M. Bakri Musa
24 May 2015
Much is at stake for Malays. Only those lulled by Hang Tuah’s blustery Takkan Melayu hilang di dunia (Malays will never be lost from this world) would pretend otherwise. History is replete with examples of once great civilizations now reduced to mere footnotes. At best they are but objects of tourists’ curiosities, as with the Mayans.
It is unlikely for Malay civilization to disappear; there are nearly a quarter billion of us in the greater Nusantara world of Southeast Asia. There is however, a fate far worse, and that is for Malaysia to be developed but with Malays shunted aside, reduced to performing exotic songs and dances for tourists.
There are about 17 million Malays in Malaysia, comparable to the population of the Netherlands. Their colonial record excluded, the Dutch should be our inspiration of what a population of 17 million could achieve.
Consider Rotterdam, Europe’s busiest port. One expects that title to go to a port in Britain, Germany, or Russia. Then consider the following famous brands: Shell (petroleum), Phillips (electronics), Unilever (consumer goods), Heineken (beer), and ING (financial services). Those are all Dutch companies.
Then consider the hosts of eminent organizations like the International Criminal Court and International Court of Justice, all centered in the Netherlands. More remarkable is that the country is behind only America and France in agricultural exports, despite a quarter of Holland being below sea level!
Compare that to Malays and Malaysia. Malays are in political control; non-Malays cannot challenge that; it is a demographic reality. We have a land mass ten times that of the Netherlands, and none of it underwater, except when it rains and our rivers get clogged with pollution. Then it seems the entire country is underwater, paralyzed and gasping for air.
Imagine if we could achieve even a tenth of what the Dutch have done! That should be our goal and inspiration, not endless recitations of Hang Tuah’s immortal words or the incessant hollering of Ketuanan Melayu.
We are being hoodwinked by the government’s glossy publications and our leaders’ rosy recounting of our achievements. Take the “Malaysian Quality of Life 2004 Report” produced by the Prime Minister’s Department. At 113 pages it is full of glossy pictures of well-trimmed suburban neighborhoods, neat kampong houses, and of course the iconic Petronas Towers. There is also a picture of earnest executives engaged in videoconferencing, highlighting the latest technology gizmo.
The cover features the responsible minister, Mustapa Mohamed, beaming against the backdrop of a lush, luxurious golf course. That image reveals more of the truth, perhaps unintended; the golf course is exactly where you are likely to find these ministers.
Visit the minister’s old kampong in Jeli, Kelantan, and the reality would be far different. I have no data specific on Jeli but a recent study on Pulau Redong and Pulau Perhentian, islands off Trengganu, would shock anyone. A fifth of the villagers have no formal education; half had only primary level. This in 2011! Their average income is less than what Indonesian maids earn. As a needless reminder, those villagers are Malays.
More shocking and reflective of the malaise, two-thirds of the respondents expect “little” or “no change.” They have given up hope. So much for UMNO’s grandiose promises on “protecting and enhancing” the position of Malays!
When those high-flying UMNO operatives visit the east coast, they lodge at the exclusive Berjaya Resort, with taxpayers footing the bill. There they could partake in video conferencing. For the islanders however, fewer than 4 percent have Internet access. There is a thriving tourism industry but those jobs are out of reach to the residents for lack of skills and education.
Those islanders’ world is a universe away from that of their fellow Bumiputras like Women Affairs Minister Sharizat Jalil with her ultra-luxury condos courtesy of hefty Bumiputra discounts and generous “soft” government loans.
Tun Razak’s New Economic Policy, Mahathir’s Vision 2020, and now Najib’s 1-Malaysia all have the same aspiration of turning Malaysia into a developed nation. For Malaysia to be developed however, we must first develop its biggest demographic group – Malays. So long as Malays remain backward, so will Malaysia. Tun Razak’s NEP recognized this central reality. Vision 2020 and 1-Malaysia are eerily silent on it.
Despite this glaring omission, Vision 2020 caught on, Mahathir’s domineering personality snuffing out potential criticisms, at least while he was in power. Najib is not so blessed personality-wise; hence his difficulty selling his 1-Malaysia even to his party members.
Solving Malaysia’s problems would require us to first address those of Malays. That is the focus of my commentaries. The accepted assumption is that by solving Malaysia’s problems, those of the Malays would automatically be resolved, the rising tide lifting all boats. Less appreciated is that a rising tide lifts only those boats that are free to float. Those trapped under low bridges or with short anchor rode would be swamped. For a rising tide to be a benefit and not a threat we must first ensure that all boats are free to float; otherwise they would be doomed.
Liberating the Malay mind is equivalent to freeing our prahus, of giving them adequate anchor lines or moving them away from underneath bridges and other encumbrances. Today there are just too many Malay boats that are being hampered. We must first free them; otherwise the rising tide would do them no favor. It would only swamp them.
This essay is adapted from the author’s book, Liberating The Malay Mind, ZI Publications Sdn Bhd, Petaling Jaya, Malaysia, 2013
Next week: Excerpt #4: The Bane of Our Obsession with Politics