Malaysia in the Era of Globalization #2

Introduction and Overview

I write because I have something to say, one person speaking to many.
—Pramoedya Ananta Toer, Celebrated Indonesian writer banished by Suharto.

In writing, I am mindful of the lesson imprinted on me during my freshman English class. That is, what is the author trying to say, and has he or she said it well. It is for readers to answer the second part of the question, but as to the first, my brief response is as follows.

Throughout the world and at all times there have been differences in the social and cultural development of societies. Today while citizens in the West are enjoying unprecedented wealth and material comfort, many in the Third World are struggling with subsistence living. This book explores why such differences exist, and more importantly, what lessons Malaysians can learn so that our society too can be counted in the future to be among the developed.

My first thesis is that there is much that the West (America specifically) is doing right that is worthy of our emulation. My second is that Malaysians should look upon each other as potential clients, customers, and partners, and not in terms or “us” versus “them,” specifically, Malays versus non-Malays. Thus what is good for one should be good for all. The converse, what is bad for one will inevitably adversely impact the others.

Likewise, we should look upon the rest of the world in a similar fashion and not in adversarial terms. One sure way to make the outside world our enemy is to treat it as a potential one. Colonialism is now long gone; there is no need to resurrect it. No benefit would accrue in making it into our new or phantom enemy. Malaysians are more likely to progress if we are in partnership with the rest of the world, including those who were once our colonizers.

Today globalization shapes the world. Malaysians must actively participate in this new arena if we want to be on the next trajectory of development. The September 11, 2001 terrorists’ attacks on America and the 2007 global financial crisis may have dampened the enthusiasm for globalization, but rest assured that the setback is only temporary. Globalization is still very much a dominant force, and will remain so. We ignore this at our own peril.

My third point is that current preoccupation with special privileges or Ketuanan Melayu (Malay hegemony) is precisely the wrong approach especially in this era of globalization. The more pertinent issue is how to make all Malaysians, Malays in particular, competitive. If we are competitive and productive, we will be able to contribute to our well being as well as that of the nation. Special privileges and other preferential policies serve merely to redistribute, not create, wealth. We should be encouraging our citizens to be makers, not takers in the economy. We have to first create the wealth before we can distribute it. Besides, excellence has never emerged from behind protective barriers.

Societies do not develop in a linear or predictable pattern, rather in starts and spurts, with many ups and downs as well as changes in direction. Often changes are forced upon them by specific stresses and events, from within as well as without.

The arrival of Islam emancipated the ancient Arabs out of their Age of Jahiliyah (Ignorance). In contrast, the arrival of Christian Spaniards to the New World devastated the ancient and highly-developed Aztec civilization. In the first instance the change was from within and the development positive; with the second, it was external, and the consequences, destructive.

Malaysia’s own recent history is instructive. Unlike many Third World countries that had to fight for their independence, Malaysia chose the more civilized route of negotiations rather than resorting to glorified wars of independence. (Honoring those killed in such struggles as “freedom fighters” or “national heroes” would not in any way lessen the loss felt by their loved ones.) Malaysia then went on, with some hiccups along the way, to be a successful modern state. Why was Malaysia’s experience with colonialism and its consequences so unlike that of Algeria or Indonesia? Where did Malaysia go right and the others wrong?

Returning to my first thesis, the enduring qualities of the West that are worthy of emulation are its commitment to personal liberty, civil and open society, representative government, and free enterprise. We must learn from the West to respect the dignity of the individual, and be tolerant of and receptive to new and differing ideas. We should be like Muslims during the Golden Age of Islam when they eagerly learned from the Greeks and Romans. Those early Muslims did not consider learning from the infidels sinful or wrong. They learned from the Romans and Greeks because they were the most advanced societies at the time. Far from being insular, those early Muslims strived hard to master the existing state of knowledge. That required of them to venture beyond their own language and to master Greek and Latin. Only after that could the Arabs then go on to make their own seminal contributions.

Consider the Arabic numerals. The early Muslims learned mathematics from the Hindus, Greeks, and Romans. The prevailing numbering system then was the Roman numerals, with their cumbersome letters – IX for 9, X for 10, and XI for 11. While that is easy enough for low figures, the system becomes extremely cumbersome once we get to larger numbers. Try putting into Roman numerals the year 1828! (It is MDCCCXXVIII.)

The Arabs came up with the decimal system that was so much more convenient and easy, and now universally adopted. Today Roman numerals are seen only on the parchment papers of provincial universities with classical pretensions, and to denote Super Bowl Championships. Equally worthy of note is that those ancient Greeks and Romans readily accepted the new Arabic numbering system because it was so much simpler. Try subtracting MCMVIIIII (1973) from MCMXCIX (1999)! The Romans and Greeks did not insist that their existing system was the best and that they had nothing to learn from the upstart nomadic Bedouins.

