Imagining A Different Future

May 31, 2015

Imagining A Different Future

by Dr. M Bakri Musa
Morgan-Hill, California

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 footnotes. At best they are but objects of tourists’ curiosities, as with the Mayans.

melayu2UMNO Malays

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.

Hosts of eminent organizations like the International Criminal Court and International Court of Justice are headquartered in the Netherlands. More remarkable is this. That country is behind only America and France in agricultural exports, despite a quarter of its land 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 reciting 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 accounts. 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.

Malay_1Performing exotic songs and dances for tourists.

Visit the minister’s kampong in Jeli, Kelantan, and the reality would be far different. I have no data specific on Jeli but a recent study of Pulau Redong and Pulau Perhentian, islands off Trengganu, would shock anyone. A fifth of the villagers have no formal education; half 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 Chinese-owned Berjaya Resort, with taxpayers footing the bill. There they could partake in video conferencing. For the islanders, however, fewer than four 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 former Women Affairs Minister Sharizat Jalil with her ultra-luxury condos courtesy of hefty Bumiputra discounts and generous “soft” government loans.

Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak (L) and his wife Rosmah Mansor (R) arrive at the airport in Tokyo on May 24, 2015. Najib is on a three day visit to Japan.   AFP PHOTO / Yoshikazu TSUNO

The grumpy and prematurely aging Prime Minister Najib and his First Lady Rosmah Mansor

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 necessitate us to first address those of the Malays. 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 (boats), of giving them adequate anchor lines or moving them away from under 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

18 thoughts on “Imagining A Different Future

  1. I wonder why Hang Tuah is no longer mentioned or quoted by UMNO orators at the party’s Annual General Assembly. Even Hang Jebat too is no longer heard. Suddenly they have disappeared from the deep recesses of the Malay mind and a part of Malacca’s history is erased. Now the Malay hero is Tun Dr. Mahathir. Can some historians like Professor Dr. Khoo Kay Kim and Professor Dr. Ramlah Adam tell me why both Tuah and Jebat have taken a leave of absence?–Din Merican

  2. When you step into a Business school the first question you are asked is – What is the job of a CEO. The Answer. Identify your Vision and find the people who can realise that Vision for you. Unfortunately, if you have only one child you do not have a choice and you invest in the one child for better or worse. But those who have three (3) children have a choice on how to invest their resources to achieve their Vision.

  3. Don’t quite agree with your statement that the Malay civilization will not disappear. If a civilization is defined as a group of people practicing a unique way of life then tell me what is so unique about they Malay way of life today. How much of old Malay traditions is known and practiced today. Even the language is badly chopped up and misspelt to the extent that to expect a decently drafted letter in Malay is asking for too much, not to mention the horrors we see in the sms’s and whatsapps these days. So the Malay civilization has disappeared, unless you are referring to a group of brown skinned men and women desperately aping the ways of their white cousins or aspiring to be Arabs be it in dressing, songs or cuisine. Even in the kampongs old traditions are strangers to the young. Yes, many brown people, Malay civilization, No longer.

    With regard to Hang Tuah and gang I presume you referring to the much vaunted Malay Empire, the Melaka Sultanate, which if we check the historical data again lasted only slightly over 100 years. This is all we Malays have to show against the 4 to 5000 years old civilizations of the Indians, Chinese, Egyptians, Persians, etc. Point is, we tend to over glorify ourselves, we forget to compare ourselves against the rest of the world. Classic katak bawah tempurung syndrome. Compared to other civilizations we were just blink of an eye. And now just 58 years old, what is the state of the Union. We are breaking at the seams, not with wealth and prosperity but all kinds of social problems which makes me wonder whether we can outlast even the Melaka Sultanate, i.e. breached the 100 year without being colonized directly or indirectly again.

    Pulau Redang is quite a distance from KL. 40 minutes from KL you would find almost similar situation, albeit slightly improved.

    Do you honestly think that freeing the perahu is at all possible?

    Please prove that I am wrong so that I can be convinced that my 3 grandchildren and others to come will have indeed a better life than I have today.

  4. “Can some historians like Professor Dr. Khoo Kay Kim and Professor Dr. Ramlah Adam tell me why both Tuah and Jebat have taken a leave of absence?”

