by Bakri Musa
[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 Petronas University 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?