31/8/97 Are you ready for the world?
|Sunday, August 31,1997
The Sunday Times, Page 6
Are you ready for the world?
He met the busy Anwar only briefly, but he was impressed. In his book, Among The Believers, An Islamic Journey (1981), he describes the young Anwar thus:
"He was attractive; and it added to his attractiveness that in spite of his great local authority he gave the impression of a man still learning still thinking things out.
"His grand view of Islam gave him a security that not all of his followers had, and travel had added to his vision."
But Naipaul's observation of the new generation of educated Malays, who had been created by the country's wealth from tin, rubber palm oil and oil, was not so generous.
They were the new men of the villages who had been awakened by money, development and education only to find that the world was not their own. They could not accommodate themselves to the new world.
They blamed the world. They shifted the whole burden of that accommodation on to Islam, in whose rules they could find the security of the village childhood life they had lost. Islamic rules might be rigid, but the rules made life simple; they provided a guide for everything.
Naipaul's summary of Malaysia was harsh:
"Money magnified the limitations of places like Malaysia, small, uneducated and coming late to everything. Money... changed old ways. But money only turned people into buyers of imported goods, fixed the country in a dependent relationship with the developed world, kept all men colonials.
"It was possible to understand the withdrawal of someone like Shafi... and the wish, among other Malays, to pretend that they were Arabs, living as purely as in the days of the Prophet."
He had wanted to see Malaysia through Mr Anwar's eyes, but the latter was too busy and sent him someone named Shafi instead. The writer saw in Shafi the educated Malay who, however, had no sense of history, only feelings which he could not articulate, feelings which flowed into religion and committed him to learning the abstract articles of a missionary faith.
Malaysia has come very far since that time. The Malays have found a new confidence with even greater economic growth, which they have participated in. Datuk Anwar. Ibrahim is now the powerful Deputy Prime Minister of the country.
Yet, during the recent two months when Prime Minister Datuk Seri Dr Mahathir Mohamad left the country in Datuk Anwar's charge while he went away for a working vacation, the fundamentalists emerged to test their power, which had been suppressed by the new global policies of the central government.
Local authorities in several states banned the rap group KRU from staging concerts because they "were not in keeping with the government's commitment to protect the morals of Muslim youths". Three Malay girls who took part in a beauty contest in Selangor were unceremoniously arrested after the crowning ceremony for being indecently dressed.
Datuk Anwar reacted, ordering the lift of the ban on KRU and warned the Selangor religious authorities which prosecuted the three beauty contestants to exercise care in enforcing the religious law so as not to "instil fear, anxiety and confusion among the people".
The Prime Minister, who was in Japan then, reacted morely strongly. He blasted the religious officials for the arrest, and scolded them for not knowing what was required by the religion.
Upon his return, he ordered a full review of all Islamic laws in the country and put on hold the enforcement of religious law.
The Prime Minister wants Malaysia to be a model Islamic nation, which is moderate and forward-looking, free from the shackles of fundamentalism. But such is the sensitivity of the religion on the ground that even.. he could not do anything to a religious leader who called him an apostate.
In a Sunday Review article last week about this whole episode of tension in Malaysia, my colleague Salim Osman reported that there was a worry among some non-Muslims whether Datuk Anwar if he succeeded Dr Mahathir, would be able to maintain the same strong stand, given his background as a former leader of Abim.
But the Deputy Premier has said in an essay, Islam In South-east Asia, which is one of nine collected in the book The Asian Renaissance (1996): "The wave of Islamic revivalism that began with the anti-imperialist struggles of the previous century has gained momentum in our time among Muslims in South-east Asia.
"The energy potential must be properly directed so as not to deteriorate or be corrupted into blind fanaticism which could precipitate into violent clashes with other cultures."
He admits, though, that there are signs "that these religious energies, aligned with forces of social conservatism, have served to marginalise the Muslims in the rapidly-changing world".
"Thus, we need to reassert the universalism of Islam, its values of justice, compassion and tolerance in a world that is yearning for a sense of direction and for genuine peace."
In the Sunday Review article, Professor Syed Hussein Alatas, former Chancellor of Universiti Malaya, was quoted as saying that the government would have to contend with certain groups on the ground which pushed for Islamisation.
"They will not take over the governrnent, but they will have a great nuisance value," he said.
Yes, they will be a nuisance, especially when you have grand plans for a Multimedia Super Corridor, among other mega technological projects, and you want to attract talents from around the world to work in the country.
Who wants to come to work and live in a place where fatwas are the order of the day, and there are all kinds of restrictions? For workers with portable skills choosing to work in a certain community is not just a matter of job opportunities, but also of lifestyle. And that lifestylc must be cosmopolitan.
