Who To Vote For In The Next Election

April 7th, 2013

Who To Vote For In the Next Election

M. Bakri Musa




Elections A System for Checks and Balances

[First of Four Parts]


When he dissolved Parliament on April 3, 2013, to make way for a general election, Prime Minister Najib advised us to “think and ponder appropriately” before casting our votes.


We can practice two mental exercises to help us “think and ponder appropriately.” One, imagine the best and worse possible consequences of our vote, that is, perform a “downstream analysis” of our decision. Two, reflect on the greater role of election as an effective bulwark against abuse of power by those in authority.


I will discuss the broader role of elections first. Subsequent essays will be a downstream analysis of the only three possible outcomes to this election:  Barisan Nasional returning to power; Pakatan Rakyat to prevail; and a “hung” parliament.


The most effective check on those in power is the knowledge that they could be replaced in an election. The more this is a reality and not just in theory, the more effective is this critical role. Elections serve as periodic useful reminders.


Even where elections are fair and free, but if the same leaders and party were to be re-elected over and over, they would sooner or later succumb to sclerosis and abuse of power, regardless how competent and well meaning they were initially. It is the rare leader who could escape this all-too-human tendency. We must have actual periodic change in government through elections, and not just the promise.


With rigged and fraudulent elections, or where the process is merely illusory, as with having only one candidate per slot (Russian elections of yore and the election of UMNO President), the less effective they would be in keeping those in power accountable. Saddam Hussein bragged that those who did not like him could always vote him out, but Iraqi elections under him were a sham. Had he kept those elections honest, he would have discovered his people’s true sentiment much earlier, and the price to both him and his country would have been considerably less.


The British decided through elections that their popular and effective wartime leader Churchill would not be the best person to lead them during peacetime. They wisely concluded that he would quickly turn the Cold War into a “hot” one, as reflected by his hawkish and haughty Iron Curtain speech.


Yes, the British were grateful to him for leading and inspiring them during the war, but that gratitude could be expressed in many other ways. Elections are for selecting the best future leaders, not for expressing gratitude for or rewarding past performance, no matter how exemplary.


Foremost and at the practical level, election is a way to pass judgment on the incumbent. It is not, as some have suggested, a contest between the incumbent and challenger. It is for the incumbent to prove that he deserves another term independent of the merit or capability of the challenger. The incumbent’s performance is a matter of record, and can be readily scrutinized.


If the incumbent has proven to be less than capable, then he should be voted out even if the challenger is thought of as potentially not up to the task of taking over. The argument would be that the incumbent has proven himself incapable while the challenger is only regarded (meaning, only potentially) as such. There is the possibility that our initial assessment could be wrong and that the challenger would prove otherwise. There are many ready examples of previously underrated candidates later shining in office; Harry Truman being one.


The first and only question voters must ask before casting their votes in this next election is whether the current Barisan government is deserving of another term. All other matters, as whether other parties are capable of taking over, are irrelevant and besides, conjectural.


Consider three critical areas:  economy, education, and level of corruption. Barisan’s economic leadership is passable. It is exemplary only when compared to that of Zimbabwe. Granted, by the figures Malaysia outperforms America and Western Europe (and even Singapore), but remember those countries are already cruising at high altitude. We are still ascending. We need faster growth. We should compare ourselves to China and Panama. Even Ghana and Laos surpassed us last year.


More pertinent especially to those under the sway of Perkasa and Ketuanan Melayu, is the aggregate economic performance of Malays. After nearly six decades of UMNO rule, we still could not achieve our modest 30 percent goal.


Then there is education. No one, not even the Minister of Education himself, is satisfied with our schools. Those who can afford it have long ago abandoned the national stream. Again looking from the Perkasa and Ketuanan Melayu angle, only poor Malays are stuck with that rapidly declining system. Consequently, while a generation ago I could still find many Malays at the leading universities of the world; today Malays there are as rare as honesty among UMNO politicians.


The much-heralded growth of the private sector in education is not a sign of health rather the contrary. It reflects a deteriorating public system. Alberta and Singapore do not have robust private-sector education because their public systems are so much superior.


Talking about corruption, well, there is no point dwelling on it anymore. We are past the tipping point; we are now where Nigeria was in the 1980s. The only way to stop corruption is to deprive UMNO of power. The recent Court of Appeal decision granting one Eskay Abdullah, an UMNO strongman and a member of the slimy “Datuk T’s” trio, his RM20 million “commission” on the aborted crooked bridge in Johor reflects the rot in UMNO. We cannot blame non-Malays for seeing that as the characteristic of contemporary Malay politics and ethics.


Elections are like multiple choice tests, to pick the best candidate from the list offered The incumbent always argue that his past performance had been superior or at any rate better than what his opponents could ever hope to achieve; the challenger offers the promise of a brighter future. Voters have to balance the risk of changing horse midstream versus being stuck with a lame one to face an incoming flood.


Malaysians already know how lame our current horse is. Worse, it has a voracious appetite that is severely taxing us, literally and figuratively. This next election is an opportunity for Malaysians to send this lame one to the glue factory and hitch our ride on a new vigorous steed.


There is only one effective way to teach those who have long been in power and grown arrogant into believing that they are destined to rule forever, and that is to vote them out of office. Then even if their successor were to prove less than satisfactory, it would still have served a salutary lesson on both.


Mexico’s PRI of today is a much superior political party and led by a much younger, more capable and decidedly less corrupt leader than it was a decade ago when it was booted out after having been in power continuously for the preceding 71 years.


Those who believe that UMNO is “rotten to the core,” no amount of calls for transformation and reform from within or without would be as effective as throwing the party out.


Malaysia has another equally important reason to see regular changes in government. Stated briefly, it is to teach our sultans specifically and the permanent establishment generally the important lesson of being politically neutral. They cannot bank on or be overly cozy with the ruling party. That our sultans and civil servants have yet to learn this crucial lesson of democracy was demonstrated by the ugly political mess in Perak, and to a lesser extent in Selangor and Trengganu following the last election.


It is also for this reason that I am optimistic of a smooth transition at the federal level with the coming general elections should Barisan be booted out. We are fortunate to have Kedah’s Sultan Halim as Agong, not because he had that role earlier, rather his recent experience with the smooth transition from UMNO to PAS in his home state following the 2008 election. His performance then shamed his brother rulers in Perak (especially), Selangor, and Trengganu.

Our sultans and members of the permanent establishment too need frequent reminding on the need to be politically neutral and to be professional about it.


Next:  Second of Four Parts:  Downstream Analysis – A Barisan Win is No Victory for Malaysia

Suaris Interview: The Future of Malays #7

March 9th, 2013

 Suaris Interview:  The Future of Malays #7:  Touching on the economy, while to date Malays have made some progress nonetheless the new generation considers that insignificant. They demand a bigger share of the cake, at least 30 percent. How can we achieve this target?

