Bakri Musa’s Review of Zaid Ibrahim’s “Saya Pun Melayu”

posted by din merican–April 25, 2009

Saya Pun Melayu and Me too
by Dr. M. Bakri Musa
Morgan-Hill, California

Book Review:  Saya Pun Melayu (I Am Also A Malay)

Foreword by Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah.

ZI Publications Sdn Bhd, Petaling Jaya, 2009.  312 pages.  RM 35.00

saya-pun-melayu-cover-lo-resThe Annual UMNO General Assembly is also the season and reason for the release of new books on local politics written in Malay.  It must be a profitable venue and time, for the number of new titles keeps growing each year. Foreigners may mistake this to reflect a healthy intellectual discourse, or at least a vigorous political debate.  The reality however, is far different.  With such titillating titles as “50 Dalil Mengapa XYZ Tidak Layak …”  (Fifty Reason s Why XYZ Is Unfit For … ) and the promiscuous use of “half-past six English,” this “genre” poisons the political atmosphere, quite apart from degrading our national language. As for content, these books are nothing more than warong kopi (coffee shop) gossips transcribed.

Observers and political scientists hoping to gain an insight on Malaysian politics would do well to avoid these books.  And they have.  These books will never be cited in reputable publications or quoted by respected commentators. Enter Zaid Ibrahim’s Saya Pun Melayu (I Am Also A Malay).  It too was released to coincide with the recent UMNO General Assembly.  There the similarity ends.  This gem of a diamond sparkles with insights and wisdom.

Zaid Ibrahim’s book, Saya Pun Melayu: Greater Impact Than The Malay Dilemma

Like a diamond, Zaid’s  book too has innumerable multifaceted sharp edges that cut through rock-headed politicians.  I would be insulting Zaid if I were to compare his thoughtful and well written book to the thrash that littered the hallways of Dewan Merdeka, Putra World Trade Center, Kuala Lumpur, where the recent UMNO General Assembly took place.

A more appropriate comparison would be Mahathir’s The Malay Dilemma, written some 40 years ago and also at a time when UMNO and Malays were going through a critical crisis.  This book will have an even greater impact than The Malay Dilemma.

Like Mahathir’s, the first run of this book quickly sold out, but unlike Mahathir’s, this book has not been banned.  This is not due to any greater enlightenment on the part of the authorities today, rather a tribute to Zaid’s skillful and subtle approach.  Whereas Mahathir is frontal and polemical, meant more to shock if not insult readers, Zaid, ever the accomplished corporate lawyer, takes a softer and polite approach.

In contrast to Mahathir’s anger and indignant rhetoric, Zaid is more sorrowful — with disappointment too—over UMNO’s current malaise.  Zaid persuades us with his rational arguments; Mahathir barrages us with his accusations.  Mahathir caters to our baser emotions and sense of victimization and guilt; Zaid to our intellect and pristine values of our culture.

Our culture goes for Zaid’s “halus”(refined) ways, of subtleties and obliqueness.  Thus he is devastatingly effective, as, for example, in upbraiding his former cabinet colleagues who are lawyers.  Rais Yatim, Syed Hamid Albar, Hishammuddin Hussein, and Azalina Othman, among others, are chastised for failing to live up to their professional ethics and obligations as shown by their disrespect for the due process of law and basic human rights.

Written in the Malay language, Zaid’s polite criticisms are very damning.  It would be difficult to maintain this tone in this style had the book been written in English.  The translator should ponder this point.The book is in three parts.

The first is the author’s reflection on and prescription for our nation’s current predicaments.  Zaid tackles such “hot” issues as Ketuanan Melayu (Malay hegemony), the rule of law, and the role of the monarchy in a democracy.  It also includes his very brief tenure as Abdullah Badawi’s Law Minister.

The second is an memoir of sorts where he traced his humble origin in a village deep in Ulu Kelantan to become a highly successful corporate attorney who created the nation’s largest law firm.  It also includes his tenure in UMNO politics and his current philanthropic projects, where he has been recognized by Forbes magazines as Asia ’s Inaugural Heroes of Philanthropy.  The last part contains short profiles of Malaysians he admires (which includes former Chief Justice Salleh Abbas, Nik Aziz and Anwar Ibrahim), his hopes on the future of Malays, and the current state of Malay politics, specifically UMNO’s.

