrelevant. But I am not suggesting that there is no such thing as being patriotic (which I define as being loyal to one’s country and being willing to put one’s life on the line in defense of the country). My stakes are in Malaysia and I will be loyal to and defend my country. All citizens should.
I am a mixed bag of racial blood (my mom was from Sri Lanka of Tamil descent, my Dad’s father was half Chinese, and my paternal grandmother was a Malay Bugis). I am Malay, my faith is Islam, and I am a Muslim. I have also been labeled a “Mamak.” That is not going to change either as far as I am concerned. Since I was born in Malaya, that made me a Malayan, and when Malaya became Malaysia in 1963, I was classified as a Malaysian, and now I carry a Malaysian passport. If I decide to live in Australia, after a while I can become an Australian. As a citizen of Australia I would defend her as any other Australian. And it would not make any difference as to who am I. I am still a Muslim and a Malay (and a Mamak too!!).
My daughter, 13, is French by nationality because of her French-Cambodian mother, although she was born in Singapore. I never objected to that, and have no regrets. Let us forget about labels. We should no longer worry what others label us, my dear friend.
Your father Allahyarham Pak Musa taught you to have an open mind because he could see the future, although he could not articulate (no one else could) what the 21st century would be like. But Pak Musa acted on his instincts. He molded you to be different and gave you the encouragement and courage to be different. What a difference that has made to you. You are good human being, a Malay, a Muslim, and a successful professional doctor and surgeon. Your Malaysian nationality has not prevented you from living your life the way you saw fit. Even if you were American, you are still a Malay and a Muslim.
Regards,
Din Merican
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Dear Bakri:
Basically, the question I would like to throw is: How far should we go with the ideal of a race-blind Malaysia?
Two things: We do not need one bland culture or identity to be race-blind; we can celebrate our differences without being prejudiced of one another. That is the sociology textbook definition of NOT being racist. Affirmative action should be abolished not for the sake of the non-Bumis but for the sake of the people who are receiving it. This is only according to the philosophy of teaching the hungry how to fish instead of simply giving them a fish. This has been Dr. Mahathir’s dilemma for a long time. Those waiting for a handout from the government will never learn to be competitive.
Please keep in mind that this is not a problem of one race or culture, it is simply a folly of human behavior. Ironically, I had to leave Malaysia to really begin loving it. You never know what you have till it’s gone!
LZ
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Dear Dr. Bakri:

Thank you for sharing that. I believe that I am a “child of the universe….” Asking who is more Malaysian is just like asking who is more Muslim. We can also ask: Are you a “true” Malay? We are just born that way.
There have been times when I felt ashamed to be Malay. At times I even wished that I was a mixture of say, Chinese! I would probably have been fairer, cleverer, luckier and better off. But having entered the fifth decade of being “me,” I have no choice but to accept me for being who I am: a Malay, a Malaysian, and a Muslim.
As for my children, I can only hope that they will become even better citizens, having had the advantage of living in several parts of the UK, Ireland and elsewhere. My eldest daughter, K, was born in Cairo 27 years ago, but she is Malay, 100 percent! She married a kampong boy and is expecting a baby sometime in September, God Willing! My eldest son, A, had decided since he was a little boy that he will someday marry a “rich” woman. I do not think race or even nationality has any bearing. My youngest son, AA, aspires to be a neurosurgeon and thinks he will one day marry a “Mat Salleh” lady. My daughter, A, is getting engaged next month to her “Best friend” who looks 90 percent Chinese. His father is a Sabahan-Chinese Muslim convert. They are both reading Medicine in the UK. Oh, my number four, H, has been going steady with his high school sweetheart of Javanese origin.
Back in 1993 when we had to return to Malaysia for good, we were so unhappy. So who can rightly say that you are not a “true” Malaysian? Isn’t there the whole wide world to live and work? If you were not a Malaysian, I do not think that you would even bother to write regularly about our homeland. You have published your very own books. How many of us have done that? We all here are the katak bawah tempurong (frog beneath a coconut shell) while you with your brilliant ideas and suggestions are out there. You perceive things differently. It would not have been the case if you were living here permanently. In your heart, you are STILL a Malaysian, and always will be.
Regards,
M
P.S: I saw some people cutting down the rambutan trees at your late parent’s house recently.
——–

Dear Bakri:

My ideal Malaysia is exactly what the Tourism Department is trying to sell, “Malaysia, the True Asia,” where the different cultures are celebrated. Let Malaysia forms its own identity by way of natural evolution, not with artificial and arbitrary dictation from any group of people.
HC
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Dear Dr. Bakri Musa:

Interesting article! Here are my thoughts.
On the question of nationality or religion there can be no leeway, either you are a Muslim or you are not; likewise, either you are a Malaysian or you are not. There is no such category as a better Muslim or true Malaysian. What constitutes a better Muslim or a true Malaysian? As long as you subscribe to the five pillars of Islam, then you are a Muslim. Likewise, as long as you carry a Malaysian Identity Card or passport, then you are a Malaysian.
To me the question is best answered by the individual. Am I a Malaysian or am I not? The test is how you feel about your identity. Some are embarrassed to admit that they are Malaysians or Muslims, thus arises the issue of being a true Malaysian or Muslim. If the person carries a Malaysian passport but does not consider himself or herself a true Malaysian, then what nationality is that person? If the person does not feel that he or she is a true Malaysian then I suggest he or she should give up his or her Malaysian citizenship and apply to be the citizen of the country that he or she feels best suited or where he or she can be proud to be identified with.
The other issue is rights versus privileges. All Malaysians have the same rights except some are accorded certain privileges. Not having these privileges does not make a person any less of a Malaysian. To vote and live in Malaysia is a right to all Malaysians; these cannot be withdrawn. Privileges can be withdrawn at any time. The dissatisfaction over privileges will not happen if they are accorded to those deserving and not to those well connected. Take the example of scholarships given to children of ministers. They can well afford the fees and tuition. This is an abuse of the privileges. More importantly such abuses deprive the more deserving students of a chance.
Then there is the issue of implementation. The government needs to clearly delineate the policies of its various departments. We have JPA giving out scholarships and we also have MARA doing the same. We should clearly define that JPA gives scholarships to all deserving Malaysians and let MARA handle only the Malays or Bumiputras. MARA should be like the Bureau of Indian Affairs if you want to take it that far. When you have two government agencies duplicating their efforts then there will be more waste and inefficiency. JPA should offer scholarships based on the population ratio and let MARA take up the slack for Bumiputras or Malays.
To date few have questioned the efforts of MARA to alleviate the economic status of Malays and Bumiputras. Malaysians have accepted the role of MARA in the advancement of Malays and Bumiputras. MARA on the other hand needs to focus on activities that best meet these objectives and refrain from others that are not productive in the furthering those objectives. Currently we have enough colleges under MARA to accommodate Malays in higher education. MARA also needs to realize that there should be meritocracy in accepting Malays for its colleges as well. Not all Malays are college material, and not all Malays need college education. Some are more suited for farming; others are more interested in technical skills and vocational studies. Not everyone should get a degree. When our car breaks down, do we get an automotive engineer to fix it or do we get a mechanic?
Admissions to MARA colleges also flawed. Selection criteria need to be changed and should be based on need rather than demographics. There are more deserving Malays from the rural areas that are deprived of an opportunity to further themselves. I have personally met and interviewed them.
On the subject of merit, top ranking colleges and universities in the US have no problem getting the top SAT and GPA scorers for their freshman class. But through my experience as International Student Advisor and Director of Student Services, these universities would like to have diversity of talent and leadership qualities from their freshman class. The universities know they can deliver a sound education, so the question for them is what can the applicant brings to the campus apart from their academic scores. Usually the Director of Admissions will have the applicant write a short essay on why he/she should be accepted and what skills or special qualities he/she will bring to campus.
Being a Malaysian and living in the US does not make me any less Malaysian. Otherwise why do I pay so much attention to what is going on in Malaysia? Residency does not determine my nationality or my patriotism. I chose the US for both economic reason as well as educational opportunities for my children.
Yes there is a price to pay. Just like you, I have been labeled Melayuka or Malay American. There is a certain amount of envy among Malays but if given the chance, they too will be the first to grab the opportunity to live in the US. There is the other issue of “Malayism” that holds Malays back from venturing abroad en mass, and that is the kampong mentality, the adat and pepatah, and the false sense of security in numbers.
I remember my uncles and aunties saying “Kau nak pergi duduk di Amerika? Macam mana kalau sakit pening? Siapa nak jaga kau?” [You want to live in America? Who is going to take care of you when you are sick?”] My answer is Allah. Allah will take care of me, but under my breath I say that in the US there are hospitals to take of the sick people. Even in Malaysia when we are sick, do our relatives care for us?
This topic is interesting and I can talk or write forever but suffice to say that living in LA has not made me any less of a Malaysian or Muslim.
Wassalam and best regards,
IK