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?