Where are the Malays headed?


directionTranslation by CPI

A. Ghani Ismail’s most recent piece of writing titled ‘Ke Arah Mana Melayu?(Where are the Malays headed?) is prefaced with the dire remark, “Ngilai setan menyeram semula di Tanah Melayu” or syaitan’s shrill laughter spooks Malaya again. Words full of foreboding indeed.

Ghani, a seasoned journalist, begins his March 24 bahasa Melayu article with echoes of the last time when the country was similarly spooked. Today, after 40-plus years since 1970 when Tun Abdul Razak Hussein took over the reins of government and implemented the New Economic Policy (NEP), the wealth disparity between Bumiputera and non-Bumiputera is once more a matter of grave concern.

The average household income of the Chinese in Malaysia is double that of the Malay, claims Ghani. He says this situation is more alarming compared even to 1969 when over 63 percent of the Malays lived in rural areas while the Chinese lived in the towns.

“In 1969, the Malays were not even seven percent in Kuala Lumpur, with Petaling Jaya included. That was the year in which ethnic conflict brought about bloodshed,” he recalls.

Today roughly 63 percent of the Malays are urban dwellers but their economic standing in the corporate/commercial/consumer sectors is far from satisfactory, Ghani opines. In other words, the Malay (and Bumiputera) are still lagging behind in competitiveness compared with the Chinese and others.

As Ghani sees it, the government had predicated policies designed for the advancement of the Malay and Bumiputera on the chosen elites – contractors, businessmen and corporate figures. From this enterprise was born a sprinkling of Malay ‘taikong’ (captains of industry) whose co-operation with the Chinese and Indian merchants made them multi-millionaires and billionaires.

This manner of social engineering restructured the Malay community in the shape of a pyramid with a sharp, thin pinnacle, according to Ghani. When the Amanah Saham Nasional (ASN) was launched, 80 percent of the shares were commandeered by a mere four percent of the richest individuals. Only the leftover 20 percent were owned by ordinary folks, writes Ghani. Apart from that, the NEP was diverted from its original course, and projects to uplift the Malay and Bumiputera were misdirected – up to 85 percent of the big ticket items experienced leakages. These figures were revealed by Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi when he was prime minister, and Ghani avers that there is no reason for us to disbelieve Pak Lah.“Who should we blame then? Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad?” Ghani says that under the leadership of Dr Mahathir the country had progressed but this progress was flawed due to the “corruption in broad daylight” that proliferated as if it advancement was unattainable without it.

“Nonetheless Dr Mahathir still managed to succeed in turning Malaysia into an industrial nation and to raise the income and education level of enough numbers of people so that he garnered public respect.” Although corruption became increasingly rife in altogether 17 of his 22-year rule, the ex-premier was granted public support despite everyone being aware of the sorry state of affairs. This was due to the development brought about by the Barisan Nasional government during the Mahathir era that was unprecedented, writes Ghani.

“In other words, the material success that was achieved was enough to weaken and destroy the moral fibre and character of the Malay and other communities in Malaysia. It was the public that allowed the corruption and leakages to continue unabated.” “It’s impossible that Dr Mahathir was alone to blame,” adds Ghani while at the same time giving credit where credit is due and acknowledging how the then prime minister’s able handling of the 1997 Asian financial crisis averted a national disaster. The complexity of the world of finance today is not something that we can hope to cope with by using as our guide the 12th-13th century text of Dharuriyat al-Khamsa (produced by the celebrated Imam al-Ghazali) nor through hudud laws, stresses Ghani.

Although the humanitarian values contained in the Dharuriyat al-Khamsa as expounded by Datuk Seri Abdul Hadi Awang might fulfil the public interest requirements that we aspire to – but still – he argues, our changed and modern world does not permit us to prioritize the same.

Ghani believes that Islam has been left far behind by the fast-changing world. The effects of the inner city on the upbringing and growth of children (which he cites as one example of a sign of the times) is strangely not a question that has been addressed by religious personalities nor any ustaz anywhere, notwithstanding that this is a global phenomenon. “Islam is not directly involved in the business of finding solutions to present-day challenges. Instead hudud is hungered after as the panacea. Can all the civilizational challenges be automatically dispelled should hudud be carried out?” he asks. Among Muslims who believe that Islam has been perfected by God for all eternity, the idea of secularism as the arena for solving the many problems of mankind is not a thought that will be entertained, Ghani thinks. These persons will always maintain that hudud is a mandatory demand of their faith and religious law.

But what answers can the muftis or the syaikh ul-Islam provide on the issues of hedge funds and financial meltdowns the like of what occurred previously in Brazil, and currently in Greece and a few other European countries, Ghani continues.

“Does Islam have the answer? Or else where are we to seek the answers?”Faced with the reality of Malaysia as a remnant of colonialism, and the Malay and Bumiputera being left on the margins by the colonial regime, Tun Abdul Razak Hussein introduced the NEP in 1970 and later formed the BN rainbow coalition.The NEP was the enabling mechanism allowing Tun Razak – together with his team of young corporate raiders – to acquire British multi-nationals such as Sime Darby, Guthrie, London Tin and the rest, writes Ghani.

“That was the main objective of Malay nationalism. It was the avenue that facilitated the Malay and Bumiputera scions to scale the corporate heights. [Such was their success that] during that period of time, even PAS members were in agreement with the Malay left wing to explore a secular foundation as the [best] approach to deal with the Malay and Bumiputera condition that was a legacy of colonialism.”

If that course of action had not been taken by Tun Razak, the Malay and Bumiputera would have found it well nigh impossible to reach the top management as well as sit on the board of directors of the multinational companies to become global players, says Ghani. He points out: “This is the emphasis of socialism, not of Islam and not necessarily that of nationalism”.“Tun Razak was [in spirit and ideology] a member of the Labour Party. He was not a communist. He was a socialist who looked at evolutionary, not revolutionary means. He did not seize and nationalize any asset or any of the said companies. He acquired stakes in them through purchases in the market.

“It was those steps by Tun Razak that breathed life and hope into the Malay and Bumiputera to become players on the global stage.“It behooves us to ask why it is that now a number of Umno members have become conceited and are arrogantly telling us that Umno does not desire socialism.”What is seen has happened to Umno is that this huge party – some of whom members join in order to get rich – no longer possesses any ideological moorings.

“They have no Islam, no nationalism and far be it socialism,” says Ghani, adding that what Umno has are opportunists hoping to fall into the lap of luxury. “If the ideological path of Tun Razak is no longer wanted, what answers can Umno provide to enable the Malay and Bumiputera to confront latter-day challenges? Where and who are their intellectuals, he asks.

* To read Ghani’s article in the original bahasa Melayu and in full, please go to his blog ‘Liberty’. The above is Part I. Ghani promises a Part II is forthcoming.