Competitiveness Not Unity Basis For Strength

By M. Bakri Musa

Hardly a day goes by without Malay leaders of all persuasions lamenting our lack of unity. If only we are united, they earnestly assure us, we could take on the world!

I respectfully disagree; their conviction is misplaced. The force that would make Malays strong is not unity rather competitiveness. If we are competitive, then our place in Tanah Melayu (Malay Land) or even Dunia Allah (God’s World) would be assured. If we are not, then we would forever have to be indulged with such silly fantasies as Ketuanan Melayu (Malay Hegemony). We would perpetually have to pin our hopes on such political amulets as Article 153 of our constitution (guaranteeing our special status).

Our leaders’ quixotic quest for “unity” is not only misplaced but also distracting. It distracts from the pressing challenge of making us competitive.

These leaders’ obsession with unity is misguided for another reason. They take unity to mean unanimity. To them we are not united unless we parrot their views. Any disagreement is an expression of “disunity.” They prefer us to be like a flock of sheep.

They would like us to believe that their leadership is of the shepherd leading the flock from one lush meadow to the next, ensuring that no one is left behind or be preyed upon. J.S. Bach’s cantata Sheep May Safely Graze (BWV 208) is a beautiful rendition of this benign biblical imagery of the pastoral ideal.

Unfortunately, the harsh reality is that far too many of our leaders today are sly foxes cloaked in shepherd’s clothing. Instead of tending to us, they would be the first to prey upon us. Instead of protecting us from the elements, these “shepherds” would ensure that they have their istana kayangan (fantasy palaces) first, and if there were the odd lumber pieces left over, only then could the flock hope to have a wall to their shed.

We have nine sultans, all fabulously wealthy luxuriating in their Shangri la palaces at taxpayers’ expense; likewise our political leaders, as obscenely exemplified by former Selangor Chief Minister Khir Toyo and Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi. I challenge anyone to name a charitable foundation funded by any of them.

These are the leaders who are forever exhorting us towards “unity.” It is a unity to serve their purpose, not ours.

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