Similarly today, Malaysians must learn from the West simply because it is the most advanced and successful society. The fact that it is a predominantly White society of infidels is irrelevant and should not deter us. Our only concern should be what aspects of the West are worthy of our emulation.

I am reminded of the commercials of many “get-rich-quick” schemes where the promoters would earnestly (and with feigned hushed tone) expound on their secrets to success. The way to be rich, they would intone with such gravitas, is to study the rich and follow their ways! A revelation that at first blush seems both blarney and profound. To be successful, emulate those who are! I venture this is sound advice for individuals as well as nations.

The crucial question is this: What aspects of the rich and successful must we emulate? For if we begin by imitating their expensive lifestyles – exotic vacations, splashy cars, and fancy dinners – that would surely be the fastest way to the poor house, even if one’s brother were the Sultan of Brunei. Those are the superficial manifestations of success, and not the cause. They are merely the epiphenomena.

Consider Bill Gates, the American billionaire software genius. If all one sees is his massive lakeside mansion in Seattle or his hopping around in his private jet, then one is missing the crucial point. However, if were to read accounts of his being a studious student and smart enough to be accepted to Harvard, then may be we would be on to something useful. Granted, he dropped out of college but I would not recommend that course of action to anyone. Instead read about how hard Gates worked to market his first software, the disc operating system. (Remember old DOS?) Consider how committed he was to that project to the extent that he was willing to give up Harvard, and how he struggled to have IBM, then the sole industry giant, accept his software.

Fortunately for Gates, IBM did not buy but merely licensed DOS. What a bonanza that later proved to be for him. Had he successfully persuaded IBM to buy his operating software, he would now be just another brilliant tinkerer in that vast corporation.

So in advising Gates wannabes, I certainly would not recommend that they drop out of college. Instead I would exhort them to study hard at school so they would be accepted to a top college, and then strive diligently at their chosen career.

Similarly with nations; there is much that Malaysia can learn from successful societies of today and great civilizations of the past. In our study however, we must be careful to differentiate between useful causative factors and mere epiphenomena.

Lest we think that the current state of affairs (with the West reigning supreme) is the natural order, it is good to be reminded that centuries before Shakespeare was penning his sonnets, the Iranian mystic poet Jalal al-Din Rumi was already producing volumes of his spiritual couplets, the Masnavi. While England was mired in the Dark Ages, the ancient civilizations of the Middle East were already flourishing. Muslim scholars then were contemplating the universe beyond and experimenting with novel medical therapies while Europe was still convinced of the flatness of the earth and treating patients with leeches.

Today of course the Iranians and Brits might as well be living on different planets, so wide is the gulf separating their living conditions.

In the past such disparities were hidden. Today with modern communications, the world is fast becoming a global village, and an increasingly smaller one at that. What occurs in Afghanistan is immediately beamed into the living rooms of America and elsewhere. In the past such capabilities were the exclusive domain of journalists with expensive television cameras and satellite hook ups; today anyone with a cell phone and access to the Internet could achieve the same at a fraction of the cost.

While the pros may disparage the contributions of the minions of these amateur journalists, the impact and consequences of their work cannot be dismissed or underestimated. It can be dramatic. In Malaysia (and elsewhere) we have seen egregious police abuses exposed in such a fashion. Also in Malaysia, we have seen blatant attempts at fixing the highest personnel of the judiciary, as we saw in the infamous Lingam Tape. All it took was someone with a cell phone and being alert.

Today, traveling to exotic destinations presents very little challenge. Unlike the ancient Arabic explorer Ibn Battuta who took nearly a lifetime to travel the landmass abutting the Mediterranean, today a local travel agent could arrange such a trip within minutes (or you could do it yourself on the Web). You could also complete a similar itinerary in a time frame of your choice.

In your travels instead of finding complete strangers and being unable to converse with them, you would more likely encounter natives who could speak English and been educated in the West. Along the way you might stay at familiar lodgings like Hilton, and eat in recognizable restaurants like McDonald’s. You might also encounter Malaysian businessmen peddling their wares and oilmen from Petronas exploring for oil and gas. The local colleges and madrasahs (religious schools) might even have a few Malaysians. When strolling in the bazaars and markets you would likely meet youths sporting T-shirts emblazoned with portraits of their favorite Western pop idols or athletes.

In the time that it took me to travel to the next village as a youngster would today land me in the opposite corner of the globe. With modern means of communications, glaring inequalities between nations and societies become just that – glaring, for all to see. The luxurious lifestyle of an American football star is flaunted not only to fellow Americans but also to children in the slums of Soweto and the back alleys of Bombay.