[The original appeared in www.suaris.wordpress.com on February 27, 2013
MBM:  To begin with, which mortal has declared that Malays are entitled to 30 percent? In which verse is it so written? Why 30 and not 60 or 20? Queried thus, it is obvious that the figure 30 percent is only the figment of someone’s imagination, or more correctly, fantasy. Whether we control 20 or 60 percent of the economy would depend entirely on our efforts and initiatives, not based on some written parchment.
            I agree that our achievement thus far, and not just in economics, is far from satisfactory. It is in fact pathetic when you consider that UMNO, meaning Malays, have been ruling the country for over half a century. Whom can we blame – leaders or citizens?
            Economic development depends of us, individually and as a society, having and running successful enterprises. A successful enterprise requires three essential capitals. Most are familiar with only financial capital – money. More important, and we do not emphasize enough, are human and social capitals. We provide literally billions in financial capital, but because we ignore the other two, our enterprises often fail or do not succeed well.
            When I began my private practice in America, I did not have any money but because of the value of my human capital was high (being a surgical specialist), I had no difficulty borrowing from the bank. That reflects the primacy of human over financial capital. When your human capital is high, financial capital is not an issue.
            The bank was not shy in lending me money even though I was a recent immigrant to America and had no friends or family to guarantee the loan. That reflects the high quality of America’s social capital. The bank had faith in the system that I had received my medical credentials legitimately and not through corrupt or nefarious means. Consequently it had confidence in my competence and thus potential success as a private practitioner.
            Had America’s social capital been low and I could obtain my license through corrupt means or through a degree mill (there was a time in America in the not-too-distant past when that was possible), there would be no assurance that I would be competent. My patients too would sooner or later discover that I was a fraud or a physician in name only.
            If American society has low social capital, the banks would not readily grant loans especially to a recent immigrant (pendatang as it were), non-white person (not an American Bumiputra, to put in Malaysian perspective), or someone who shares the religion as Osama bin Ladin. I might not repay the loan on the basis that interest payment is sinful!
            Compare America’s social capital to Malaysia’s, especially Malays’. Could a competent Malay engineer who is a member of PAS get a loan from Bank Islam or land a contract with the UMNO government?
            Jamaluddin Jarjis, former Malaysian Ambassador to United States, related how he had difficulty securing a loan from local banks to start his engineering consultancy firm in the 1970s even though he had a PhD in engineering from McGill, an elite university. Now that he is an UMNO strong man, they line up not only to lend but also give him money! That reflects the low quality of our social capital.
            A few years ago a student at a leading American university had her scholarship withdrawn because her father was active in PAS. Again, that reflects our low social capital! A society with high social capital values the individual’s talent and ability; a society with low social capital values who and not what he knows.
            The problem of financial capital is readily solvable; not so with human and social capitals. If we do not elevate the value of Malay human and social capitals, there is no hope for us regardless how generous the quotas or lucrative the contracts we reserve for ourselves. We could kiss goodbye the 30 percent goal, or even the 20 percent!
            To enhance our social capital, we must separate as far as possible the incestuous relationship between politics and economics. Granted, we cannot fully divorce the two as they are inextricably linked, but politics in Malaysia generally and Malay society specifically interferes with or more correctly poisons the other sectors especially economic.
            Our academics are less scholars and intellectuals, more UMNO activists. Peruse their resume and intellectual output. No wonder they are caricatured as Professor Kangkong (pseudo scholars). The tragic consequence is not just the plummeting of the quality of our universities but a whole generation of young Malaysians are wasted.
            If we do not have qualified local or Malay experts, don’t hesitate in getting foreigners. Even America has many foreign professors. In all my school years in the 1950s I had only one Malay teacher (other than those teaching me Malay). Likewise at university, as I studied abroad. Yet I did not feel in anyway deprived academically or felt less Malay. Nor was my education inadequate or that I have fallen under the sway of foreigners.
            I care only the competent and diligent to teach our students. There is no pride if they were taught by incompetent or less diligent Malay professors. Where is the pride of being operated by a Malay surgeon if you have to suffer the consequences of his inadequate skills? What pride is there if a Malay engineer were to design our bridges but there is more water flowing over than underneath them?
            A society with high social capital values the expertise and talent of the individual, not his race, tribe or political views.
            Consider the many government-sponsored enterprises like FELDA aimed at helping Malays. I would expect such entities to be led by competent individuals with at least an MBA and vast corporate or private sector experience, not discredited politicians and retired civil servants. Isa Samad, FELDA’s head, has zero private sector experience; he could not even run a roadside coffee stall. What is his legacy after leading Negri Sembilan for decades?
            To enhance our social capital we must value the competent and industrious regardless of their political sympathies (UMNO or PAS), religious preferences (hijab wearers or fond of gowns and jeans), or the singers they admire (Ito or Siti). We must also not be tolerant of those who are corrupt, incompetent or have repeatedly abused our trust in them no matter how much they praise us, or bribe us with our own (taxpayers’) money.
            In short, a society with high social capital practices meritocracy. I purposely avoided using that term as it is so often confused with or limited to mean only paper qualifications and test scores. Its true scope is much broader.
            On another front, a society with high social capital saves diligently and is not wasteful. The act of savings goes beyond simply putting money in the bank and being prudent. It reflects an ability to think and plan for the future. Those who do so are more likely to thrive. A society with high savings rate has ample “capital formation” to finance economic development, as exemplified by the Japanese and South Koreans.
            When Datuk Onn and Za’aba talked about “correcting” Malays, they meant that even though they were not aware of the concept of social capital. There is nothing wrong with Malay society; we need only enhance our social and human capitals.
            If one has high human capital but lives in a society with low social capital, one could always migrate to where the social capital is high. Every year thousands of Chinese, Indians and Europeans leave their native land to do exactly that.
            The quality of human capital is dependent on health and education. The first is obvious; if you sickly, you are not likely to be productive. The second is related to enhancing citizens’ skills, ingenuity and diligence. Consider Proton; while manufacturing cars it could also train mechanics. Once the value of their human capital is enhanced, then only provide them with the necessary financial capital so they could open their own workshops. Do so and within a few years we would see Ahmad Auto Repairs and Mahmud Motorworks mushrooming in Malaysian towns. Who gets the franchise to operate Petronas stations at present? Politicians who have no idea the difference between struts and carburetors!
            Likewise with contracts for canteens in schools and public buildings; those should be given to graduates of MARA catering programs. Once they have completed their training (thus have enhanced human capital), only then provide them with the financial capital and contracts. Once they are successful as canteen operators they would expand into their own restaurants and catering services.
            Every year the government gives out for free valuable state land. Who gets them? UMNO operatives who are loath to get their fingernails dirty. Why not give those land to agricultural graduates of UPM?
            Enhance our human and social capitals; the two are far more crucial than financial capital. If we ignore developing our human and social capitals we might as well kiss goodbye our 30 percent goal. Any other pursuits are but fantasy.
Cont’d.:  Suaris Interview. The Future of Malays # 8: You have written much on improving our education. Is the present system capable of preparing Malays for the future? If not what should be done to improve, replace and overcome those deficiencies?

Suaris Interview: The Future of Malays #6

March 3rd, 2013

Suaris Interview:  The Future of Malays Part 6.   What is your view on PAS and its leadership? Do you think that their policies and struggles would usher or obstruct Malay/Muslim development in our country?

 [The original in Malay appeared in www. Surais.wordpress.com on Feb 20, 2013.]

 MBM:  The leaders and policies of PAS do not impress me. That however, is irrelevant. More pertinent is that those leaders and their policies will cause Malays and Muslims to regress. Whether we would enter Paradise under PAS, only God knows, and He is not telling me or anyone else.

PAS has two fundamental flaws. First, it is confused on whether to be a political party, meaning one that aspires to one day hold power and lead the country, or a religious entity. The two are not necessarily incompatible but PAS has yet to choose which one has the greater priority. The price for this blurring of objective is that the organization does not excel in either.

Second, PAS is not democratic. The highest and ultimate authority lies not with its members, as it should be, rather an unelected Council of Ulamas. Worse, that council is restricted only to ulamas. Where is it written that only ulamas have the ability, wisdom or privilege to lead?

In a democracy, the ultimate power must lie with voters or members. Were PAS to govern, would its ministers be answerable to Parliament or the Council of Ulamas? Which body has the higher and ultimate authority? According to our constitution, it is Parliament; to PAS, the Council of Ulamas.

This is no small matter. Consider the current crisis in Iran where its unelected Majlis Syura is in conflict with the elected Parliament. I have no problem with the Ulama Council being merely advisory. The Ulama Council must respect and defer to Parliament. There is no place for anointed leadership in a democracy. Sovereignty lies with citizens.

On another level, PAS is consumed with labels rather than content. Its leaders are obsessed with hudud and the Islamic State but fail to declare what they mean by those terms. Which Islam state do they hold up as a model? Iran and Saudi Arabia?