UMNO No Longer Represents Malays

One could be readily misled in assuming that those rent-seeking, keris-brandishing, and race-taunting types that infest and polute UMNO represent the best if not the essence of the Malay race.  Or that the angry menacing Mat Rempits, the jungle version of Hell’s Angels so eagerly being embraced by UMNO Youth, are the future of Malays. Zaid’s ideas and approaches are the antithesis of UMNO’s.

In deliberately choosing the simple title, Zaid is emphasizing that his is also a legitimate if not the prevailing viewpoint.  To me, Zaid represents more of the essence of Malayness while those corrupt pseudo modernized UMNO types just happen to be Malays.  They are the ones who soil our culture, give it a bad odor, and annihilate Malay honour and dignity.

Zaid Ibrahim writes teasingly that he has already set a record of sorts by being the shortest serving cabinet minister!  Here is another observation also worthy of the record books.  He is the only minister whose reputation is enhanced on leaving office!  Not to belittle Zaid’s own fine personal qualities and considerable achievements, that says a lot on the caliber of the people leading Malaysia today!

He takes to task UMNO leaders for presuming to speak on behalf of all Malays.  It is clear now that they do not.  In the chapter “Masa Depan Melayu” (The Future of Malays) in Part III, Zaid suggests that Malays must be outward looking, willing to learn from others, and not be obsessed with empty slogans like Ketuanan Melayu or Satu–Malaysia.  The road to Ketuanan Melayu, he writes, is not by shouting your lungs out at every gathering, rather through diligence, hard work, and most of all, superior education.

Zaid relates his experience as a university student leader on a three-month trip to America visiting the top campuses (“Memburu Cita Cita, (Pursuing You Dreams) Chapter 8 Part II).  This was in the 1970s, the height of the anti-Vietnam protests.  He was struck that even though America was at war its government was still tolerant of dissent. I have met many Malaysians who have lived for many years in America and yet they miss this important aspect of American exceptionalism.  Their America is the shopping malls, porno shops, and blighted downtowns.

Decades later as Abdullah’s Law Minister, he was appalled when the government of which he was a part detained dissenters like Raja Petra and Teresa Kok under the ISA.  Not surprisingly, Zaid’s departure from the cabinet soon followed.

Zaid’s ideas and observations resonate with me, as well as many Malaysians.  Here is the voice of a successful Malay professional and a member of the political elite.  That he now quits UMNO is a loss for it but a gain for Malaysia. Another blessing is that he is now free to pursue his philanthropic works as well as his involvement in NGOs.  And being an effective critic of the government!

In my opinion, the most valuable part of the book is his brief memoir (Part II).  Zaid clearly subscribes early to the values he writes about.  His divorced father took him away from the village to live with him in Kota Baru where he could attend an English school ( Sultan Ismail College ). When he reached secondary level he felt the urge to leave, to see the greater world beyond.

He chose English College in Johor Baru, at the very opposite end of the peninsula.  The school, however, accepts new students only if their families were transferred there.  So he wrote to the principal stating that indeed he had a “family” (his distant cousin) transferred to the Army base there.  His father willingly signed the letter for him and supported his decision.

Unlike in Kota Baru where his classmates were almost exclusively Malays, down there he had an environment more reflective of Malaysia. From there he went on to Sekolah Tun Razak in Ipoh for his Form Six, where he excelled in debates, and then to UiTM for his law studies.

Except for about seven months in London at one of the Inns to qualify for the Bar, and the earlier trip to America , Zaid spent his formative years in Malaysia .  It is remarkable that he could have such an open and receptive attitude.  We have many who spent years at the best British universities only to return quickly to their old kampong mentality upon coming home.

Zaid  Ibrahim has what the Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck refers to as a “growth mindset,” in contrast to a “fixed mindset.”  Those with the growth mindset believe that their fate is dependent on how adaptive they are in seizing opportunities, and on their ability to grow and gain from their experiences.  They do not believe that their fate is dependent on what nature had bestowed upon them, the benevolence of some remote emperor, or what had been written in the book of life.  The “fixed mindset” view their talent and ability as fixed, and that their lot in life is ultimately tied to their innate nature, especially their intelligence and ‘giftedness.’

