Malay Language Nationalists defend Bahasa Malaysia as Medium of Instruction

June 26, 2015

COMMENT: Both GAPENA and Dewan Bahasa & Pustaka have a vested interest to preserve Bahasa Malaysia as the sole medium of instruction in our schools and universities. At least the Dewan has now acknowledged the importance of the English. In doing so, they realize that English is the language of diplomacy and commerce. GEPENA remains adamant.

I do not understand the need to have a law to enforce the use of Bahasa Malaysia and why make English a second language on the  false assumption that by using English, we will make Malaysians less Malaysian and the Malays less Malay. It has again to do with UMNO politics of xenophobia .We want Malaysians with a global mindset and multilingual proficiency to compete and excel in the 2st century world.

Ghazali_Shafie_(crop)I remember in the 60’s (Tun) Ghazalie Shafie, Permanent Secretary, Ministry of External Affairs saying to my colleagues and I at one of our Friday prayer meetings that as  far as he was concerned English would remain the language of Malaysian diplomacy and in his Ministry we should read, write and speak English. He ,however, insisted that we use Bahasa Malaysia in our official dealings with our counterparts in the civil service and government agencies.

When I joined Bank Negara after leaving the Foreign Ministry in 1965, Governor (Tun) Ismail Tun Ismail Mohd Ali-2nd BNM GovernorMohamed Ali decided that we could use English internally but we had a duty to observe the ruling from the Government to use Bahasa Malaysia as the national language for official communication with the civil service.

Not just that. Governor Ismail set up a Bahasa Malaysia unit to oversea the implementation of  this directive. He did it in compliance with a directive, not  with a language law because he felt it was the right thing. to do. It was also the time when Bank Negara started to issue the Bahasa and English language versions of its Annual Report and Quarterly Economic Report. That tradition has continued to this day. I am proud to say that Bank Negara officers of the present generation are among the most proficient in the use of English and Bahasa Malaysia.

samdech-hun-senLet me say something about the Cambodian approach on the teaching of  Khmer language and English in their schools and universities. Prime Minister Samdech Hun Sen is a champion of Khmer Language,  arts,  and culture. When he was growing up, Cambodia was still under France and French was the official language. But he was educated in a Buddhist temple and served as a pagoda boy. He learned to read, write and speak Khmer. There were French schools which catered for the elite.

With the formation of the Royal Government in the early 1990’s, Samdech Hun Sen saw the value of English if Cambodia were to network in ASEAN and engage with the rest of the world. He decided to use English in public schools with Khmer as a medium of instruction. At the same time, he allowed private schools to use English as medium of instruction. and encouraged enterprising Cambodians to set up language schools to teach Mandarin, Korean, Japanese. French and other languages. At university level, courses are taught in  Khmer and English.

UC PresidentAt the University of Cambodia, its President Dr. Kao Kim Hourn(left) made a far sighted decision to offer courses at undergraduate and graduate levels in both languages. At the Techo Sen School of Government and International Relations, courses will mainly be in English at the postgraduate level The university’s Language Development Center offers programmes for enhancing English language writing and speaking skills  to all students.

In short, because Cambodia practises multilingualism, parents are given  freedom of choice in their free market driven economy.  By adopting this open education policy, Samdech Hun Sen  who himself speaks Khmer, English and Vietnamese, is encouraging his people to be internationalists, without making them less Cambodian and less patriotic. –Din Merican

Malay Language Nationalists defend Bahasa Malaysia as Medium of Instruction

by Bernama

Latiff-Bakar2The Federation of National Writers’ Association (GAPENA) Chief 1, Abdul Latiff Bakar said that the time has come for the government to have a law which could act against agencies, departments and local councils which fail to uphold the national language in their official affairs.

“We have brought this matter up many times, but there has been no development. For now we can only comment but if there is a law, any party which refuses to obey it (upholding the national language) can be punished,” he said.

He also urged the Education Ministry to make it compulsory for the senates of institutes of higher learning to observe the regulation to uphold the national language in their administrations.

“As educational institutes, they have a big responsibility to uphold the Malay language and not just chase rankings,” he said as a panelist at the forum “Challenges of the National Language in the Era of Globalisation” here today.

Meanwhile, the Director-General of Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka (DBP), Awang Sariyan said that the DBP would conduct a language audit on six public universities in a move to ensure that universities in the country abide by the regulations. He added that the DBP had so far audited 37 of the 149 local councils in the country in a move to award star ratings for councils that used Bahasa Melayu in their official dealings.

“From the audit we conducted, the usage of Bahasa Melayu in official matters including advertisements is still unsatisfactory. However, there are some local councils which we give five stars, including the Shah Alam City Council,” he said in the forum.

He said the ranking was one of the initiatives taken by the government to encourage local councils to uphold Bahasa Melayu.

DBP chairman Dr Md Salleh Yaapar said the education system should retain Bahasa Melayu as its medium of instruction and its usage was not the reason for the weak command of the English language among students.

“We acknowledge the importance of English and are not opposing it…other languages can be used including English, but this is not an excuse for replacing Bahasa Melayu as the medium of instruction in schools,” he said.