Likewise with hudud; as non-Muslims are spared, criminals would be punished based not on the crimes they commit rather their faith. A Muslim committing adultery would be sentenced to death by stoning; a non-Muslim would suffer only the fury of their spouse. A Muslim caught stealing would have his hand chopped off; a non-Muslim would suffer merely a fine or jail sentence. Is that just? If it is not just, it cannot be Islamic. PAS has yet to address let alone reconcile this conflict.

The party’s greatest weakness is that its leadership core singularly lacks management talent. The skills needed for running a modern state are very different from that of being an ulama. The training, academic qualifications and experience of our ulamas are very narrow. They have never been exposed to the behavioral sciences, while their understanding of modern science and technology is abysmal. Their mindset is equally circumscribed.

As for their political skills, PAS leaders have not shown the ability and aptitude for cooperating with like-minded players, specifically their fellow partners in Pakatan even on already agreed-upon goals. They behave little kids; play ball my way or I’ll take it away. They view compromise as a sign of weakness. They forget that politics, as Bismarck wisely observed, is essentially the art of the possible.

Kelantan reflects the management talent or lack thereof with PAS. After leading it for decades, cholera, which has been wiped out elsewhere, is still endemic. Low level of public health is directly the consequence of managerial ineptitude. The people of Kelantan, overwhelmingly Malays, remain the poorest in the nation. Again that reflects the limitations of a PAS administration.

I have tremendous respect for Tok Nik Aziz as an ulama but voters elected him to be chief minister, not chief ulama. He should be humble enough to acknowledge his significant limitations as an administrator. That is his major weakness and fault. Had he been aware, or humble enough to be made aware of, he would have sought competent advisors.

Consider Reagan, revered as one of America’s greatest presidents. He readily acknowledged his intellectual and managerial limitations but he was very confident of where he wanted to take his nation. So he recruited the most talented and accomplished individuals to his cabinet so they could help him achieve his goals.

There are many such Malaysians, Kelantanese specifically. Why couldn’t Tok Aziz co-opt a few of them? Perhaps they could not recite the Koran and do not wear big turbans and flowing robes but if they are competent executives, that should be good enough. Frankly I could not care less even if they were not Malays or Muslims. You want someone to make sure that the rubbish is picked up regularly and the welfare of citizens taken care of.

PAS is obsessed with the Islamic State. Many, and not just non-Muslims, disagree with that. Yet PAS remains stubborn. Wouldn’t it be more meaningful and productive if PAS leaders were to understand and appreciate the reasons for the lack of enthusiasm and outright opposition? The greatest fear is that Malaysia would become another Iran or Saudi Arabia. Even Tok’ Aziz’s wife would oppose that. Imagine, women not allowed to drive!

How do your allay their fears and make them see your viewpoint? One thing is certain. If you label them as apostates or kafirs, that would surely alienate them.

PAS should focus on content and not be consumed with labels. Work with your Pakatan partners to get rid of corruption, abuse of power, and those laws that denigrate the human condition. Those are all wrong from the Islamic perspective. Do that and we that much closer to an Islamic state. To me, an Islamic state is one where there is peace, justice, prosperity, free of corruption, and abuse of power. Never mind the label.

Clearly UMNO today has strayed far from our Islamic ideals. Corruption, cronyism, and abuse of power are the antithesis of things Islamic. They cannot be mollified with the building of ornate mosques or having gala Maulad Nabi parades.

The upcoming general election will be a choice between a party that has a wee bit of competence in statecraft but is riddled with greed, corruption and abuse of power among its leaders, UMNO, versus another that is sorely lacking in managerial capability but whose leaders are pious, honest, and not obsessed with materialism, PAS. Which would one choose?

Of course we all would like the choice of competent, honest and efficient leaders, but Allah has not given us that.

Elections are like multiple choice tests, you select the best answer from the list given. Given the choice we have, I would unhesitatingly pick PAS over UMNO. We can easily train someone to be better executives or help them by supplying those talents. It would be considerably more difficult if not impossible to change someone’s inner core of greed, corruptness, and repeated breaches of faith. Leaders with those ugly traits would continue to get worse, if given the power and opportunity.

This upcoming election is an opportunity for Malaysians to deny the corrupt, the cheaters, and the greedy that power and opportunity.

Cont’d:  Suaris Interview:  The Future of Malays #7:  Touching on the economy, while to date Malays have made some progress nonetheless the new generation considers that as insignificant. They demand a bigger share of the cake, at least 30 percent. How can we achieve this target?

Suaris Interview: The Future of Malays #5

February 24th, 2013

Suaris Interview:  The Future of Malays #5:  It appears that you are cynical towards things labeled “Islam.” Many feel that you do not subscribe to conservative Islam as practiced by the vast majority of Muslims rather the basic teachings of our faith. What is your comment?

 [The original was posted on suaris.wordpress.com on Feb 13, 2013.]

MBM:  I am a Muslim, by birth and through practice. I believe in God and Muhammad, s.a.w, as His Last Messenger, as well as the five pillars of our faith. That of course is the belief of all Muslims.

What is the essence of the teachings of our Holy Koran and Prophet Muhammad, s.a.w.? Command good and forbid evil! That is repeated many times in our Koran and hadith. That too is agreed upon by all Muslims.

That is the “golden rule” of our faith. I am less interested in labels, those can be easily printed. Content is something else. If a state does not subscribe to the creed of doing good and forbidding evil, then I do not consider it to be Islamic regardless of the label. It is easy to carve the names “Allah” and “Muhammad” on arches and buildings; likewise for leaders to don overflowing robes and huge turbans.

The question is whether corruption, bribery, and abuse of power are deemed “avoidance of evil.” Likewise, if leaders ignore the sufferings and deprivations of their citizens, could that be considered “doing good?” When I make judgment on whether a state is Islamic, those are the crucial factors, not how often the leaders have been to Mecca or how exquisite their recitation of the Koran.

A Singaporean once asserted that his country is more Islamic than neighboring Indonesia. In Singapore there is no corruption or abuse of power by its leaders. Citizens too are well taken care of and not poverty stricken. Poverty invites impiety, goes an ancient wisdom, and impiety in turn leads to infidelity to our faith. Visit nearby Riau and the wisdom of that observation would be readily self evident. The abject poverty there assaults your sensibilities. We cannot blame those poor Indonesians. The Chinese too were like that when they were plagued with poverty in their not-too-distant past.

Based on the foundation of our faith – command good and forbid evil – it is hard to dispute the view of the Singaporean.

I do not quite understand the meaning of conservative versus liberal as applied to Islam. While I understand the meaning of those two words in their original English, in Malay those terms have acquired diametrically opposite meanings. That is why I refrain from using either.

It would be more meaningful if I were to give an example of an Islamic society and leader I hold in high regards and compare both with another I would be very hesitant in emulating. It is not my place to say which one is more Islamic and would enter Paradise. Only Allah knows that, and He is not telling me or anyone else.


There are fewer than 15 million Ismailis in the world, about the same number as Malays in Malaysia. Those Ismailis do not even have a country of their own, but their power, influence and contributions to the world generally and Muslim community specifically far exceed their number.


Ismailis emphasize the giving of zakat (tithe), and with that money they build schools and universities, as well as invest in companies that among other things manufacture pharmaceuticals. The Aga Khan University Hospital in Pakistan was built only in 1985 but it is already a well known center. The Ismailis could not care less whether their women don their hijab; they are more concerned that their women be trained as doctors, teachers and engineers so they could contribute to society, to be makhlok soleh (exemplary beings).

Compare them to the Talibans in Afghanistan. Taliban means students, but those students are busy burning schools and splashing acids on young girls wanting to go to school. Taliban youths are busy leaning how to use C4 explosives and high-powered AK47 rifles; young Ismailis are busy solving problems in science and calculus.

A society reflects its leaders. The leader of the Ismailis is the Aga Khan. Yes, he is wealthy, raises thoroughbreds, and his father was once married to Rita Hayward, the famed American actress. The current Aga Khan however, graduated from Harvard; he leveraged his networking with American intellectuals to entice them to teach at the universities he built in Asia.

