Malaysia losing “faith capital values”

Norani Abu Bakar, New Mandala

Gallup Chairman Jim Clifton asserts in The Coming Jobs War, that what everyone in the world wants today is a good job. He added that the fate of a nation relies on good jobs, and that nations are in revolt and cities are crumbling for the lack of them. Can one simply accept his statement that jobs bring prosperity, peace and human development and that it is not the other way round?

On the one hand, in the short term, it may be that the economy dictates the quality and character of human life.  But in the long term, character values of justice, trustworthiness, mutual respect, benevolence and peace are foundational for the flourishing of any nation that strives towards a long term growth. The lack of these qualities creates tension, instability, and eventually loss of good jobs for the nation.

Ethical apathy and economic stagnation can create a cycle of decline. As Hans Kung, the President of the Foundation of Global Ethics, said to the Parliament of the World’s Religion inMelbournein December 2009,

“a painful truth is evident: this economic crisis is characterised by a notable absence of common ethical values and standards.”

In Malaysia, about 97 percent of the population claimed to adhere to faith traditions, enriched with ethical values and customs that ought to offer significant faith-based social capital. Diverse in its ethnicity and religious traditions, Malaysia theoretically should flourish much more compared to some of its neighboring countries, like Singapore which citizens are of almost the same ethnic and faith traditions but  lack of land space and natural resources.

Malaysia undermines its “faith capital values” and thus retards potential economic growth, loses good jobs to other nations, and consequently, has lost almost 330,000 university graduates, especially the non-Malays; Six-hundred thousand of them have left to work in Singapore alone.

If Tun Mahathir is right that 90 percent of Malaysia’s tax comes from the non-Malays, then this “brain drain” crisis, occasioned in part by dissatisfaction with Malaysia’s social and ethical values, further undercuts the financial capital of the nation.

By recognising faith as the basis of social capital, such discourse can identify the responsibilities of the government leaders, the function of social institutions in shaping the patterns of behavior and character development of citizens, and the roles of Malaysian Muslims as the majority in the population. These three agents will have the greatest influence in bringing about change.  This is not to say that public activism, marketplace dynamics, and the presence of other faiths or non-faith adherents are insignificant, but at present, they have less influence in Malaysia’s pseudo-democratic context. Thus the first step in moving forward is to analyse where the three key agents fall short.

Surveys conducted in the last quarter of 2010 in Malaysia and Indonesia on “Values, Dreams, Ideals – Muslims Youth in Southeast Asia” release good news that Malaysia Muslim youths, who are at the center stage of this nation’s population, prioritised believing in God and becoming better Muslims over becoming rich. Almost 70 percent wanted the Quran to replace the federal constitution. However, further analysis shows a contradiction, given that those interviewed are rather lax about praying, reading the Quran, and fasting, and prefer to watch television, listen to music, or surf the internet in their free time.

Data from the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) indicates that almost 65 percent of Malaysia population are internet users, a great increase from 15 percent in 2000.  Youths are inclined towards technology, especially the internet and SMS text messages.  Clearly, youths are increasingly consumed by the cyber world and distracted from other faith-related aspects of life, such as learning to exegete Quran passages or engaging themselves with the mosque communal gatherings and community services.

Many of those interviewed denounce violence, yet 62.4 percent perceive the late al-Qaeda terror group leader Osama bin Laden as a “freedom fighter.” This ethical contradiction has parallels elsewhere in society.