[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?
Dr. M. Bakri Musa: 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?