The leader held in high regards by the Taliban was Osama. He too was wealthy and qualified as an engineer from a Saudi university, but he expended his wealth and skills to destroy buildings and kill people.

Who better “command good and forbid evil,” Aga Khan or Osama? I let readers determine whether Malay society today is closer to the Ismailis or the Taliban. Again, I leave it to readers to decide whether the Ismailis or Taliban we should emulate.

We are obsessed with hudud and hijab while drug abuse and abandoned babies are rampant in our community. Why should we emphasize hudud and not zakat? We should be mandating zakat on every Muslim including the sultans. It is one of the five pillars of our faith; hudud is not.

If everyone (save the poor) pay their zakat (2.5 percent of their assets), and then we employ the smartest economists and investment bankers to manage those funds, there would be no end to the good those would bring. That is exactly what the Ismailis are doing, building schools and hospitals with their zakat. What are the benefits of the Taliban’s zakat? If we emphasize hudud, many would end up with their hands chopped off. Who will feed them and their families?

We best demonstrate our Islamic values by not tolerating the corrupt and incompetent, as well as those who have abused our trust in them. Our Koran commands thus.

Yes, we have to accept Islam in its totality; we do not have the privilege of picking and choosing only those parts that please us. The crucial question is why should we emphasize hijab and the chopping of hands but tolerate rotten education and gross corruption? What should be our priority? That reflects our values.

Consider education. Hamka once said that God gave us two Korans; one, the Koran we are all familiar with; two, the universe outside and within us. For the first, Allah had given us a prophet in the person of Muhammad, s.a.w., to guide us in studying it. For the second, God had blessed us with an intellect so we could reason and distinguish between good from evil, truth from falsehood. We have an obligation to study both Korans.

Scientists elucidating the secrets of the polio virus could be viewed as studying this second Koran. The result was the discovery of a vaccine that had spared millions from the devastating disease. That is “doing good.” The Taliban however, view the vaccine as a poison perpetrated by the infidels. Consequently polio still afflicts many in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Again based on the golden rule of our faith, is that “doing good?”

In the early centuries of our faith, our ulama did not differentiate between worldly and religious knowledge. Both ultimately originate from God. Those ancient ulama were also proficient scientists, competent physicians, and skilled mathematicians. They were as diligent in studying this second Koran as the first. Today’s ulama however, totally ignore this second Koran. To them it is not worthy of study. The ummah takes their cue from the ulama; consequently, Muslims have not contributed our share for the betterment of mankind.

We should be concerned with such critical issues as how to educate our young so they could make their rightful contributions to society. Do good in this world and God will look kindly upon you on the Day of Judgment. He is after all Most Just!

Consider this ahadith (approximately translated):  A prostitute was admitted into heaven because she once saved a dog dying of thirst by giving it water. Do you think such women wear hijabs? Another ahadith has it that a man was admitted to Heaven because he once removed a thorn from a road. If that deed was worthy of admission to Paradise, imagine the rewards for someone who actually built the road, meaning, the engineers!

Again, we best demonstrate our Islamic values by building safe roads and bridges. There is no point carving “Allah” and verses of the Holy Koran on such structures if our architects and engineers are incompetent, and the roofs they designed and build would collapse in the first storm and injure many, or if their bridges have more water flowing above than below!

A few years ago there was a public debate between Datuk Asri Zainal Abidin and Astora Jabat on tajdid (reform in Islam). I admire both individuals; they are among the most thoughtful. However, in that three-hour debate, they argued on the minutiae of hudud, on whether a woman’s hair is considered aurat and thus must be covered. Only towards the end did a brave soul ask why we should be bothered with hijab when our nation is crippled with rampant corruption. His query was never addressed. We must reform Islam so we could address pressing social problems that now blight our society. Don’t be obsessed with hijab.

The typical religious discourse on radio and television or at our mosques and universities is unidirectional, from speaker to listeners. The bulk of the time would be consumed with excessive salutations and endless quotations of Koran and hadith. When both are cited, discussions would have effectively been shut down. The Koran and hadith should be the beginning, not the ending of a discussion.

Consider the ahadith that says the community would be divided into 73 sects, only one of which is true and genuine. The remainder 72 would presumably be headed for Hell. How we interpret that hadith has consequences. If every ulama feels that his is the only true sect, then he would have a messianic zeal to correct the rest, with the rationale of helping them enter Heaven! That’s what motivates those Taliban to splash acid on schoolgirls.

Statistically speaking, you have only one chance in 73 to be correct, less than 1.5 percent! That probability should humble and motivate us to learn from the others in the hope that one of them is the one true faith!

I am blessed to live in America with its freedom. I can read Shia and Ahmaddiyah literature without being harassed by religious officials. There are none in America! In Malaysia, I would be jailed without trial, treated just like the communists of yore. Would such a stand conducive to peace and understanding or breed suspicion and enmity among Muslims?

Like Astora Jabat, I do not subscribe to any figh (sect). I do not as yet know which of the 73 sects is genuine. What I do know is that piety, justness and wisdom are not restricted to any community. I can still learn from the Shias, Ismailis, Salafis and Wahabis, among others, on the truth and beauty of our faith.

On the Day of Judgment, we would be held accountable for our deeds on this earth. We could not give the excuse that we were merely following the teachings of this ulama or that. Our faith is blessed not to have a defined clergy class. We have to think for ourselves. We decide whether to follow the ulama who command us to hate non-Muslims and consider those Muslims whose politics we disagree with as infidels.

Back to the beginning, my understanding of Islam is simple and straightforward:  Command good and forbid evil. The rest are but examples and illustrations.


Cont’d:  Suaris Interview The Future of Malays #6:  Continuing on, what is your view on PAS and its leaders? Will their policies and activities usher Malays forward?

Suaris Interview – The Future of Malays #4

February 17th, 2013

Suaris Interview:  The Future of Malays Part 4:  It is said that Malays are at a crossroad. This is particularly so with the upcoming General Election 13 where the choice is between feudalism and liberalism. To what extent do you agree with that viewpoint?

[The original in Malay appeared in suaris.wordpress.com on February 6, 2013.]


MBM:  I agree that we Malays are at a critical juncture. Our choice is between continuing on the present path that has led us to where we are today, with our minds still trapped, or make a sharp turn towards liberating them. Remember that the path to the dumpsite is the one well-trodden.


I do not agree that the forthcoming election (GE 13) will be a choice between liberalism and feudalism, as I understand both terms. Instead it will be between a party that has grown old, tired, and bankrupt of ideas versus another that is young, vigorous, and full of fresh talent.


As an aside, “liberalism” to me means a system that treats every human as having certain inalienable rights or freedoms granted unto him (or her) by Almighty Allah, among them, the freedom of thought, to choose our leaders, own properties, and pursue happiness. Feudalism on the other hand was the social system prevailing in Medieval Europe where humans were either lords or peasants. Land, property and peasants belonged to the lords. Your fate and place in society was determined at birth and remained fixed throughout life. Meaning, born a peasant, and you would remain one until death.


Clearly from the perspective of respect for human lives and values, liberalism is closer to Islam than is feudalism.


True, Malay society today still retains many feudal elements. Nonetheless we are free to choose our leaders. Even though we could not choose our sultans, we do not consider ourselves slaves to them. Yes, we use the term “patek” in referring to ourselves when addressing a member of the royalty. That is merely a habit. A sultan can no longer grab a village maiden for his palace collection. We hitherto peasants could now (if we wish to and can afford it) own a house more palatial than the istana and drive a car that could overtake the sultan’s in speed, price and glamour.


Returning to GE13, before we make a decision as to which party to vote for, it is prudent to do a downstream analysis. There can only be three possible outcomes. First, Barisan be returned to power; second, Pakatan to prevail; and third, neither winning a decisive victory. By decisive I mean where the buying of a handful of victorious candidates would not alter the balance of power a la Perak 2008.