Similarly when citizens of oppressed societies see the freedom enjoyed in the West, they wonder why draconian laws and restrictions are shackling them back home. Previously the expression was, once they have seen Paris, you can’t keep ’em down on the farm anymore. Today with globalization, Paris comes to them, via television and the Internet.

Next: A Father’s Query

  1. #1 by dagen on Thursday, 18 February 2010 - 8:57 am

    Wrong. Wrong. Wrong. The writer couldnt be wronger. Umno is such a wonder that its economic pie can and do (1) bake itself; and (2) grow in size without any external inputs or efforts.

    Ask jib. Mind you. He may not want to tell. You must understand. This is way beyond top secret.

    Jib Jib Boleh

  2. #2 by Dap man on Thursday, 18 February 2010 - 9:06 am

    This article is like teaching a chimpanzee to surf the internet and correspond via sms, msm, skype, and follow political speeches on U-Tube.

    UMNO is still in the Dark Ages, thinking like cavemen of old, snatching dead bodies, storming into bed rooms and whipping women or loves organizing illegal demonstrations at the drop of a pin.
    Now what good can they get from the article?

  3. #3 by Jeffrey on Thursday, 18 February 2010 - 9:15 am

    In the Era of Globalization #2 Malaysia is doing our part and showing the world, and especially the West, the right way, that we should in the name of justice and equality of gender, cane not just men but also women as well for offences committed : reference is made to Home Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Tun Hussein’s disclosure that three Muslim women who were found guilty of illicit sex under the Syariah law became the first in the country to be caned at 10am on Feb 9 at the Kajang Prison. (TheMalaysianInsider report 18th Feb)

    That shows our advanced thinking over the West…..We hold a person irrespective of gender responsible for his or her acts; we give the freedom to the individual but if one exercises that freedom wrongly and contrary to laws, the individual must assume the responsibility of facing the punishment without protection based only on excuse of sex!

    Why must only a man be caned for an offence and not a woman? They are built differently with softer skin than men??? Well isn’t the caning less severe (arm holding the cane cannot rise higher than the arm) to make punishment proportionate to physical built? What about fragile male offender, maybe even sick, some with softer skin than a hardy woman? Is causing permanent scars by canning more acceptable on men, but not on women because women are entitled to keep their beauty? What a crock of crap!

    Or is it because women are weaker sex and hence should not be caned ? Thats another crappy reason promoted by the West which cannot stand because as we all know in the United States, women demand equality, join the US Army and police force and handle fire arms.

    Hence what is the Sisters in Islam (SIS) protesting about? Or Datuk Zaid Ibrahim sarcastic in his comment which he tweeted in his twitter microblogging account – “Only in lawless 1 Malaysia can state court order caning for women although Federal law (Criminal Procedure Code) precluded women from such punishment”?

    The part of Federal Law (Criminal Procedure Code) prohibiting caning of women should be struck down as invalid and inconsistent to the bigger Federal Constitution whose article 8 uipholds Gender equality!

    Malaysian Government is putting forth a shining and “enlightened” example to the rest of the advanced countries in this Globalised World to demonstrate the example and important principle – that punishment should be based on the offense, not the fact that the criminal happens to fall into some special social group that some people misguidely think should be protected. (To locals our govt asks, why complain iniquities of affirmative policies for bumis and not affirmative policies for protecting women as a group when there’s no rational justification for the latter?)

    In equal punishment for both sexes at least we uphold our Constitutional Protection of Gender Equality enshrined in Article 8 of the Federal Constitution.

    [The comment here focuses only on issue of treating the sexes equally. It does not address whether the “offence” itself (such as drinking or having illicit sex) is justified or ought to be criminalised or not.]

  4. #4 by Bigjoe on Thursday, 18 February 2010 - 10:58 am

    Have you heard the lastest hair-brain idea of the new fuel-subsidy system? They are going to use the crappy Mycard system and every purchase must do a thumb print scan!

    I have done enough systems that I don’t need further details to come to the conclusion the stupidity of the idea. Its not going to work and it will cause hassle to consumers and operators while wasting a whole lot of money on implementation of the systems. Its a classic UMNO-crony idea meant to make money from the supplier of systems and services that does few of us any good while hassling many who do use or have to work around the system. It classic UMNO crony idea and plan who tries to be too smart when he is not.

    IF they do this, its a lot of money spent and effort put in, hassle put up, which in the end they will have to remove not too distant future.

    Its incredible how Najib is oblivious he is not making ANY difference to UMNO reform..

  5. #5 by mauriyaII on Thursday, 18 February 2010 - 12:37 pm

    Even if the warlords in UMNO and their emasculated pimps in BN are persuaded/forced/coerced to read the above article, they would not understand. It would be like throwing pearls before swines.

