Dispatch I from Malaysia [Archives:2004/744/Opinion]

June 7 2004

Hassan Al-Haifi
Anyone who has been fortunate to visit Malaysia on two different occasions is bound to judge that this vegetative paradise, with all its endowed greenery has also been blessed by inhabitants that see the land as a blessing to them, which they must manage in a proper way. That would be the only way to consider the blessings of the Al-Mighty as not just a blessing, but rather a trust in the hands of the inhabitants that needs care and cohesiveness to assure the sound use of the available resources to the optimum advantage of all stakeholders that can be optimally sustained for as many of the forthcoming generations as possible. This also simply does not mean the enhancement of the standards of living of the indigenous people of the land. Nor does this just mean those who have been driven by fate to come to this luscious land of rolling hills and endless forests latticed with streams and waterways and man-made canals to drain the swamps. Anyone who has come to make a temporary abode for enhancement of well-being has often decided to make this a permanent home for the fortune seeker and his descendants. Thus, in Malaysia one finds an intricate ethnic mix of settlers who came from overseas that have dwarfed the indigenous population of proud Malays to become a minority that still constitutes a majority in this ethnic mix of Arabs, Chinese, Indians and other minorities. The obvious impression one is bound to make is that this is a good experiment in successful integrated nation building of multiple ethnicity, not just in the racial context, but in the religious and economic segmentation that characterize all the cordial inhabitants of the 9 “sovereign states” that make up the Federation of Malaysia.
For those of us who come from the Middle East, with the region's dominating arid characteristic, Malaysia blanket of green indeed is a source of refreshing change to the amazed eye. Trees that stand so close together in endless expanses of beauty and variety truly reflect an artistic array of landscape that certainly evoke a stronger admiration and praise of the Lord's splendid Magnificence.
On the human side, one is not able to forget the magnificent leaps and strides that this small nation at the midst of the Malay Archipelago that extends from Southern Thailand to the infinite number of islands that make up Indonesia has been ableto achieve. The previous visit of this observer some 25 years ago brings to mind a rushed misjudgment that this land and its resources is actually in the wrong hands, with most of the indigenous population beset by poverty and most of the assets and resources of the land exploited and benefited from in an inequitable manner. Needless to say, the picture has drastically changed, within a short span of time to show that indeed the ownership of assets has taken some significant shifts and the lot of the indigenous population greatly improved. Before the Malaysian government embarked on the New Economic Policy, the indigenous population's ownership of the modern economic assets that were publicly traded did not exceed 1.9%. The indigenous population's reliance on traditional economic activity was driving them out of the entire economic windmill, producing a wretched display of poverty and economic stagnation. Once the New Economic Policy was put into effect, the share of economic asset ownership for the indigenous Malays rose to reach 20% of all modern economic assets. Bear in mind there was no nationalization or confiscation of any of the assets of the other ethnic elements that have managed to gather this former great share of asset ownership. The economic programs involved a recognition by these latter elements that there is indeed enough for everyone and that there is no fairness in preventing any access to the means of economic enhancement to anyone who is ready to work and produce for self-enhancement and for the further development of the land for the benefit of all the inhabitants. Needless to say that human resource development is a major factor in bringing about this shift of ownership composition and access is simply not enough, without improvement of the capabilities of the indigenous population and more importantly, without nation building that stresses cohesiveness and respect for all the ethnic segments that have decided on embarking on a joint effort that should bring tranquility to all.
In meeting with some of the officials that are playing key roles in the political and economic development, the observer must admit to being impressed by the transparent and clear manner by which Malaysian government officials retell their experience towards modern nationhood. One is also unable to overlook the ability of the Malaysian officials to speak about such issues as regional integration and common responsibility, which have become long forgotten rhetoric in the Arab World. For every Moslem and developing country beset by chronic retraction in economic and social conditions, Malaysia represents a shining beacon of hope that with some sincere and serious efforts and some degree of responsibility, the situation need not be altogether impossible.