If Barisan were to win, that would mean voters approve of the current pervasive corruption and abuse of power. We would have gone further, essentially rewarding those who have destroyed MAS, Perwaja, Bank Bumiputra, and others. Expect the greed of ministers and their families to grow unabated. Our rotten system of education would continue its decline. Our professors and academic leaders would continue to be chosen based not on their scholarly contributions but their ability to suck up to the politically powerful. Najib would continue to lead as he has for the last four years – delivering an alphabet soup of acronyms, endless exhortations, and a surfeit of sloganeering, much like the character in Shannon Ahmad’s short story Uggapan (Slogans).


Najib promised to, borrowing his latest buzzword, “transform” his administration. How could he possibly do that when all his ministers would again stand for election? If they win, they would surely again be ministers. What transformation did he have in mind? Hishammudin becoming Women’s Minister?


Barisan leaders are scaring citizens into believing that our stability depends on their winning the election. On the contrary, if Barisan fails to secure a greater victory than in 2008, (no one is predicting it will win a supra majority), there will be an ugly power struggle at the top. The Najib/Muhyyuddin rivalry would eclipse the earlier Abdullah/Najib power struggle in its messiness. It would be even uglier than the Mahathir/Ku Li confrontation a generation earlier. The permanent establishment would be paralyzed, not knowing which faction to support. Mahathir has already sharpened the knife that he used with devastating effectiveness on Abdullah. This time the victim would be Najib.


In defeat, there would be much soul searching in Pakatan. Perhaps their leaders would now resolve to focus on the things that they could agree on that would benefit the nation and citizens, as with eradicating corruption and abuse of power, ensuring justice, improving the education system, while distancing themselves from such meaningless symbolic items as with an Islamic state and who could use the word “Allah.” Those obsessions do not contribute to the well being of citizens, on the contrary, they divide us.


The second possible outcome would be a Pakatan victory. That would not mean that all our problems would magically disappear. Far from it! First, Pakatan leaders are only human; there would be a great temptation to regard their victory as a bountiful harvest. There are many more family disputes during such times! Expect a not-so-pretty grab for positions, and contentious issues like who would be Deputy Prime Minister and whether he (unlikely a she) would be a Malay or non-Malay. There would also be the jostling for key portfolios as with education, finance, and internal affairs. Those are to be expected.


The pettiness would challenge the wisdom and patience of Pakatan leaders. If they were to behave like kids at Hari Raya or Chinese New Year greedily grabbing duit rayas and ang pows, then their future and also that of the nation would indeed be gloomy. However, if they were to consider their victory not as Hari Raya but the beginning of Ramadan, meaning, a time to be tested, patient, and diligent, then their and our future would be bright.


More interesting is to imagine what would happen to UMNO in defeat. Those who joined the party not for the sake of the party and country but for their greed would quickly abandon it. Their flow of opium would be cut off. Meanwhile the new 2M team of Mahathir and Muhyyuddin would be merciless on Najib. Erstwhile sleepy supporters of the equally soporific Abdullah Badawi would now be intent on exacting revenge on the two sides.

As ugly and embarrassing as that would be to Malays, it would bring only good to UMNO. The party would begin its slow and long overdue rehabilitation, back to it glorious past. Its members would now be limited only to those who truly love and are passionate about the organization and of Malays. The party might once again be the pride and love of our people and not as at present, an enabler for the corrupt and criminal.


There are two other much more meaningful consequences to an UMNO defeat. Consider that the corruption of Khir Toyo, former Chief Minister of Selangor, was only exposed with Pakatan winning the state. Had UMNO won in 2008, that slimy character would now still be its chief executive, with his greed and corrupt ways unabated. Because Pakatan won, he is now awaiting jail, pending appeal, for his corruption conviction. There are many Khir Toyos at the federal level; they could only be exposed with a Pakatan victory.


The second important consequence would be on members of the permanent establishment, from senior civil servants and heads of GLCs to sultans and professors. They would now realize that their careers are no longer dependent on their skills at sucking up to Barisan. They would be forced to examine themselves carefully and not be so politically partisan. The future of their careers would now depend on their dedication, diligence and professionalism, not their political skills and leanings. That could only be good for the country generally and its administration specifically.


Many, especially in UMNO, predict a vicious racial riot a la May 1969 with the party’s defeat. I totally disagree. First, in 1969 the power shifted from Malays (UMNO) to Chinese (DAP). If UMNO were to lose in the coming election, power would still be in Malay hands except that those Malays would not be from UMNO. Second, our society is much more wise and mature now. The Chinese for example need not have to parade with their dragons to show off their might. A look around KL and Penang would be enough to reassure them and others. And if Malays were to run amok on the streets, those luxury bungalows and BMWs they would burn down might just belong to the likes of Khir Toyo and Abdullah Badawi!

In 1969 UMNO was still Malay, and Malays, UMNO. Today conditions have changed radically, as evidenced by the recent massive KL112 rally.


Extremists like Ibrahim the Frog could easily be taken care of. An offer of a directorship or two and trips to Macao would silence them. Alternatively, do not impede the anti-corruption agency. I am simply amused that Malay leaders from Mahathir to the academic Ramlah Adam would pin the hopes of our race to characters like Ibrahim the Frog.


For Malaysians, the greatest consequence to a Barisan defeat would be that we actually get to experience and benefit the meaning of free elections. That is, by merely putting an “X” in the appropriate box on the ballot paper, we could change our government. There is no need to riot or demonstrate on the streets. A Barisan defeat would effectively demonstrate the true meaning of checks and balances in a democracy.


The third and worst possible consequence would be if neither party were to win convincingly. We had a glimpse of that ugliness in Perak following the 2008 election. All, politicians from Barisan to Pakatan and members of the establishment from civil servants to the sultan, did not shine. Their behavior brought shame to the nation. They however, were oblivious of that.

Expect that, only worse, in Putrajaya. The behavior of these politicians would be more flagrant than those of the ladies of the evening. As odious as that would be, there would be some redeeming values. We would finally see those politicians for what they really are, worse than those prostitutes at Chow Kit Road. At least those ladies had the morality not to sell themselves so openly and in broad daylight.


The odiousness would so enrage many that able and honest citizens would now be encouraged if not compelled to offer themselves as candidates in the future. That can only be good! We would finally get to appreciate the awesome power of the ballot booth and that elections have consequences, prompting us to be more prudent the next time we vote. That is one invaluable lesson.


In short, the best outcome for Malaysia in GE 13 would be for Pakatan to win convincingly. Next would be for neither side to do so. The worst outcome would be for Barisan to be returned to power. Stated differently, a hung parliament would be a not-so-pretty Pakatan victory.


Next:  Suaris Interview. The Future of Malays #5:  You appear cynical towards things labeled “Islam.” Many view you as not being enamored with “conservative Islam” as currently practiced by most Muslims and not with Islam itself. What’s your comment?




Suara Interview: The Future of Malays Part 3

February 10th, 2013

Suaris Interview:  The Future of Malays Part 3:


[The original, in Malay, appeared in suaris.wordpress.com on January 31, 2013]



Suaris:  You advocate strategies that are generally deemed to be evolutionary in nature to change the collective Malay mindset. Should Malays be “shocked” with revolutionary changes as we saw with the Japanese and South Koreans that led to their quantum leap in achievement?


MBM:             When Mohamed Bouazizi burned himself to death in Tunisia on January 4, 2011, it was not his intention to start a riot or revolution. He had simply given up hope; he just wanted to end his misery. His personal action however, triggered a revolution not only in Tunisia but also the entire Arab world.


Gamel Nasser was frothing at the mouth in wanting to revolutionize the Arabs; he was lucky that his Egypt was not totally whipped by Israel in the 1967 War. Senu Abdul Rahman and other Malay leaders like Abdullah Badawi, together with our intellectuals, were also intoxicated with their Revolusi Mental back then. Today, you could not even find the book of the same title that they wrote, and we Malays have remained the same.


Whether a change is evolutionary or revolutionary depends not on action or intention but on results and consequences. Bouazizi merely intended to end his suffering but his action reverberated throughout the Arab world, taking down hitherto strong men like Ghaddafi and Mubarak.