This tension in Malaysia is really one between the cosmopolitans, those who are open to the new global economy and realise the need to provide the linkagc to global activities and networks, and the locals, who, instead of seeing new opportunities, see threats to their power, their titles and their sinecures, and seek to erect barricades.
The barricades will only serve to wall these locals from opportunity. They will lead themñ and the rest of the country together with them, if they are allowed to become more than a nuisanceñinto a spiral of decline.
For with globalisation, people cannot retreat into a pure faithñ to hold on to their identity or powerñ and pray that the world will go away. The currency crisis is a timely wake-up call. Even forest fires in Indonesia can throw a veil of haze over their cities blocking out their skies.
IN SINGAPORE, as we open our doors wider to foreigners to come in to work and live there would likely, too, be tension between the cosmopolitans and the locals.
The cosmopolitans are not just the foreigners, but those Singaporeans who work in companies linked to global chains, who possess portable skills and a broad outlook.
Cosmopolitans are rich in three intangible assets, says Rosebeth Moss Kanter, Professor of Business Adminstration at the Harvard Business School and an adviser to companies and countries.
In her book, World Class (1995), she outlines them as the three Cs that translate into pre-eminence and power in a global economy:
* Concepts- the best and latest knowledge and ideas;
* Competence- the ability to operate at the highest standards of any place anywhere; and
* Connections- the best relationships, which provide access to the resources of other people and organisations around the world.
Locals are defined primarily by particular places. They are rooted in their communities. But those who are open to global thinking and opportunities will have less of an adjustment to make when the world comes into their community.
It is those who have limited education, who do not possess skills, who fear change and are not open to learning who will suffer. They may become isolates or nativists, retreating into religion or, as in the case of Australia's Pauline Hanson and her supporters, barricading themselves behind a patriotic cause.
When foreigners come into a community and change the context of the workplace, disconnected locals can be expected to undergo five social psychological processes.
* Envy- the threat to self-esteem, when the outsiders, or foreigners, are seen to be doing better than insiders.
* Scapegoating- displacing blame on others. It is easier and less threatening to self-esteem to blame foreigners for economic distress.
* Blame actions of individual foreigners on the entire group. Inter-racial confiicts can be sparked off easily.
* Pressure to support one's own group. This is a valuable form of communal responsibility if it is positive, but it is not when people are pressured to make decisions base solely on emotional ties to a particular group.
* Mistrust of foreigners and cosmopolitans. Can cosmopolitans, who are comfortable with foreigners and other cultures, be trusted to act in the locals' best interests?
Locals fear not only the invasion of foreigners, they fear their flight as well. Because foreigners who are mobile can pull up stakes easily, they just may not be around when they are needed most.
IN MAKING the decision to allow in more foreigners Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong and his Cabinet have have before themselves the unenviable task of managing tensions that may fragment the society and erode whatever little identity Singaporeans have.
It means the loosening of some control, which is something that does not come easily to our leaders. But to hold on too tightly to control is to lose the race in the global markets. Thele is no other way. Globalisation is unstoppable.
The parent who wrote in to The Straits Times Forum page to express concerns that his son may not get into university because he now has to compete not only with other Singaporeans, but foreigners as well, is not thinking of his son's best interests.
A guaranteed place in the university for his son is going to be worth little if the university is going to be an inferlor one, and if the country is going to be overtaken by others which are open to the world.
These days, when you set up a company, it has to be "world-ready", because even at home, your products or services have to compete with those from the rest of the world.
Those parents who lobby for all kinds of restrictions on Boat Quay pubs because their precious children will be exposed to teenage gangs and drugs cannot be responsible parents.
Sure, they must be wary of media that get into their homes. But pubs? If you can't keep your children home, then you have a problem. Don't shift it to establishments that cater to adults.
Boat Quay is so vibrant because of the pubs, where locals and foreigners go to party and intermingle after a hard day's work. It is a first-class entertainment strip.
The Bugis area has been marked to become another entertainment district, complete with neon lights. In his National Day Rally speech, the Prime Minister mentioned the Boom Boom Room in Bugis Road. Those who worry about the Boat Quay pubs should check it outñbut leave your kids at home.
Just as much as world-class universities are a draw for talents from around the world, so are the entertainment and leisure amenities, or soft services.
The police's job is made more difficult because, as an operator who runs a multimillion-dollar entertainment chain said, quoting Minister of Information and the Arts Brigadier-General George Yeo: "You open your windows and you let in the fly."
So much easier to just close the windows, ban all the pubs.
But as the Malaysian leaders have shown and they have a rural, more religious and conservative grounds you don't ban concerts by rap groups and arrest beauty contest participants to "protect the morals" of your kids.
Not if you want to suceed locally in the global economy.
Look after your kids and make them world-ready.