Defining Moments of Malay Culture

June 15, 2015

Defining Moments of Malay Culture

by Dr. M. Bakri Musa, Morgan-Hill, California

Three defining moments in Malay culture are worth recounting. First, the arrival of Islam; second, onset of European colonization; and third, the path we chose towards independence. I will examine how our culture had served us in those three instances; exemplary in the first and third, less so with the second.

Thinks, says Mahathir

It is fashionable these days to blame our culture for what ails our community. Our leaders would let us believe that our culture is our oppressor. When former Prime Minister Mahathir was asked what his greatest failure was, he unhesitatingly asserted his inability to change Malay culture. It reflected the height of arrogance on his part to even consider that he could do so.

Mahathir was neither the first nor the last to blame our culture; he however, went further to fault our very nature – our genes – as he asserted in his book The Malay Dilemma. Early in the 19th Century Munshi Abdullah also railed against our outdated ways while Pendita Za’aba, a century later, echoed similar sentiments. More recently there was Datuk Onn with his presumptuous membetulkan Melayu (correcting Malays). As is apparent, Mahathir has plenty of company.

These individuals are giants in our history. At the risk of appearing self-important or worse, stupid, I will nonetheless take them on, albeit with great trepidation. What those luminaries presumed to be the flaws of Malay culture, as with our fondness for immediate gratification, lack of savings, and apparent disinterest in education, are in fact universal weaknesses of the poor, marginalized and oppressed. We saw that with Irish-Americans in the early part of the last century, the Irish under the English, and Hispanics and Blacks in America today. Those are also features of a feudal agrarian society, or those just emerging from it. About the only features unique to our Malay culture are our fondness for sambal belacan (chilli shrimp paste) and our passion for our folk melody dondang sayang. Nothing wrong with that.

Culture is essentially conservative; any change would be slow and have to work from bottom up and not the other way around. Those wannabe revolutionaries ensconced in their air-conditioned offices calling for revolusi mental (mental revolution) and who are presumptuous to believe that they have the talent to change our culture are woefully misguided. They are high on their own rhetoric.

A culture is best judged on how its members manage sudden changes, not by observing it through a snapshot in time. Thus it would be fruitful to review the three transformational events in our history referenced earlier. As can be seen, we are still here and intact, which says something of the endurance if not greatness of our culture. Not all cultures are that lucky, and this should give us confidence if not inspire us in facing our current challenges. It also demolishes the arguments of those whose first and natural inclination would be to blame our culture in discussing the “Malay issue.”

Those changes did not just happen; there were individuals and leaders involved. I will recall some of those great open-minded individuals in our history, as well as a few contemporary figures. I will not do justice to their interesting biographical details not out of lessened respect but because my focus here is on their free minds, and the impact they had (and some are still having) on our society. To emphasize the point that they are not anomalies or outliers in our culture, I will recall some seemingly ordinary individuals whose personal achievements reflect their free-mindedness. Their commonplace lives should inspire us all the more.

I next detour into neuroscience to explore the concept of a free mind, what it means to have one, and the relationship of the mind to the brain as well as the related notion of mindset. I rely less on religious rationalization or philosophical pondering, more on the insights gleaned from modern neuroscience and human psychology.

Zahid Hamidi

Sometimes the best way to understand a word or concept is to examine its antonyms, what it is not. We have an apt expression, katak di bawah tempurung (frog underneath a coconut shell). That is an excellent metaphor for a closed mind, the exact opposite of a free one.

Today there is near universal agreement among Malays that our domination of politics and public administration is our savior. If not for that, so the argument goes, we would have long been reduced to the fringes of Malaysian society. Shining the light from a different angle will illuminate this as nothing more than a delusion.

Malays may control politics and other apparatus of the state but we are far from being sophisticated players; we do not wield this considerable power effectively or with any finesse. Thus our dominance in politics and public administration has degenerated into a significant problem instead of being a major part of the solution.

My purpose is to shatter the illusions of those who find comfort in life underneath the coconut shell. I go beyond and explore ways of toppling this coconut shell, how best to liberate our minds. As individuals we achieve this through travel, learning another language, or experiencing another culture. My emphasis however is at the societal level, principally through information, education, and commerce.


Once there is an open and abundant flow of news and information, people would be exposed to a diversity of opinions and viewpoints. That could only be liberating.

Schools and universities should educate, not indoctrinate the young. To this end I advocate broad-based liberal education. Our students should be functionally bilingual and have an understanding of a third, at a minimum. The curriculum should emphasize critical thinking over rote memorization. Regardless of their career choices, our students should have some understanding of the sciences and be competent in basic mathematics.

As for commerce, if our people were to become entrepreneurs or otherwise engaged in trade, then we would view others more as potential customers instead of enemies. We and they would be much better off for that.

Quite apart from the economic benefits, engaging in commerce is the surest way to liberate our minds; likewise with the free flow of information and liberal education. Those are also the most effective ways of preparing us for the open world once we have toppled our shell.