Evolutionary changes are small and incremental; revolutionary ones dramatic and disruptive. It is well to remember that we could bring down a mountain by aiming a jet of water at its base (as with the old hydraulic tin mining) as by planting explosives.


James C Scott, the Yale political scientist who studied the peasants in Kedah’s rice bowl, in his book, Weapons of the Weak, uses a different metaphor. When the ship of state runs aground on a coral reef, attention is directed to the shipwreck (revolutionary) but not the aggregations of petty acts that made those treacherous reefs possible (evolutionary).


Your reading of the Japanese and South Koreans is not quite accurate. True, viewed today the changes in their societies are truly revolutionary. However, the steps their leaders took much earlier were all incremental and evolutionary in nature, stretching over decades.

Japan after the Meiji Restoration of 1868 sent thousands of its teachers and senior civil servants to the West to study its systems of education and administration. They were gone not just for a few weeks of “study tour” but for years. Even today, Japan takes in thousands of English teachers from America. Those were all evolutionary not revolutionary initiatives. We take in a handful of teachers from America under the Fulbright Program and we make a big deal of it and deem it revolutionary.


Likewise South Korea; during the 1970s it sent thousands of its students to the West for graduate work in the sciences and engineering. When President Pak visited America he met with many of them including those who opposed him, to cajole them to return. When they did, they were supported with loans to start their enterprises. Compare that to Prime Minister Najib; the only student he met was a PetronasUniversity flunkie, one Saiful who was purportedly looking for a scholarship.

I dealt more deeply with Japan and South Korea, as well as Ireland and Argentina, in my earlier book, Malaysia In The Era of Globalization (2002).


To continue our “Look East,” a closer example both in space and time is China. Mao Zedong was consumed with one revolution after another to, borrowing Najib’s favorite word, “transform” his country. The result? Hundreds of millions of his countrymen suffered or were killed. Hundreds of millions! That would be the whole of Indonesia!


Then came Deng; his philosophy was simple. He could not care less what the color of the cat as long as it catches the mouse. With that he changed the nature and character of China and its society. Today China has eclipsed economically Japan and Germany, and threatening to do likewise to America.


Our neighbor Indonesia had one revolution after another under Sukarno, but its people remained destitute. Mahathir too aspired to revolutionize our culture and people. In the end it was he who cried.


Returning to my earlier garden metaphor, revolution is where you indiscriminately spray Roundup. Yes, that would kill the lalang but also wipe out the useful plants. With evolutionary strategies, you would meticulously pour the concentrated pesticide right at the root of the offending weed while sparing the useful plants. They can now grow unimpeded, the lalang now completely eradicated.

Liberate the Malay mind, one at a time, in a process that is evolutionary and incremental but cumulative and sure. The results would astound us and be deemed revolutionary. When a mind is liberated, it can no longer be imprisoned. We would then be no longer, to use the terminology of the Algerian philosopher Malek Bennabi, “colonizable.”


Even more beautiful, a liberated mind will see clearly that the green, lush grass in our garden is after all the tenacious and highly destructive weed lalang and not, as our leaders are trying to convince us all along, alfalfa.

To continue.  Suaris Interview # 4:  It is said that Malays are at a crossroad. This is particularly so with the upcoming General Election 13 where the choice is between feudalism and liberalism. To what extent do you agree with that viewpoint?

Suaris Interview: The Future of Malays Part 2

February 3rd, 2013

Interview with Suaris:  The Future of Malays, Part 2.


[The original in Malay appeared in suaris.wordpress.com on January 25, 2013).


Suaris:  In a recent interview with Astro Awani, Dr. Mahathir said that Malays would be left behind unless given continued help. He referred to such help as crutches. Do you agree that we continue to need crutches? If so, for how long?



MBM:  If we Malays still remain backward and marginalized after over 55 years of “help” from the UMNO government, then we ought to examine critically the nature of that help.


As parents we readily acknowledge the importance of how we guide and help our children. Be too indulgent and protective, we lose hope of their ever able to shine on their own. Be too strict and controlling, they will never acquire self-confidence; likewise if we constantly criticize and highlight their weaknesses.

In modern medicine, we rarely give crutches to patients following hip surgery. Instead we give them to physiotherapy so they could be self-ambulatory as quickly as possible. I encourage, in fact insist that my surgical patients be up and about the very next day. It is dangerous to keep them in bed; the most serious complication being potentially lethal blood clots.


An insight of modern science is that if we do not exercise our body, it would atrophy. This applies to bone, muscle, or even brain. If I were to tie down a healthy young man in bed and “help” him with his feeding and bathing such that he does not have to move a muscle, after a week he would be need a crutch as he would be unable to stand up on his own. That is the price for excessive and inappropriate “help.”


As a former physician, Mahathir should know that if a patient does not respond with your prescription, there is no point continuing it. Stop or change it; perhaps your patient requires penicillin, not Panadol.


Even the right medicine if not given at the proper dose would be ineffective. Yes, Panadol reduces fever, but give only a quarter of the dose and there will be no effect, leading you to blame the medicine. Giving too much also carries its own hazards. Every year many children in America are fatally poisoned because of excessive dose of Tylenol, one more appropriate for adults.


If with the right medicine at the right dose and administered correctly but your patient still does not respond, then reexamine your diagnosis. Patients with appendicitis require surgery, not penicillin.

If readers are uncomfortable with my clinical metaphor, let me use a more familiar one. If you are not diligent in weeding out lalang in your garden, pretty soon you would be inundated by it, choking off useful plants. What more if you were to generously add fertilizer to the weed!


The Malay garden is now full of lalang. We need Roundup pesticide to kill off those tenacious weeds so useful plants would then have a chance. However, what is UMNO’s current strategy? Yes, add fertilizer to the lalang! Its rationale? They are lalang, but Malay lalang, so we must be help!

The “help” that UMNO types like Mahathir are championing is precisely this. Then we wonder why the Malay kebun is full of lalang. Isa Samad is one thriving lalang in the FELDA plantation; he was earlier found guilty of “money politics.” Khir Toyo,now luxuriating in his fantasy palace courtesy of taxpayers while waiting jail time for corruption, is another. The private sector too is infested. Lalang Tajuddin Ramli nearly destroyed MAS estate. Utusan and The New Straits Times are crippled with literary lalang; no wonder their readership continues to decline. The Malay lalang has already snuffed out Bank Bumiputra.


We are finally no longer impressed with the greenness and lushness of lalang, even if it were Malay lalang. Our leaders however, still try to impress upon us that those lalang are alfalfa. The tragic part is that they now believe their own deceit.


Leaders like Mahathir should be diligently searching for effective ways to help us and not be content with criticizing and dredging up old stereotypes or our alleged weaknesses. Give someone a fish, and we feed him only for a day; teach him how to fish and he feeds himself forever, goes an ancient wisdom. Extend that help a bit as with giving him a loan to buy a sampan, and he will fish the open ocean. Then he can feed the whole village and more, plus repay the loan!


Doling out generous quotas for university admissions, lucrative contracts, and import licenses, or forcing others to take on Malays (usually UMNO politicians) as directors for their companies is not help. Those are but acts of fertilizing weeds, membajakan lalang. We end up with only usahan menenggek (carpetbagger capitalists)!


The most consequential and enduring help would be to liberate the Malay mind, to teach them how to think freely. If our slogan in the 1950s was Merdeka Tanah Melayu (Freedom for the Malay Land), now it should be Merdeka Minda Melayu! (Freedom for the Malay Mind!)


That is the theme of my latest book, Liberating The Malay Mind. The concept of a free mind is best illustrated by this story of Mullah Nasaruddin, known for his use of self-deprecating humor and simple everyday examples in his teaching.


He had a neighbor who was in the habit of borrowing items and never returning them. One day he came over to borrow the Mullah’s donkey. Anticipating this, the Mullah had earlier wisely locked his animal in the barn and out of sight. When the neighbor came over, the Mullah confidently asserted, “My donkey had been borrowed yesterday!”


