Friday, July 10, 2009

Malaysia looks backwards

Reactionary Malay nationalism has once more looked backwards. It has quashed completely the programme that the dour former prime minister Mahathir Mohammed started to restore the use of English in the teaching of math and sciences. The ruling United Malayasian National Organisation [UNMO] in instituting a New Economic Policy [NEP] after the Malay inspired racial riots of 1969; the NEP fostered a policy of mild apartheid which favoured ethnic Malays in language, the economy, propetry, so on and on over the interests of the Chinese, Indian, and other minority groups. It favoured the 'bumiputra' [sons of the soil], that is the Malay. It set to supplement the medium of instruction which was English by the use of Malay, thereby isolating Malays in particular with a language which they could and would open them to the broader, outside world. Thus a cottage industry of publishing opened up for the Malays. The NEP took a big bite into local non Malay and foreign investment by legally requiring ownership to be 51 per cent Malayasian, thereby opening wide the door to croneyism and widespread corruption. Usually the Malays fronted for the Chinese entrepreneur or the Indian with business smarts. Thanks to its oil and cheap labour, especially under Mahatir's long, iron fisted rule, the country prospered up to a certain point. Rapid changes in technology pointed to liability of depending on Malay since even with the rise of a Malay middle class the Muslim elite had to educate children of theirs in English and with the generous hand of the rate payers who were not Muslim but who were denied the very same advantages. After the Asian economic crisis of 1998 things began unraveling economically and politically for the UNMO and the umbrella group it commanded in government known as 'Barisan Nasional' [BS or United Front]. Mahatir jailed his heir apparent Anwar Ibrahim on dubious charges; he encouraged the weakening of non religious orientated parties, and played dangerously with the flames of Islamic fundamentalism at the expense of the more tolerant Malay Islam. Yet Mahathir suddenly began to realise that the educated pool from which the Malay elite could draw on lacked the language skills to compete in a global economy. He therefore instituted the teaching of sciences and math in English; this was not without a mood of unrest among the dyed in the wool Malay nationalists. But for the moment they could do little to thwart it. In the meanwhile the UNMO was having its own troubles which the NEP encouraged, wot, with corruption, sex scandals, alleged sex crimes, and a more unloosening of a traditional rural society brought about by globalisation and a certain degree of rising expectations of an urban Malay bourgeoisie. And then the political spectrum widened allowing the once disgraced Anwar Ibrahim and the growing and more vocal Indian and Chinese who laboured under 40 years of outright racial and religious discrimination. UNMO lost its majority in parliament and key hold on some of more important Malay states. This crisis of authority brought change in government by bringing Najib Razak to the premiership. [Razak's father helped engineer the 'bumiputra' coup of 1969 and according to recent documentation had a hand in encouraging Malay thugs to attack Chinese which occasioned the riots.] In order to restore control of the Malays' hand in a half century of unbroken rule, Najib liberalised terms of foreign investment, by allowing the foreign entity to hold 70 per cent in ownership, in order to jump start a sagging economy. Yet 30 per cent Malay participation kept corruption in command albeit in a more limited field. Still he couldn't quiet the voice of Malay reactionaries who hated the re introduction into education of English, although on a limited scale, but a scale which would open the world to a very dulled average Malay mind lulled by prayers 5 times a day and a traditional way of life, one which wouldn't challenge the status quo and the power of the Muslim elite. Najib couldn't save the use of English. A powerful argument in re enforcing the use of Malay in education was to modernise it and improve its sophistication as a language. Well if that couldn't be done in 40 years, how long is it going to take it? Better not ask... As for the sophistication of Malay compare it to Indonesian Malay which is a more refined and modern language. Malaysians can understand Indonesian Malay but Indonesians find Malaysian Malay a poor language. So the suppression of English is but a cover for the reactionary to bolster a fortress mentality which in the medium run will collapse on its own backwardness.
Chinese and Indian do learn English; some better than others. Even the most incurious Malay may have a flash of insight, realising that without English children of his will always be held back, in spite of the apartheid system favouring him.

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