If we do not adequately prepare our people for the wide open world, then they would find it disorienting and far from exciting or full of opportunities. That would only scare them to flee back underneath the old, familiar and comfortable coconut shell.

The principal path pursued by the UMNO government to spearhead Malay engagement in commerce is through the route of government-linked companies (GLCs). It is also the most expensive. As the government is addicted to GLCs, I devote considerable ink in critically examining this initiative. I am no fan of GLCs; their performance over the decades merely confirms my conviction. The current imbroglio with 1MDB is not only the most recent but also most expensive.

Your Entertainment from Phnom Penh by The Mekong

June 13, 2015

Your Weekend Entertainment from Phnom Penh:Paul Simon

We are already into Saturday afternoon. It is time for Dr. Kamsiah (in Din MericanKKuala Lumpur) and Din Merican (here in Phnom Penh) to take  you away from the cares and woes of politics in the country that has produced a great Prime Minister Najib Razak.

Let Lim Kok Wing and the rest of those characters in the Prime Minister’s Department do whatever they can to rebrand Najib.  They are stubborn enough to believe that they can change public perception of Najib Razak as a weak, dishonest and incompetent Prime Minister who is being manipulated by Rosmah Mansor. But Lim Kok Wing who used to be Mahathir’s image maker does not care. He has no loyalty. What is important to him is influence and money. For that, he will sell his soul to the highest bidder. That is what he has done to this by becoming the Prime Minister’s propagandist.

Featuring Paul F. Simon

We have chosen for your listening pleasure a tribute to Paul Simon, America’s classic and contemporary  composer and entertainer. Paul is an American musician, actor and singer-songwriter. Simon’s fame, influence, and commercial success began as part of the duo Simon & Garfunkel, formed in 1964 with musical partner Art Garfunkel. Simon wrote nearly all of the pair’s songs, including three that reached No. 1 on the U.S. singles charts: “The Sound of Silence“, “Mrs. Robinson“, and “Bridge Over Troubled Water“. The duo split up in 1970 at the height of their popularity, and Simon began a successful solo career as a guitarist and singer-songwriter, recording three highly acclaimed albums over the next five years.

In 1986, Paul released Graceland, an album inspired by South African township music. Simon also wrote and starred in the film One-Trick Pony (1980) and co-wrote the Broadway musical The Capeman (1998) with the poet Derek Walcott.

top10-phnom-penh-restaurantsWelcome to Phnom Penh for Fine Cuisine

Simon has earned 12 Grammys for his solo and collaborative work, including the Lifetime Achievement Award. In 2001, he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and in 2006 was selected as one of the “100 People Who Shaped the World” by Time magazine. In 2011, Rolling Stone magazine named Simon as one of the 100 Greatest Guitarists. Among many other honors, Simon was the first recipient of the Library of Congress‘s Gershwin Prize for Popular Song in 2007. In 1986, Simon was awarded an Honorary Doctor of Music degree from Berklee College of Music, where he currently serves on the Board of Trustees.–wikpedia.

Just relax and listen to Paul Simon’s compositions. You will understand why Dr. Kamsiah and I think he is one of greatest personalities in the American music.–Dr. Kamsiah and Din Merican



Learning English at The University of Cambodia

June 10, 2016

At the University of Cambodia we teach English

uc_campus_00Artist Impression of U of C Campus (Ready by October, 2015)

Today I was at the well equipped and modern Language Center, University of Cambodia, I watched how young Cambodians learn to speak, read and write  English. I was impressed. The young student in the video could speak better English than me. He  was confident  and articulate.

English is spoken here in Phnom Penh compared to the time I first lived and worked here some 2 decades ago. 

The Cambodian Government under the leadership of His Excellency Prime Minister Samdech Techo Hun Sen made a wise and conscious decision to teach English as a second language. The Prime Minister wanted his people  to  speak  this widely used language so that they can integrate with ASEAN and do business with the world large.

His farsighted policy decision is paying good dividends for his country today. At the same time, the Prime Minister made sure that Khmer is taught as the first language in all schools and universities together with Cambodia’s history, culture and the fine arts. A study of history, culture and the fine arts is vital to the Cambodian psyche. It has to do with their national identity.

University_of_CambodiaAt the University of Cambodia, we offer degree courses in both Khmer and English at the undergraduate, Masters and Phd. levels.–Din Merican

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

Remembering Indonesia’s Chairil Anwar– The Poet for All Times

April 26, 2015

Remembering Indonesia’s Chairil Anwar– The Poet for All Times

AkuDuring his lifetime, Chairil Anwar born in Medan, North Sumatra wrote approximately 94 works, including seventy-one poems. Most of those were unpublished at the time of his death, but were later collected in several collections of his work published posthumously. Of these, Anwar considered only 13 to be truly good poems. The first published was Deru Tjampur Debu (Roar Mixed with Dust), which was followed by Kerikil Tadjam dan Jang Terampas dan Terputus (Sharp Pebbles and the Seized and The Broken). Although several poems in those collections had the same title, they were slightly different.The most celebrated of his works is “AKU”  (“Me”/I)–Wikipedia