Disappointed, the neighbor was about to return home when the animal brayed. “I thought you said your donkey had been borrowed!” he said.


Whereupon the Mullah resolutely replied, “Do you believe the braying of the donkey over the words of the mullah?”


Someone with a free mind would believe the braying donkey. Those whose minds are trapped by customs and traditions would of course continue believing the wise and pious Mullah even when the donkey is braying straight on their faces. We must teach Malays that when they hear the donkey braying, they should believe their own ears and not be lulled by the Mullah’s soothing words.

I put forth four strategies to liberate the Malay mind:  freer access to information and differing viewpoints, meaning, freer mass media; liberal education with a strong foundation in science and mathematics; and encourage trade and commerce among our people. When we engage in trade, we would consider others not as pendatang (immigrants) but as potential customers, meaning, a source of profit.


Fourth, we have to examine how we teach religion to our young and how we practice our faith as individuals as well as a society. Islam emancipated the Bedouins from their Age of Ignorance and brought light to them. Islam should do likewise for us – liberate our minds.

If our minds are trapped, then the billions worth of help would be meaningless. Those are but narcotics for our self gratification and to indulge our fantasies. Those are but membajakan lalang.


As a nation we have achieved much through independence. If we were to liberate Malay minds, there would be no limit to our achievements. Even more beautiful, a liberated mind can never ever be imprisoned again. Liberated minds need not worry about globalization and neo-colonization, or be threatened when our young learn English. Liberated minds would not feel imperiled when God’s other children use “Allah” to refer to their deity. It is after all the same God. Once Malay minds are liberated, we would no longer be, to borrow the terminology of the Algerian philosopher Malek Bennabi, “colonizable.”

Help liberate the Malay mind! That would be the most consequential help!

Back to Mahathir’s beloved crutches, how can he ever hope the simple villagers to give up on theirs when the biggest golden crutches are reserved for the sultans and ministers? Mahathir gets angry when Pak Mat diverted his few hundred dollars of MARA loan meant to improve his stall towards buying his children’s books but are conspicuously silent when spouses of ministers divert precious public funds to buy their private luxurious condos.


Malays do not need crutches. The one help we desperately need is to liberate our minds. Reverting to my farm metaphor, if you want to help Malays, then uproot and rid the lalang in our midst so our beans, brinjals and cucumbers would have a chance. If you do not feel like doing that, then please do not fertilize the weeds!


To be continued, Suaris Interview:  The Future of Malays Part 3:  In many of your writings, you advocate changes and ideas that are evolutionary and incremental in nature to effect changing mindsets. Don’t you think that a more aggressive “shock therapy” and revolutionary approach would have greater impact and lead to a quantum leap in improvement, as with Japan and South Korea today?

Suaaris Interview: The Future of Malays, Part I

January 27th, 2013

Interview with Suaris:  The Future of Malays, Part 1.


[The original in Malay appeared in suaris.wordpress.com on January 19, 2013).




Dr. M. Bakri Musa’s perspective may appear alien to some readers, especially those less exposed to the Internet and the English language. It is their loss not to have ready access to his clear thinking and substantive ideas.


Suaris.wordpress.com is taking this initiative in bringing to readers especially those versed only in Malay his commentaries. Born and raised in Negri Sembilan, Bakri represents the earlier generation of Bumiputras that had been given the opportunity for an education abroad. Yet he never forgets his roots as evidenced by his extensive writings and many books. Even though he resides in America, but through his books and essays we feel close to him.


He recently released his latest book, Liberating the Malay Mind, published by ZI Publications.


In this interview, Dr. Bakri Musa discusses a critical issue, the future of Malays in our country. We are at a critical juncture in many respects, from politics to economics, and from education specifically to social arenas generally. What is the future of our people in the decades ahead and how can we best prepare for that future?


Follow the series in its entirety.



Suaris:  How are you doctor? Hope that you and your wife are healthy and blessed by Allah!


MBM:  Great! Healthy! Thank you and praise be to Allah!


Suaris:  Doctor, you write frequently on the general unpreparedness of our people in meeting future challenges. In what way and how unprepared are we?


MBM:  In my book, Towards A Competitive Malaysia, I put forth this proposition. The fate of a society hangs on four pillars:  leadership, people, culture, and geography. Of the four, only one – geography – cannot be altered. Whether that society is blessed with abundant oil and its land fertile, those are the blessings of Allah. Lucky indeed are the inhabitants!


However, no matter how bountiful the land is but if its leaders are corrupt and incompetent, people uneducated and unskilled, and culture wasteful and destructive, then eventually that society will decline. We have many ready examples, among them Brunei and the Arab states.

On the other hand, if the geography is less forgiving, the land mountainous and covered with thick snow, climate cold such that crops could grow only for a few months a year, but if the quality of leadership and people is high, their culture progressive, that country will advance. An example is Switzerland.


We are all aware of the importance of wise, efficient and trustworthy leaders not only in politics and the administration of the country (ministers and civil servants), but also in religion (muftis and ustads), society (sultans and rajas), schools (teachers and professors), and at home (parents and neighbors).

The quality of our people (human capital) depends on two measures:  health and education. If our citizens are unhealthy (drug addicts, afflicted with dengue or malaria), they will not be vigorous or diligent. And if our schools are rotten, then our young will not be skillful and productive.


A citizen is either productive and contributor to or dependent and a drain on society. If we have more of the former, then our society will rapidly progress. Conversely, if we have more of the latter, we will quickly decline.

By culture I mean the rules and institutions of that society, together with its norms and values. Consider institutions. Lacking effective and reliable agencies, considerable time and effort would be spent just to ensure that the house I am about to buy legitimately belongs to the seller. With trustworthy registry in place, I spend my time on things that really matter, like whether the house would meet my needs and the price worth it. Similarly when I deposit my money at the bank, sans effective regulatory bodies, I would not be assured that the manager would not abscond with my precious funds.

As for the values of a society, if it honors its thieves, thugs and cheaters, that would serve as ready examples for the rest. Before long that society would be like the Mafia in Southern Italy.


All these four elements – leadership, people, culture, and geography – interact with and in turn are being influenced by each other. Enlightened citizens will select or vote in only equally enlightened leaders; those voters will no tolerate the corrupt and incompetent. Likewise, wise leaders will formulate progressive education policies so the young will be skillful and productive.

Wise leaders and citizens will together utilize and protect the environment to ensure sustainable development. Cancun, Mexico, for example, was in the 1950s a poor fishing village. The only “tourists” were American hippies seeking cheap ganja. Through wise leadership and well-trained citizens, Cancun is no longer that but an affluent and much sought tourist destination. Its previously poor fishermen now own sleek motor yachts taking rich Americans and Europeans out for sports fishing.

Now examine our society with respect to those four pillars. What mark would we give ourselves for the quality of our leadership, people, culture, and environment?


Take geography. We have beautiful beaches, the waters warm, skies blue, and the sun always shining. We ought to attract millions of European and Japanese tourists; we would beat Cancun hands down! But we do not. Why? Well, look at the garbage strewn all over, and even where there are public facilities like bathrooms, they are dirty.


Whose fault? Leaders? Of course! Citizens? Yes, we too contribute. Culture? Further comment would be needless!


In my Towards A Competitive Malaysia I put forth ideas on how to secure good leaders, enhance the quality of our people, elevate the values of our culture, and protect and value our environment. There is nothing original in the ideas I put forth, they have been tried successfully elsewhere. We do not need to reinvent the wheel, merely learn from the experiences of others, emulate those who are successful and avoid the pitfalls of others less so.


To be continued. Interview #2:  Suaris:  In a recent interview with Astro Awani, Dr. Mahathir said that Malays would be left behind unless given continued help. He referred to such help as crutches. Do you agree that Malays continue to need crutches? If so, for how long?