    I have no idea if Khoo Kay Kim is a credible historian or any academic for that matter, but he thinks “Hang Tuah, Hang Jebat and company were all mythical figures. There is no proof that they existed.”

    As for freeing the Malay mind, well that would mean addressing the systemic dysfunctions which breeds a Malay underclass which so far, no “Malay” or Non Malay power structures wish to address – seeing as how it would be easier to pander to the lowest common denominator to acquire power rather than radicalism which is the main component of any reimagining of a different future.

  5. What happened to Hang Tuah and the many “Hangs” in his gang? Well, when it was proven, beyond a shadow of doubt, that these so-called “Malay pahlawan” were in fact Chinese, the whole charade crumbled. Umno dares not even mention him during its annual assembly for fear of being lampooned. So much for Hang Tuah, Hang Jebat, Hang Kasturi, Hang Lekir and Hang apa lagi…

  6. The likes of Bakri Musa, with his better skills, knowledge, experience and now privilleges of global citizentry can imagine an entire race to replicate what the Netherlands or Germans has done. But the fact is the Dutch and Germans benefitted from their past – both good and bad, they, broad spectrum of their society, learned from and progressed. The Malays on the other hand, have had limited amount and very short history of it – and the small amount of elites disporportionatly so. Its how the Dutch and Germans developed broad social values that are liberal and yet strong even through difficult and bad fortunes. The Malays now, when pressured or dissapointed, look to old text and over-entitled Arabs for inspiration and futile refuge.

    Its not inspiration the Malays need, they first don’t need to be exploited by their own system, leaders and elite. AND if they are exploited, they need a system where they face it, not look to political narcotics for answer.

  7. Following up on YB Lim Kit Siang’s proposal,
    here’s my wish list:

    1. Prime Minister: Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah

    2. Deputy Prime Ministers: Either Wan Azizah or Nurul Izzah
    Lim Guan Eng

    3. Minister of Finance: Tony Pua

    4. Rest of Cabinet: from BN component parties and PR component parties
    e.g. Minister of Health — Dr Jeyakumar Devaraj
    e.g. BN politicians Nur Jazlan and Shahrir Samad should be
    Cabinet Ministers
    e.g. PAS politicians Khalid Samad and Mujahid Yusof Rawa should be
    Cabinet Ministers
    e.g. DAP politicians Teresa Kok, Liew Chin Tong, Zairil Khir Johari and
    Teoh Nie Ching should be Cabinet Ministers
    e.g. PKR politicians Fuziah Salleh and Zuraida Kamaruddin should be
    Cabinet Ministers

  8. Let see the Malays’ mindset :-

    1. Mocking and cursing their own race and religion (Islam) Strangely, the Malays intellects in all trades, just din’t bother and turned away from their “bangsa” – simply, they blamed on Islam !

    For eg. comparing the chinese – they appreciate their root, traditions and till now, the lion dance is considered their priceless culture heritage. This tradition applies to the younsters too. It had been hundreds of years. No change since one dynasty to the other. Communism and its controlled openess ! Dicipline and knowledge that to be adhered to.

    2. Somebody created lies about false legendary Tuah and Jebat. The Malays believed it. When Cheng Ho was revealed as a muslim, suddenly the Malays, were so excited with the phenomena. My hero then. The stupid mindset, appreciating most that did not belong to them ! Even the yellow culture or something that owned by the Jews and Christians.

    China on the other hand, kept the legendary secret for centuries. They adored their great father Moa Tse Tong by force and denied the negative element against them, by book or by crook.

    3. Malays are talking about diverting to being liberal Malays. What the heck is this liberal Malays ? They failed to observe that through history, Islam changed the whole world from darkness to civilisations ! From ill-knowledge to inventions and innovations. From the universe to science and medical discoveries. From zero to everything.

    Then again, some of the Malays, denied the existence of The Only One God, believed in man-made, the secular terms created by the Jews.