The former UMNO minister is always learning from others and improving on what they had done.  He writes of his early experience articling in a prestigious law firm where he was offered a position.  That was definitely a career coup, a young lawyer’s dream.  What soured it were the whisperings among his colleagues that he was offered simply because the firm wanted to increase its Malay representation.  After much soul searching, Zaid declined the offer.  That must have shocked those senior partners.  Another “dumb” Malay refusing to seize opportunities, they must have thought!

Zaid too must have questioned himself a thousand times in the years following that tough decision, especially when he had difficulty trying to borrow from MARA (a measly RM25,000.00) to start his own firm.  In the end, he created ZICO, a law firm that easily bested the one where he articled.  Not only is it the largest, it is also one of the few that could handle the complex needs of multinational corporations, and the first to venture abroad. That is where a growth mindset could lead you.

Going back to MARA, an institution I am a never a fan of, Zaid relates an incident visiting his alma mater soon after being appointed Law Minister.  He wanted to spend a few minutes to give the students a “pep talk.” On the appointed day, he was surprised by the overflowing crowd.  Then as is typical, the Vice Chancellor, one Ibrahim Abu Shah (a “Dato’ Seri Prof. Dr. ” no less! and a Laksamana bodek at that) hogged all the allotted time, pouring embarrassingly effusive praises on Zaid.  He was left with a scant few minutes!

A few months later, after Zaid resigned as a minister and gave his talk at the Asean Law Forum where he challenged the wisdom of Ketuanan Melayu, that same Ibrahim called Zaid a traitor to our race!  As Zaid says, our intellectuals are also now speaking like politicians.  Zaid may not realize this; they do so because they are essentially politicians who happen to wear academic robes.  Scholars and intellectuals they are not.

I wish all Malaysians would read this book.  Our policy makers would benefit more from reading this instead of the World Bank’s dense treatises on rural poverty.  The tribulations of his childhood that Zaid so well described are still very much the reality today for a vast number of young Malays.

Zaid was fortunate in that his father saw the value of a good education.  Many parents are trapped between needing their children to work to lessen the family’s burden and going to school.  If our government were to adopt programs like Mexico ’s Progresa where parents are being paid for keeping their children in school, then we would help those parents make the right decisions that would benefit them and the nation in the long term.

If UMNO members and leaders were to read this volume they might just be disabused of their delusion of Ketuanan Melayu and ethnocentric mindset.  On the other hand, they might not like it when they realize their own stupidity.  For young Malays, Zaid is an inspiration and aspiration of what is within their grasp if only they could see through the skulduggery of Ketuanan Melayu that is being perpetrated upon them.  For non-Malays, this book might just erase some of their negative stereotypes of Malays they harbor.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book not only because of the remarkable personal story but also for the style of writing.  Malays writers writing in Malay (and often also in English) tend to use non-declarative sentences.  Thus instead of saying, “I like vanilla ice cream!” they would write, “On matters of ice cream taste, I like vanilla!”  The latter takes nearly twice as many words, and the reader also has to shift gears.

This book is a valuable contribution to the political discourse, and it comes at a time when it is badly needed.  Rest assured that this book will be talked about for years.

15 thoughts on “Bakri Musa’s Review of Zaid Ibrahim’s “Saya Pun Melayu”

  1. Malay Dilemma is a tong kosong full of jentik2, nyamuk aedes…It was this disease breeder that racially destroyed Malaysia….Malays are a very accommodating people, once someone has resided long enough in Malaysia ( tanah melayu) the malays accepts them as brothers..Never before UMNO, was Indian and chinese referred as immigrants…point in case..

    Mahathir ancestry…he was accepted as malay by malays. No one chided him for renouncing his kerala ancestry but this Mamak Kutty mahathir abuse the malay acceptance and use it to further his political position and power hence comes the maddening use of Ketuanan melayu…There’s no such thing in Melayu history about ketuanan melayu..the people in power were the royalty and bangsawan…the ordinary malay never claim they are masters and fact they treated everybody the same.

    It was the bangsawan caste that use this term (ketuanan melayu) to keep their power…They know if the power were left in rakyat’s hand, they and their families who have been plundering the wealth will be uncovered and they and their families may find themselves possibly hanged by their necks.

