Life under the coconut shell is no longer sustainable. It is time to open our minds and challenge our preconceived notions, says Tota.
The general election is over. A allegedly fraudulent electoral system and a highly tainted electoral roll has once again ensured a BN victory, albeit a hollow one with less than 48 per cent of the popular vote.
Over a long period of 56 years, Umno has played havoc with the Malay mind through crippling political and religious propaganda. In this election, the educated, intelligent and well-informed Malay in the urban and semi-urban areas have toppled the proverbial coconut shell that Umno kept them trapped under and come out to realise that there is a wondrous political world outside!
As predicted by well-known surgeon and writer Dr M Bakri Musa in his book “Liberating the Malay mind”, Umno needs a scapegoat. The “hantu” pendatang, the Chinese bogeyman, has been resurrected once again to serve their purpose. No one has analysed the Malay dilemma more clearly and expressed it more succinctly than Dr M Bakri Musa. I quote below a few excepts from his book about what Umno has done to the Malay mind:
1. Malays have been addicted to the comfort of life underneath the coconut shell for far too long. Now with the shell breached by globalisation and the digital waves, it is dawning upon us that our “comfort” is anything but. There is a far greater, more open, and definitely wondrous universe out there
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Life under the coconut shell is no longer sustainable; for many it is already intolerable. We can either topple this shell ourselves or risk having it done by external forces. With the former we would be in command of our destiny; we could purposely choose the timing, manner, and consequently the outcome. With the latter, we would be at the mercy of events and circumstances beyond our control; we would effectively become victims.
2. The metaphorical Malay coconut shell – our closed minds – cannot be destroyed physically. Besides, with the huge pores already created by globalisation and the digital revolution, many have already successfully emerged from underneath it, with only the mushrooms to sustain us.
This would be the fate that awaits those with a closed mind. Perhaps we could rationalise that by adopting a “leave us alone” philosophy. Such an option, however, is not for us to choose but for others to impose.
The colonials imposed upon the world and us their narrative of “the lazy native”. With our closed minds we readily accepted that and then lived up to it. Only centuries later did we manage to escape (though).
3. In an ironic twist, we have now substituted our own equally fictional narrative of ourselves. This one, not surprisingly, puts us at the opposite end of the scale, that of the privileged “son of the soil” (Bumiputra). With that we declare our inherent superiority, taking a leaf from the colonials. The latest incarnation of this new narrative is Ketuanan Melayu. Alas, while we may have changed our story, the reality remains the same; we are merely trading one mental coconut shell for another. That is no liberation.
4. In this capitalistic world we would not be far wrong if we were to, as the pundits put it, follow the money. Just as those divine novels and soap operas make tons of money for their publishers and producers, so too our narrative of Ketuanan Melayu for its perpetrators. Thus it is not a surprise that those who shouted the loudest and shrillest about it are also among the most privileged of Malays – the Umnoputras. They live in palatial bungalows, have children attend expensive English schools, acquire multiple trophy wives, and own fleets of luxury cars, all made possible through political patronage, “Approved Permits” and outright corruption.
5. The perpetrators of Ketuanan Melayu already sense this impending implosion; hence their preoccupation with creating new myths. We are now led to believe that our problems are the results of the conspiracies of various hantus (ghost or devils). First there is the hantu of globalisation with its associated hantu of capitalism and secularism, and then hantu pendatang (of immigrants). If those were not enough, there is also the added hantu of religious extremism. We are currently totally bewitched, if one is to believe this new narrative. Again, the majority with their trapped minds have willingly accepted this new version of reality.
6. There is another feature of the brain that rivals its ability to edit non-conforming information, and that is its tendency to see the whole instead of the parts. This gives rise to the dominance of “framing.”
7. Society too can be imprisoned by this framing effect. We Malays, or specically our leaders, have framed our dilemmas as one of Ketuanan Melayu instead of our lack of competitiveness, as it should be. All of our actions are thus “framed” by our mindset.
This preoccupation with Ketuanan Melayu and obsession with the various hantus distract us from recognising the real existential threats we face. We are all familiar with our laggardness in economics, education and other arenas, as our leaders never tire of reminding us. Those are bad enough, but there are other far greater and indeed more immediate threats we are oblivious to because of all these other distractions.
One immediate threat is the deepening polarisation and increasing inequities within our Malay community. This is a far greater threat than the more familiar inter-racial variety. I worry less about another interracial conflict
ala May 1969 and fear more a Malay civil war.
8. The other threat is that we risk being left behind by emerging global trends.
9. Finally, our increasing obsession with religion puts us right in the target of its extremist elements. Once they get hold of our institutions and power structure, it would be very difficult to dislodge them. Iran and Afghanistan
are ready examples, soon to be joined by Pakistan and, if we are not careful, Malaysia.
It is time to craft another narrative, one that better reflects us and the world we are part of more accurately, with much less fanciful artistic licence. Were we to do that, our actions would more likely be productive and less disruptive.
Even if our new chronicle were to have some less-than-truthful elements, with an open mind and the associated humility and willingness to learn, we could at least tweak and re-edit to make our story conform more to reality.
That is what a free mind bestows upon its owner. With a closed mind our narrative would calcify, and with time it would become far detached from reality. Then we would willingly distort new information to make it conform to our increasingly warped view.
Liberate the Malay mind, Merdeka minda Melayu, and we effectively topple our coconut shell. Information (freer access to it), education (liberal and broad-based, with competence in science and mathematics), and engagement in trade and commerce (capitalism – the genuine, not the ersatz or rent-seeking variety) are proven effective tools not only in toppling our mental coconut shell but also in preparing us for the wonderful open world.
Liberate the Malay mind and those various hantus would be exposed for that they are, figments of our rich imagination. With a free mind, we would turn those crises into opportunities. Liberate the Malay mind and we will re-frame our dilemmas. Liberate our minds and we liberate our world.
10. Before we can even begin to comtemplate freeing the Malay mind, we must first acknowledge the forces that have kept and are keeping it closed. Foremost are the myriad of intrusive and repressive rules, the mother of which is the Internal Security Act. Those are meant less for security, more for repression. Then there are our schools and universities, intent on indoctrinating rather than educating our young. More entrenched is the corruption of our cultural values where respect for leaders is mistaken as a licence for them to indulge at our expense. If those were not enough, then there is our particularly myopic interpretation
of our faith.
p.s. I urge every Malaysian to read the excellent book ‘Liberating the Malay mind’, by well-known surgeon and writer M Bakri Musa.
Tota is the pseudonym of a regular contributor to our Thinking Allowed Online section.
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