    4. Similarly, the history of Tanah Melayu. It was known that today, the bangsa Indonesia, were originated from Malay origin. The history told us vice versa. Even that the famous Dang Dut, synonymous culture for Indonesian was originated by the Malays too. That included Kingdom, Sultan and Raja. The spread of Islam. Indonesia on the new era – pancasila, after “Belanda” colonisation, changed the Malay influenced traditions, creating the new Bangsa Indonesia. The late President Sukarno and their “pejuang bangsa – Anwar” and the most popular “Wali Songos” the religious Gurus, that gained their knowledge by passing through Tanah Melayu and way up to “laluan Sutera” to and fro Mecca, were the master architect for Indonesia Raya.

    Short conclusion : Most of the Tanah Melayu/Malaysian Malays failed to appreciate their “leluhur” since the script of Malay Histories were recorded by foreigners, suited for their own advantages, to stay dominant during the colonial time.

    Without hesitation, The Malays believed it. It was set that the Malays were lazy, non productive lot and all / all the bad ecetras, so as to keep the long crap of colonial’s reign, robbing all the natural sources. They didn’t write about “big canon” and its “anak-anak” protecting the “Kota Melaka” !

    This mindset still live until now, refering to the article above, posted by our Mr Dean. Read the writer’s mind set. Is it similar ?

  9. One more wish for my wish list:

    Economic Policy Advisor: Rafael Correa of Ecuador (after he steps down from
    being the President of the Republic of Ecuador) 🙂

  10. Agree with bigjoe. Nation building is not something done in 50 years. The western went through hundreds of years to be where they are today and are still making mistakes. But we do not have to reinvent the wheel. Its whether we have the courage to learn from others and the honesty and integrity to follow through.

  11. As with maae. Stop pointing fingers at others. If we had not been weak on every front we would not have been colonised in the first place. Finger pointing gives momentary illusions of comfort but the nightmare returns. With regard to the Indonesians learning or starting from the Malays, I wonder where that came from. When Sri Vijaya empire began and flourised in Indonesia, the only inhibitants in Malaya were a bunch of aboriginals. Unless you meant that the Indonesians were of Malay stock. Interesting point. Again lets go back to history. 4000 years ago when there was already the Egyptians, Persians, Chinese, Indians, etc, was there such thing as a Malay race. There was none. The Malay race was a mixture of various races notably Indians, Chinese and Arabs only because the Malay Archipelago was and is the cross roads of the world. But to claim that a particular race sprouted from these soils on their own is stretching the point unless you are referring to the aboriginals.

  12. Yes, Hang Tuah and Hang Jebat may be mythical figures. But in Malaysia Today those two are found all over the place including one in Sungei Buloh.

  13. Then they must be myths as well. If we need role models choose someone who is a historical fact. Its just like an Englishman saying that there is a King Arthur somewhere.

  14. Sorry Tok Cik. I don’t think Hang Tuah and gang existed, Chinese, Malay, Indian or otherwise. No historical fact whatsoever. Hikayat Hang Tuah was written hundreds of years after the event.

    If we are to apply the same methodology used to determine the authencity of hadiths, examining the transmitter and credibility of transmiter then Hikayat Hang Tuah and even Sejarah Melayu fail misserably. The exacting science of hadith authentication has been world recognised as an examplary exercise towards authencity. So if we are particular about the hadith why not apply the same technique to Hikayat Hang Tuah.

    Now of course it begs the question: why was the story written in the first place. Was to record history or was it something else. The Hikayat was written when the Malays were under colonization, already for some several hundred years. Someone noticed the plight of the Malays, people under colonization are generally demoralised. So to provide some hope a hero was created weaved into the historical fabric of the period. It was not only a message of hope but also a warning.

    Remember how Melaka with thousands of warriors to 3 or 4 shiploads of Portuguese marines. Melaka then was imploding with aĺl kinds of political intrigue and abuses. So that was the warning. The ending of the Hikayat was nothing short of tragic. So the intent of the writer was actually admirable, a message of hope and a warning for a people demoralised after hundreds of years of colonization.

    The danger however is to build our hopes on myths. Its like building castles in the air. If we take real life, e.g. the remarkable rise and role models in Islam, now that a real and a different matter altogether.

    Thank you for this contribution.I agree with you about the danger of building our hopes on myths.–Din Merican

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