    Mamak Mahathir found this ketuanan melayu rhetoric useful to keep the malay docile and beguiled..Hence the malay dilemma was written..not for malays to ponder their fate and future but to pull wool over their eyes of the ruling elite excesses and destruction of this country…Any wonder why mamak Mahathir was called mahafiraun?….Well, you need not wonder anymore…You don’t get to be called mahafiraun for nothing…
    Well said, hamba. See my comments.—Din Merican.

  2. My wife and I finished reading Zaid’s book. The book is written in highly readable Bahasa and contains invaluable insights into UMNO politics and other topical issues about Malaysia, past and present, as seen by a young and very successful Malay with a Malaysian mindset. Zaid is an inspiration no doubt to all young Malaysians. His message, one that is repeated throughout the 311 pages of his book, is that there are no short cuts to success in career and life. Honesty (and integrity) is the best policy each time and every time.

    I am struck by his caustic comments on “Golongan elit yang hipokrit” and I would like to quote it here for our deliberation and discussion:

    “Seorang kawan yang saya gelar Bujuk baru-baru ini memberi hujah panjang lebar mengapa dalam masyarakat Melau, kita mudah sekali dibeli dan diupah. Katanya, punca kelemahan ini adalah kerana kumpulan elit dan atasan Melayu terlalu gemar kepada pangkat dan harta sehingga mereka sanggup melakukan perkara yang besifat fraudulent atau kepalsuan dan hipokrit atau berpura-pura. Maksud kawan saya itu, kumpulan elit ini adalah daripada golongan politik, akademik dan perniagaan. Sikap kumpulan elit inilah yang menjadikan mereka tidak ada daya tahan untuk membina nilai etika dan moral yang kukuk sebagai benteng daripada serangan rasuh dan sogokan. Kalau puak elit ada integriti dan telus sudah tentu rakyat mencontohi mereka.” (page 276).

    One cannot disagree with the above comment by Zaid. Integrity matters, and our leaders should be paragons of integrity. In stead, Malay leaders in UMNO are the very antithesis of integrity as they are unashamedly corrupt. Rest my case.—Din Merican

  3. Apa lagi yang diperkatakan !!! Semua pujian telah nya telah di sebut. Syabas kapada Sdr. Zaid Ibrahim. Cuma kadang kala saya masih teringat akan gelagat beliau semasa era Mahathir. Membentuk Muslim Bar Association untuk menjadi salah satu platform untuk ‘membodek’ Mahathir. Ternyata berhasil. By virtue of that Mahathir ‘membela’ beliau and made him instant millionaires like many others opportunist. Saya rasa kalau saya bertanya kapada Sdr Bakri Musa dan Bro Din, ada kah ini yang di panggil ‘integrity dan maruah’. Regards
    Pada suatu ketika dahulu saya pun penyokong kuat Mahathir sebab saya percaya kepada visi beliau. Tetapi sekarang saya sudah nampak belang beliau dan saya tidak terima tindak tanduk kotor beliau. Saya akan menentang sikap beliau habis-habisan. Integriti dan maruah kita ada kaitan dengan diri kita sendiri. Kalau kita ada maruah, kita tidak boleh menerima duit secara haram and kita berani menentang rasuah dan yang tidakadilan. Inilah sikap orang yang berintegriti. Orang yang berintegriti adalah insan yang sanggup menerima kenyataan ini, dan boleh membuat perubahan apabila ia sedar diri dan berani mengambil tindakan untuk memperbaiki dirinya sendiri.

    Saya tidak tahu apa yang telah Zaid lakukan semasa didalam UMNO. Apa yang boleh saya lihat sekarang ini, Zaib telah berhijrah dari segi sikap dan menerima kenyataan bahawa sudah UMNO lari dari perjuangan asal, iaitu, ia tidak memperjuangkan bahasa dan negara dan bersikap tidak adil, jujur dan tulus terhadap rakyat. —Din Merican

  4. I would suggest that PR sponsor free distribution of this book throughout the country including putting copies on the shelves of libraries. Better still if a soft copy can be posted on the internet for all to read. And for those whose command of bahasa malaysia is weak, as well as for the international community, a well translated version in English is also made readily available – also via the ‘net.
    Hi Pat, the English language version of Zaid’s book is work in progress while the Mandarin one is being published. I expect after many years of teaching and learning Bahasa Malaysia, the majority of Malaysians can understand it. Otherwise, our national language policy is a dismal failure.—Din Merican

  5. this is an extract of a report by an independent journalist which shows that the Election Commission is just PRO BN! If you support this report, please cut and paste on every group in Facebook. Thank you.

