By the Anti-Jihadist
I wrote and recently submitted this column to Malaysia Today's editor Raja Petra Kamaruddin for posting on his widely-read political website. He specifically declined to put up this piece. I invite M-T readers (as well as our regular audience) to have a look at this column, one that RPK didn't want his Malaysia Today readers to see, and to draw your own conclusions.
UPDATE: As of the morning 25 August (Malaysia time), RPK has now posted this piece at M-T, without alteration or censorship. I'd like to publically express my thanks for RPK's reversal of his earlier decision not to post this particular article, and for having the courage to do so.
Being familiar with both Korea and Malaysia, and having seen first-hand how these two nations manage their affairs, there is a number of enlightening conclusions that can be drawn.
South Korea, by any measure, is a huge success story. In just fifty years, the country has catapulted itself from a bombed-out, resource-poor, dictator-run Third World crap hole to First World status. Korea’s infrastructure and technologies are world-class, and its government is reasonably efficient and accountable. South Korea’s GNP per capita ranks as the equivalent if not better than most European countries. Newspapers are full of stories of internationally-known Korean chaebol (conglomerates) like Samsung, Hyundai or LG developing new technologies, winning more overseas contracts, opening new factories outside of Korea, and increasing their market share in places like Europe and the US. While Korea has shown an unfortunate propensity to occasionally favour ludicrous ideas like anti-Semitism or anti-Americanism (two dysfunctional ideas that often go hand-in-hand), Korea has gotten it right more often than not. Through an enormous labour effort, Korea has created a wealthy, secular, capitalist democracy. Koreans have a powerful work ethic, and are not averse to doing tremendous amounts of it. Now, Koreans are reaping the rewards of decades of effort -- and they’ve earned it.
Compare Korea’s story to Malaysia’s. Malaysia became independent in 1957 with a significant number of advantages compared to the erstwhile ‘Hermit Kingdom’. Malaysia was emerging from over a century of relatively benign British rule in 1957, not 40 years of brutal Japanese occupation as the Koreans had endured. Malaysia possessed at the time of its founding, thanks to the British, a comprehensive national infrastructure and an excellent education system based on the British model. True, Malaysia was struggling through its own civil war at the time of independence (a.k.a. the “Malayan Emergency”), but this was not nearly as deadly or destructive as the Korean conflict (which is technically still going on). Unlike Korea, Malaysia possesses significant natural resources, namely petroleum, timber, tin, palm oil and rubber. Malaysia’s advantageous geographic position gives it direct access to the Straits of Malacca, the world’s most important shipping channel. And Malaysia in 1963 gained control of Singapore, which has emerged as Southeast Asia’s regional center of commerce, and an enormous wealth-generation machine in its own right.
All told, it’s an enviable set of advantages. But Korea has, somehow, succeeded far beyond anything the Malaysians have achieved to date. How did this situation come to pass?
Let’s review Malaysia’s track record. Other than Petronas, the Malaysian state-owned oil company, there are no Malaysian-based international corporations worthy of note (Air Asia, for the moment, remains a strictly SE Asian concern). The state-owned car company Proton, which has haemorrhaged enormous amounts of capital, is a massive failure that continues to survive only through massive subsidies and trade barriers to foreign carmakers. Likewise, the national airline MAS suffers from chronic mismanagement and enduring poor financial performance. Endemic corruption has so far resisted half-hearted attempts to remedy it, hobbles progress at all levels, and rots the very underpinnings of the Malaysian state and economy. Malaysia is still forced to import or otherwise buy many critical technologies—in other words, the country has failed to innovate in any meaningful way. The education system, following independence, eventually resorted to dumping so-called ‘colonial’ ideas like teaching English, and even worse, became heavily Islamified. Critical thinking was jettisoned in favor of mindless memorisation and learning-by-rote. Just how bad has the Malaysian education system become? Nowadays, anyone in Malaysia who is rich enough to send their children overseas for education, generally does.
And what about Singapore? Singapore, the Chinese-majority cash engine of the region, was kicked out of the federation in 1965, only two years after joining, over political, racial and religious differences. As a tiny independent city-state, and without any natural resources to speak of, Singapore has become as rich (per capita speaking) and as advanced as Korea, or as most anywhere else in the First World. Singapore, with a population of only one-sixth the size of Malaysia, had in 2006 a GNP of US$141.2 billion, nearly half of Malaysia’s US$313.8 billion. If Singapore had not been expelled in 1965, this mighty economic engine would still be Malaysian territory and could have greatly enriched the country. Alas, the expulsion of Singapore would prove to be not the last blunder committed by the UMNO regime. Now, their former countrymen and now much poorer neighbors to the north can only watch Singapore’s success enviously from across the narrow straits that separate the two countries.
Unlike Malaysia, Korea allows genuine freedom of religion, and its citizens are split into three roughly equal groups—Christians, Buddhists, and the non-religious. All Koreans are free to be of any religion, or none at all, as they see fit without government interference. This defuses religious tensions before they can start and allows the government to focus its efforts and resources on more important priorities, like education and economic development.
On the other hand, Malaysia is and always has been (by law) a majority Malay/Muslim state, complete with a state religion (Islam), lifestyle police (JAKIM, et al), a dual-track legal system (with Islamic law having the edge), and ever-increasing (Islam-inspired) restrictions on the richer, but outnumbered non-Muslims. The Muslim insistence on permanent dominance in all spheres of national life causes endless tensions and unhappiness within the key (non Muslim) commercial and business communities.
Malaysia still heavily relies on its more entrepreneurial, non Muslim minority to generate the majority of revenue and an outsized portion of the GNP. In a scheme that is ‘jizya’ in all but name, these same non Muslims pay most of the taxes, and the resulting government largess is reserved mostly for Muslims via entitlement programmes (i.e. NEP) that are politically untouchable. This same embattled minority is also largely responsible for what economic growth Malaysia has enjoyed in the first place. This quixotic dependence is a fact of national life and continues to this day.
Korea has regularly-scheduled elections and a multitude of political parties who jockey for votes and compete for power, a show of political dynamism that stands in stark contrast to Malaysia. Malaysia is the only country in the world, to this writer’s knowledge, where the reins of power have been held by one race-based political party (UMNO, or United Malays National Organisation) since the country’s founding. Imagine, say, the United States being run by the same political party for over 200 years that openly and proudly calls itself the ‘United White People’s Party’, and you will begin to comprehend Malaysia. Where, you may be asking, are the other Malaysian political parties? Well, they are either bullied into a UMNO-controlled umbrella group (called Barisan Nasional, or ‘National Front’), or otherwise intimidated into relative impotence. The only genuine opposition party is PAS, a hard-core Muslim Jihadist party that wants to turn Malaysian into a purely shariah state. The unbreakable Malay monopoly on political power ensures this dysfunctional political arrangement will continue indefinitely…unless the whole house of cards somehow collapses (which, year by year, grows increasingly likely).
So, Korea succeeds as few others have, and Malaysia, in the immortal words of Mark Steyn, is among merely the ‘least worst’ of the world’s Islamic states. And why do you suppose that is? What makes Korea different from Malaysia as Dom Perignon is different from tap water?
I would suggest that much of the answer begins with an ‘I’ and ends with a ‘SLAM’.
Friday, August 24, 2007
By the Anti-Jihadist