Liberating The Malay Mind

January 25th, 2013
Now available at all major bookstores.
Liberating The Malay Mind
ISBN:  978-967-5266-29-4
by M. Bakri Musa
In Liberating The Malay Mind, M. Bakri Musa maps with clarity a path towards a liberated Malaysia by carefully examining the country’s past and evaluating the current Malay obsession with Ketuanan Melayu.  The book explores the way in how special rights and “sons of soil” privileges bestowed have inhibited the Malay people from forging an educated, dynamic and globally competitive Tanah Melayu.
Dr. Bakri Musa examines Malay culture through the prisms of history, psyche and religion and details the steps necessary to liberate the collective Malay mindset through free access to information, an enlightened education system, and engagement in commerce.
With this careful navigation, and not by pinning hopes on the political amulet of Article 153, Liberating The Malay Mind forges a way towards a self-sufficient Malaysia, able to turn crises into opportunities, and challenges into inspirations.
“Unlike our political merdeka –  which was granted to us by the British – our liberated mind cannot be bestowed.  We have to strive for it. Then we will be Tuans even elsewhere other than Tanah Melayu.” 

Myth of “UMNO is Melayu; Melayu, UMNO” Forever Shattered!

January 15th, 2013

Myth of “UMNO is Malay; Malay, UMNO” Forever Shattered!

M. Bakri Musa




While UMNO apologists and sycophants in academia, blogosphere, and mainstream media quibbled over such minutia as the number of participants at last Saturday’s massive KL112 (January 12, 2013) rally, two facts are indisputable.  First, that peaceful and largely Malay crowd, the largest the nation had ever witnessed, forever shattered the myth that UMNO is Melayu, and Melayu, UMNO.  Second, given a modicum of respect by and without provocation from the authorities, Malaysians are quite capable of partaking in peaceful rallies.


On this second point the authorities, specifically the police under its new leadership, are finally learning that water tankers, personnel with anti-riot gears or tear gas canisters, and other crude displays of power often precipitate rather than prevent violence.  BERSIH 3.0 demonstrated that very clearly.


The size and orderliness of the rally, together with the bravery and determination of the participants, was reminiscent of the transformative event of over 66 years earlier, the opposition to the Malayan Union Treaty. That altered the course of our history.  Insha’ Allah (God willing), last Saturday’s rally too, will.


The power imbalance between those demanding change and those in power back in 1946 was enormous.  Then it was mostly illiterate and unsophisticated Malay peasants facing the much superior and more formidable colonial authorities.  Yet in the end, right won over might, and justice prevailed!


Today, while the UMNO Government is detested to the same degree as the old colonials, it is nowhere as sophisticated wielder of power as the British.  Meanwhile, those clamoring for change are far more worldly, more committed, and in far greater numbers than their adversary, UMNO and its supporters.  More importantly, unlike the colonials, today’s UMNO government is crippled with corruption and incompetence while also being crude wielder of power.  All the more we should expect that right and the truth, as well as justice, will again prevail.


National Laureate Pak Samad’s stirring reading of his poetry “Di Atas Padang Sejarah” (On This Field of History) last Saturday at Merdeka Stadium prompted me to make that comparison with the anti-Malayan Union Movement.  He is old enough to remember and may have even participated in that historic protest.


Di atas padang sejarah,” Pak Samad asserted in his poetry, “pantang kita mungkiri janji.”  (We must not renege on our promises.).  Today, the successors to those who brought us merdeka over 55 years ago have betrayed that great promise.


While Pak Samad’s gray hair and rousing poetry lent an air of history and gravity to the moment, the Blue Gang’s Ito Mohammad and his “Ubah Sekarang” (Change Now!), specifically composed for the occasion, gave the gathering a certain hip!  There was no mistaking however, the seriousness of his message.


Ubah sekarang,” Ito belted out in his trademark rhythm and blues beat to the cheers of thousands, “Kita cari kebenaran! (We seek the truth!) Ubah sekarang/Teggakkan Keadilan (Uphold justice!)”  Then to the roar of the crowd, he added, “Ubah Sekarang / Send-off Barisan!”


Ito is a talented performer and a committed crusader with a definite mission, in the mold of Bono.  Ito is for truth and justice, to give meaning to merdeka, for the sake of our children and grandchildren.  One thing is certain:  Ito is no carma (cari makan – hired hand) artist!


The anti-Malayan Union Movement was led by the charismatic, farsighted and savvy Datuk Onn; so too KL112 in the person of Anwar Ibrahim.  In many substantive ways Anwar is a far more formidable and superior leader.  Onn meekly obeyed the commands of his sultan in the sycophantic manner of Hang Tuah, and accepted his banishment to Singapore; Anwar in the chivalrous tradition of Hang Jebat had the courage to take on a man far more powerful (at least then) than the sultans or King – Mahathir.  Anwar paid greatly, physically and in many other ways, for his defiance but in the end, unlike Jebat, Anwar prevailed.  Last Saturday was proof of that victory.  Meanwhile his old nemesis Mahathir was left to rant in his blog.


Far more important than leaders are the commitments of their followers.  UMNO could not have organized a rally a fraction of the size of KL112 without resorting to bribes, outright giveaways, or having their carma artists, academics and journalists singing high praises for its leaders.


There was a pathetic attempt, no doubt by a bumbling UMNO operative, at a Facebook posting calling those rally participants to collect their fees!  That posting bombed as it was immediately exposed for the hoax that it was.  Those UMNO hired hands were not even sophisticated enough to pull a cyberstunt!



Fair and Free Elections


Anwar commits to ten goals, the top being free and fair elections.  Elections must not only be fair and free but more importantly, be seen as such.  Our Elections Commission lacks credibility, both on conducting elections as well as maintaining the integrity of the electoral rolls.


It is too late to change the personnel at EC.  Besides, that would not make any difference.  They have been indoctrinated to believe that their agency is just another electoral instrument of Barisan instead of an independent agency answerable to the King and thus the citizens.  The only credible way to ensure fair and free elections would be to invite external observers.


Free and fair elections should be the priority. The responsibility for maintaining the integrity of the electoral process extends beyond the EC and Election Day.


We must never let or tolerate the 2008 post-election fiascoes of Perak and Selangor to recur.  In Selangor, the hooliganism and vandalism of the staff of and condoned by its outgoing UMNO Chief Minister Khir Toyo stood in marked contrast to the civility and orderliness in the transfer of power between Gerakan and DAP in Penang.  This being Malaysia, the races of the main protagonists at both events did not escape notice.  In Perak, the permanent establishment including the sultan which should have been the stabilizing and buffering elements were themselves hopelessly entangled in the mess.  They did not shine; they were the problem.


Khir Toyo, now convicted of corruption, epitomizes UMNO’s rotten core.


We must also never allow the prostituting of government agencies and departments into Barisan election machinery.  I have no problem with The New Straits Times and Utusan continuing as UMNO newsletters and their “journalists” as UMNO propagandists; after all both are owned by UMNO.  I take issue when taxpayer-financed agencies like Bernama, Radio Television Malaysia (RTM), and Biro Tata Negara (National Civic Bureau) doing the same.


Ito’s rhythmic ubah sekarang is not, as UMNO leaders would like us to believe, changing horse midstream rather letting an old lame and tired one to pasture.  Our culture is kind; we do not send old horses to the glue factory.


A second into midnight on August 31, 1957, at the same Merdeka Stadium, Tunku Abdul Rahman declared merdeka for our new nation.  He brought home from England our Declaration of Independence.  More importantly, he gave us hope to all the promises implied with our new sovereignty.  Today, Tunku’s successors in UMNO Baru (New UMNO), through their venality have betrayed that solemn covenant.  They have, in Samad Said’s poetry, mungkiri janji.  It is time we reclaim that promise and our dream.


Last Saturday, when Anwar repeated “Merdeka” seven times in the manner of the late Tunku, he had begun that process of reclaiming.  Tunku brought home the declaration of Merdeka; Anwar will give meaning to its words in our everyday lives.


Ubah sekarang! Tolak mereka yang memungkiri janji!  Change now! Remove those who have betrayed us!