    “The same views have been echoed by no less than the Election Commission (EC). Plus, the EC has openly supported proposals by some BN leaders such as Datuk Seri Nazri Aziz, Datuk Mukhriz Mahathir and Tan Keng Liang to prevent “unnecessary” elections. These include suggestions for stricter laws, and penalties for elected reps or their parties should an elected representative resign for reasons other than what’s stated in Article 48(1) of the Federal Constitution.”

  6. In 1951, Onn Jaafar left UMNO after failing to open its membership to non-Malay Malayans to form the Independence of Malaya Party (IMP). Tunku Abdul Rahman replaced Dato’ Onn as UMNO President. That same year, the Radical Party won the first election in Malaya-the George Town municipal council election-claiming six out of the nine seats available. However, the following year, UMNO formed an agreement with the Malayan Chinese Association (MCA) to avoid contesting the same seats in the Kuala Lumpur municipal council elections. UMNO and MCA eventually carried nine out of the twelve seats, dealing a crushing blow to the IMP. After several other successes in local council elections, the coalition was formalised as an “Alliance” in 1954.

    Dato Onn Jaafar is also a Melayu.
    So can he be a ‘pengkianat bangsa’ ?
    I dont think so. He has a vision. A Malaysian Vision.
    After those race-based political parties looses steam after 50 years, It will be interesting to see a new era of Malaysia propping up, sometime in 2012.

  7. Zahid has freed himself from the chains of communal decode , his humility in expression , is his way of showing UMNO the middle finger.

    Yes! Din , the elevator of success is out of order, you’ve got to use the stairs , one step at a time. The higher you climb the more successful you’re , unless of cos , you happen to be the rat that falls on UMNOs lap. ( tikus jatuh ke riba).

  8. Thnks Bro. Din for the response.

    It is a ‘yes’ and ‘no’. I still have doubts about ZI.One must always remember the he came from the same ‘hole’ that produces the so called educated,liberal and open minded politikus Melayu sama ada dalam UMNO,PKR dan PAS hari ini.

    ZI is lucky. He has the money. Apa kata jika keadaan beliau sekarang ini sebalik nya. I can bet you that he will be like the others where ‘hand kissing ‘ and ‘arse kissing’ will the norm.


  9. I do believe that a more confident and dignified Malay race will be the ultimate solution to the country. The current political and bureaucratic rot of country would not contribute positively towards that. This is undoubtedly the creation of DM and his 22 years of autocratic rule of the country.
    DM, as a ‘turncoat’, has been propagating the wicked blame that the Malays’ economic setback has been caused by other races. This controversial and confrontational view has of course been used very effectively by the then political elites to grab greater powers and wealth but at the huge cost of social integration which is undermining the country’s stability.
    It has been a relieve to have somebody like ZI to put forward a balanced view to nurture greater mental positiveness which in turn will develop greater confidence and dignity of the Malays.

  10. In the long history of humankind, the descendants of kings and emperors can become slaves and slaves in turn can become kings and emperors. If traced far enough, there are millions among us that are descendants of whatever that we wish to call. Does that matter?

  11. The book should be translated in Indian, Chinese and East Malaysian dialects. It would be very far reaching as to understand Malay from a Malaysian Malay.

  12. I am going to buy this book to read. I personally believe this author is ‘real’ for what or who he is.

  13. I read this book in 3 nights and I could not appreciate what Zaid did and sacrifice himself for the greater good. His humble upbringing is reflected in his humble approach in handling personal, professional and political issues confronting him for the last 23 years.

    One thing is not clear. He was sacked as Ketua Bahagian UMNO Kota Bahru on corruption charges (if I am not mistaken) and in this book, he did not pin the blame on Tengku Din. However, he did not elaborate or clear the doubt if those charges were true. Please enlighten.

  14. Sorry for my typo error. The first sentence should read as follow: ” … I could now appreciate what Zaid did and sacrifice himself for the greater good.’

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