The ‘Malay problem’ is not unique unto us

– M. Bakri Musa
The Malaysian Insider
23 February 2016

In the first part, I argued that the “Malay Problem” is real and not simply a myth. As such we could study, analyse and research it systematically so as to enable us to craft sensible solutions and develop pilot programs to overcome it.

In short, a problem is potentially solvable, in contrast to a mere myth where we would have to employ dukuns to exorcise our demons.

In this essay I argue that our problem is not unique unto our community. A just and compassionate Allah would not single out Malays to be thus burdened.

Nor have our ancestors committed grievous sins for Allah now to punish us, their zuriats (descendants).

The corollary to my observation is that there is much that we can learn from others, from those who have been successful on what to do, as well as from those not so lucky on what not to do.

Lessons from others

When I lived in Montreal in the 1970s, I was struck by the barely-concealed contempt the English-Canadians had of their French-speaking compatriots. Struck not by its strangeness rather its familiarity, what with memories of Malaysia of the 1950s still fresh in me, and reinforced by my having visited Malaysia during the height of the May 1969 race riots.

Those Francophones were interested only in their beer, weekend frolics, and making babies, the English-Canadians sneered.

Come Sunday morning, those French-Canadians would flock to their churches to confess their sins. Cleansed and refreshed, by Monday they would start the whole destructive cycle all over again.

McGill University, the country’s premier institution, was then conspicuous for its rarity of Francophone students. Sounds all too familiar at that time to a Malaysian.

A few decades earlier and across the Atlantic in Ireland, the dynamics between the majority Catholic Irish and minority Protestant English too seemed deja vu to a Malaysian. The mutual contempt and disdain they had for each other would every so often erupt into their own version of “May 13 incident”. Again, all too familiar to a Malaysian!

If any Irish parents then were to aspire higher and dream of a better future for their children by enrolling them in the much superior “godless” Protestant English schools and colleges, they risked being excommunicated. That is, being a murtad, to put in local lingo, by the Catholic Church.

Meanwhile in Italy, those northerners considered their compatriots from the south as all gangsters and members of the mafia. If only it could get rid of the southern part of the country, Italy would be crime-free and fast become an economic power, those northerners claimed.

There are other ready examples.

In my book, Malaysia in the Era of Globalisation, I noted the remarkable similar dynamics we Malays had vis-a-vis the English colonialists as the Koreans their Japanese colonisers.

Granted, Korea’s colonisation was much briefer, but its brutality was unmatched. For example, those Koreans were not allowed even to speak their language; they also had to “Japanise” their names.

Today, the Irish and South Koreans are very different societies. Consider that Ryan Air, the Dublin-based discount airline, once attempted a takeover of venerable British Airways!

As for South Korea, Samsung smart phones have bested even Apple’s. Even rice cookers are now Korean-made, eclipsing Japan’s National brand.

As for the French-Canadians, consider that Hydro Quebec is the world’s largest generator of renewal energy through its hydroelectric plants while Bombardier, the original skidoo manufacturer started by a French-Canadian mechanic in his garage, is a leader in regional jets and rapid transit transportation.

Meanwhile the next president of Stanford is a French-Canadian, and not just any French-Canadian but one who was the first in his immediate family to attend college.

Going back to the Ireland of the 1950s, substitute Irish for Malays, the English for non-Malays (the Chinese specifically), Catholicism for Islam, and the entrenched clergy class for Jakim and our government-issued ulamas, the social dynamics would be eerily comparable.

In my book, I also cited a negative example, Argentina. A century ago it was a shining star, “The Land of Silver”.

Today it struggles through one crisis after another, economic and otherwise.

My point here is that the so-called “Malay problem” is not unique unto us. Societies that were once colonised or one just emerging from peasantry and subsistence existence share similar tribulations. And Malay society is both.

The corollary to my observation is that there is much that we can learn from the Irish, French-Canadians, and South Koreans on what to do, as well as from the Argentineans on what not to do.

There is yet another though minor facet to the Malay problem, and I will illustrate it thus.

I know of many Malays who have graduated from elite American universities or have succeeded in America, but they are not from Malaysia, or if from there originally now no longer consider themselves Malaysians except perhaps only emotionally.

Consider that the first Malay Harvard PhD was not from Malaysia but Thailand, Surin Pitsuwan. He received his degree 18 years before Perak’s Raja Nazrin had his. Raja Nazrin was a crown prince while Surin was an ordinary citizen from impoverished southern Thailand. Ponder that!

Yet another observation. At one time there were more Malays from Singapore than from Malaysia at UC Berkeley.

Last, I know of many Malay medical specialists in America, but again only a few are from Malaysia. The others came from such places as South Africa and Sri Lanka.

You can bet that there are no Ketuanan Melayu doctrines in those countries.

I once chided an important visitor from Malaysia who could not stop bragging about his son attending a third-rate American university on a Malaysian government scholarship.

I reminded him not-so-subtly that the man driving him around during his visit to California, a Malay originally from Kedah, had a son who graduated from the University of Southern California, an elite campus, sans any Mara or government scholarship.

When I told Ahmad Sabian that I have more respect for him than those Malaysian “big shots” he was driving around, he could not hold back his tears, the tears of joy, pride and accomplishment.

Today, nearly six decades after Merdeka, with the sultans and prime ministers being Malays, a government almost exclusively in Malay hands, and a national constitution that blatantly favours our community, we are still left behind. I explore this paradox in my next essay. – February 23, 2016.

* Dr M. Bakri Musa is the author of Liberating The Malay Mind, ZI Publications, Petaling Jaya (2013). This is the second of a six-part piece.

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  1. #1 by Bigjoe on Wednesday, 24 February 2016 - 10:40 am

    Simply put, the Malays need leadership especially on economics and religion. You can’t make leadership by coddling and feudal authority. The govt cannot make the broad multiple area needed. The govt has to get out the way, govern properly, and democracy and libertarian principles rules.

  2. #2 by boh-liao on Thursday, 25 February 2016 - 8:19 pm

    Meanwhile, donation welcome to sustain d garbage UM

  3. #3 by waterfrontcoolie on Thursday, 25 February 2016 - 10:48 pm

    Let us look at a very simple scenario, although we have layers of government officers down or up the rank but everyone of these officers seems to be a kingdom unto itself. When I was asked how best to improve things in the country; simple solution have an SOP that any officer must past up the file to his/her superior if he/she cannot decide. But no! they will sit on it and his/her supervising officer is obviously oblivious to the situation; essentially because he/she had gone through the same process with the mind-set that one should not rock the boat for if it sinks then we all would go too!. Doesn’t that sounds very familiar with the current situation? Musa lamented that we will miss 2020; not we will still have the same numbers with the second number 2 moving a step forward!

  4. #4 by worldpress on Friday, 26 February 2016 - 2:24 pm

    I don’t know how they run our country!

    They allow million of illegal immigrant workers to turn to legal..who will respect our country laws anymore!

    To solve it, upgrade the laws like any illegal immigrant stay here without proper visa will be sentenced heavy fine and cane if necessary!

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