Malaysia in the Era of Globalization #29

By M. Bakri Musa

Chapter 4: Modern Model States

The Relevant Lessons For Malaysia

At first glance, Malaysians cannot readily identify with any of these three countries. Although they differ in a number of significant ways, nonetheless each has important lessons to offer Malaysia.

The most obvious difference is that none of three countries have multiracial societies and the accompanying interracial problems. South Korea is ethnically and culturally homogeneous. There may be some tension between the Buddhist majority and the Christian minority, but that does not lead to serious social or religious conflict. Polarizations and schisms in Korean society are more along regional and class lines.

Argentina is also deeply divided along class lines; between landowners and workers, and urban and rural dwellers. Ethnic differences are not significant as they are all essentially Europeans. Granted there are significant differences between the Germans and the Italians Argentineans (language, culture, religion), but those are of not of the same scale as the differences between Malays and Chinese.

Ireland may be closer to Malaysia in its communal dynamics, what with the profound differences between Protestant and Catholic residents. Even then it would be hard to tell just by looking a Protestant Irish from a Catholic one (of course the crucifix hanging around the neck would be a definite giveaway!). In Malaysia, by and large you could readily tell a Chinese from a Malay, and a Malay from an Indian, those mamaks notwithstanding.

Since the Irish independence however, the Protestants had been effectively pushed out to emigrate. Today they are an insignificant minority. To the north however, the Catholic and Orangemen are very much still at each other’s throat. Although many of the leading Irish institutions (Trinity College for one) and venerable industries (Guinness, Irish Times) were of Protestant origin, they are now fully Irish (that is, Catholic) in ambience and character. A couple of generations ago the Irish had a comparable “Malaysian” problem, with the Protestant minority controlling the economy while the Catholic majority was marginalized.

Ireland in particular offers three major lessons for Malaysia: one, reducing the influence of institutionalized religion; two, population control; and three, the issue of education and language.

The Catholic Church had more influence in Ireland than in any other country, including Italy where the Vatican is. The Irish Church controlled the social services, education system, and everything else, including perhaps the thought processes of its followers. In the past, the clergy was to the Irish what the Ayatollah is to Iranians today. Educational institutions in Ireland were for a long time not so much learning as indoctrination centers. Irish social services were meant less to alleviate the social pain and sufferings, more to entrap the faithful to the church.

Substitute Catholicism for Islam and Irish for Malays, and we have the situation in Malaysia today. Just as the Irish were gripped and strangled by the Church, so too are today’s Malays by governmental Islam. This brand of Islam has intruded into every facet of Malay life; from our schools and into our minds. Malaysian Muslims risk being branded “deviationist” and suffer the worldly consequences should they by chance stray from the official line or dare express independent thought. Many Muslim scholars have been jailed without due process for braving to give new meaning to our faith. If some Muslims leaders in Malaysia have their way, apostasy would be a capital offence.

There is a proliferation of Islamic institutions in Malaysia. Even universities supposedly designed for science and technology have large Islamic Studies departments. Yet despite the quantity, alas their scholarly works remain unimpressive. No new thinking or fresh insight emanates from these hallowed halls. These Islamic establishments are less scholarly and religious bodies but more government propaganda machinery. They serve to stamp an Islamic cachet to every official pronouncement and policy. No less significant, they are also massive public works programs for the glut of otherwise unemployable Islamic Studies graduates.

Islamic leaders give endless fatwas (edicts), often on topics for which they are completely clueless. Their training is narrow and rigid. Granted no one can be knowledgeable on every topic and issue, but these Islamic officials are not shy of making pronouncements outside their scope of competence. They seem to have all the answers; they do not feel compelled to seek advice from worldly experts. When you presume to have a direct line to the Almighty Allah, you certainly do not need the advice and counsel from mere mortals. Their intellectual certitude is exceeded only by their moral arrogance.

In Malaysia, religious teachers and ulama are treated with undue reverence. Critical thinking is not encouraged or allowed when they deliver their fatwas, khutbas, or lectures. Question or query them at your peril. Theirs is the ultimate truth. To these modern Islamic ‘scholars’ and ulamas, everything is deemed settled; all the students have to do is absorb whatever is spouted from their teachers’ mouth, and retain it long enough to be regurgitated at examination time. No wonder when these students grow up and face the problems of the world, they are befuddled.

As in Ireland of yore, the system of education in Malaysia today is heavily influenced by religion, in this case Islam. This is a recent development. Before that religion had minimal or no role in the Malaysian educational system; it was essentially secular. However, with the greater emphasis on Islam, partly as a planned strategy by the UMNO-led government to steal the Islamic thunder from the opposition Islamic party, the government has been emphasizing religion in schools and other establishments.

It is not religion – specifically Islam – that is so destructive in the education of young Malays, rather the manner in which the subject is being taught. Religious teachers treat their students as subjects to be indoctrinated. Students are viewed as empty bins to be filled in with dogmas. They are taught to treat their teachers like the Pope – infallible – never to question what is being uttered no matter how ridiculous. Religion is reduced to a series of do’s and don’ts. Rote learning rather than critical thinking is valued.

The sad and destructive part is that this teaching philosophy gets transferred to other subjects. Before long we will get a generation of Malays who are nothing but robots controlled by the state.

Next: The Relevant Lessons for Malaysia (Cont’d)

  1. #1 by boh-liao on Thursday, 26 August 2010 - 10:14 am

    1M’sia truly unique – we hv
    racial divide, religious divide, class divide, UmnoB/BN supremo (semua boleh), meritocracy-bashing

  2. #2 by lorry_driver_malaysia on Thursday, 26 August 2010 - 10:34 am

    A hopeless generation of Malays who are nothing but robots controlled by the UMNO. Can’t be helped because they are being spoon fed for such a long time, let it be, let it be…..

  3. #3 by johnnypok on Thursday, 26 August 2010 - 11:20 pm

    Our standard of football is kampong-standard, and we can only dream about qualifying for the World Cup.

    Maybe 10 or 20 generations from now, and provided there is a change of government (a clean one without NEP and AP), and if Malaysia still exist, the World Cup can land in the hand of our future “1-Malaysia” …. no more Malay race, no more Chinese and Indians, but a new race call “MIC = a mixture of Malay, Indian and Chinese blood”

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