    On the other hand the ordinary folks, Malays and non-Malays alike would find gems in the writing and would feel blessed to have such enlightened human beings in their midst.

    As for Kerismoodin’s assertion that Malaysia is leading the way in punishing wayward people of both the sexes by implementing syariah law, it shows what a bungling hypocrite he is. Showcasing the punishment of a few women and their accomplishes is just that – a mere sandiwara.

    To be accountable to the syariah tenets, he should instruct the various state religious departments and police to catch the top honchos in the UMNO who are known fornicators ouside the institution of marriage. Flog them and shame them first.

    Wonder whether he is capable of such an action. He might find himself the main actor in a much hyped sodomy trial orchestrated by his fellow warlords for his temerity.

    The case of the delinqeant three women is akin to cases where the MACC has been successful in catching the minnows while closing both eyes on the sharks that have been gobbling up everything in sight.

    The above article is for the younger generation of Malaysians to be aware of the pitfalls if they fail in discerning the chaff from the grain. It is to enlighten them that they will be left behind in a globalized world if they still believe the crap that the great leaders in UMNO have been dishing out through the mass media to keep them shackled for another 50 years of draconian rule.

    We need more insightful writers to keep up the vigilance in a mentally warped up society where leaders give more prominance to race and religion when more pressing problems face the country.

  6. #6 by mauriyaII on Thursday, 18 February 2010 - 12:41 pm

    >> the word ‘accomplishes’ in the third paragraph should be ‘accomplices’. Sorry for the typo.

  7. #7 by Godfather on Thursday, 18 February 2010 - 1:03 pm

    Helloooooooo…..try telling this to the goons at Perkasa.

    The UMNO thesis (and woe betide anyone who disagrees with this) is simple – in an expanding economy, UMNOputras get 80 pct of the economic pie, 10 pct goes to the “other” Malays and 10 pct goes to the non-Malays. In a contracting economy, UMNOputras try to recover the 20 pct that is given away earlier and maybe even more through threats and coercions.

    Robert Kuok’s business in Malaysia is a case in point of UMNO’s bomoh economics. They wanted his Pelangi, so he sold to a PNB company. They wanted his Malayan Sugar, so he sold to Syed Mokhtar. Now they are eyeing his Malayan Flour….

    Globalization ? In your dreams, Bakri.

  8. #8 by dagen on Thursday, 18 February 2010 - 1:30 pm

    Thank god those idiots decided to stage the protest in australia in the name of umno instead of malaysia.

    It was a mega mistake and a super embarassment. But at least the impact of the mistake and embarassment is upon umno and not the country.

    Obviously, they thought umno’s Tuan Rempit McBully ways are worthy export material – the next mega revenue churner for umnoputras. They assumed that the aussies are like mca, mic and gerakan MPs.

    In fact, should the Aussies agitate umno further, they could expect umno warlords to rise once again in australian soil with the cry of “pendatang” and the claim of (huh? in australia?) ketuanan umno and the expression of “umno pantang dicabar”.

    Hey you guys downunder. Got nothing better to do? Poke them. Yeah. Them umno. Poke them. For fun. For some good laughs and good past-time.

    Pssssst. Psssst. Listen. Now listen good alright. Dont be fooled by umno’s subs. They wont dive. So just whack them off the face of the sea with your surfboards if they get too close.

  9. #9 by chengho on Thursday, 18 February 2010 - 6:48 pm

    i thought you are an englishman living in new york.

  10. #10 by johnnypok on Thursday, 18 February 2010 - 10:14 pm

    Malaysia will go bankrupt in 10 years time, if the government continues to be run by HP6 reps and idiots.

  11. #11 by ktteokt on Thursday, 18 February 2010 - 10:43 pm

    Malaysia may want to globalize but are the Malays ready for globalization! Globalization means “no more handicap or handouts for this SUPERIOR race”!

  12. #12 by DCLXVI on Friday, 19 February 2010 - 1:52 am

    chengho: “Bakri, i thought you are an englishman living in new york.”

    Isn’t Bakri just a Malaysian who wants his opinions known?

  13. #13 by DCLXVI on Friday, 19 February 2010 - 2:02 am

    dagen: “Thank god those idiots decided to stage the protest in australia in the name of umno instead of malaysia. It was a mega mistake and a super embarassment. But at least the impact of the mistake and embarassment is upon umno and not the country.”

    Those Aussie politicians made their protest because they spotted something familiar and close to their home in the Anwar ‘Sodomy 2′ trial, which is a kangaroo in court, and they hope that we Malaysians will identify and remove that kangaroo from the court so that this trial will be dismissed and not further waste more of time and the tax payers’ money…

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