WHEN an editor from thesundaypost asked if I would be interested to write for the newspaper, I said okay but then I sat down in a corner of my glass living room thinking … what am I supposed to write about for the two nations of Sabah and Sarawak? Frankly speaking, I know less about these two nations than the United Kingdom. I hardly know more than two cities in both these nations, and I once thought that Labuan was connected by a bridge like Penang! Naming the ethnic groups and demography requires me to look up Wikipedia.
But then, I thought … hmm, why don’t I write about the failure of the Semenanjung in almost every idea and ideal of ‘Malaysia’ and the future of community-housing and the city. As a professor of architecture with 32 years of teaching and writing on architecture at both public and private universities in Semenanjung, writing about social, political, historical, and environmental aspects of the built environment and community is second nature to me. I could write about many of my ideas on education, sustainable building and city designs, tolerant religious institutions, and community living that have not been taken seriously by the Semenanjung because of the ignorance, arrogance and simple gullibility of the Malay-centric administrative, academic and political cultures.
Let’s face it, my reading is that in the last 30 years, the idea and ideal of Malaysia as a nation of harmony, sustainability, and prosperity has gone downhill. If we were to judge prosperity by the number of cars and houses owned, we might find that Semenanjung has done well. But then, household debts are at a most critical stage. So, is that prosperity? Raising a family of five children into adulthood with so many loans to keep track of, I would know something about the elusive nature of ‘prosperity’. Next, if we were to judge the success of academia by the placement of ranking and numbers of journal papers we must be ‘soaring high’. But judging by the way politicians carry race, religious and environmental narratives, we are back in the 1960s and actually never progressed.
Why? Professors in academia care little about the nation’s development but only in filling in their own basket of promotion, titles, and how many times I play golf with the Menteri. Believe me, 27 years at a public university which is ashamed of my honesty and integrity in writing the truth about Islam and the Malay society gives me the right credibility to say many things about our ailing universities, which I like to refer to as ‘lower institutions of intellect’.
I predict that Malaysia is headed into rough waters because of the Malays and their newfound piety in religion. Religion is supposed to teach more tolerance and compassion, and Islam is supposed to be one of the easiest religions to live as and with, but somehow it has been warped into a racist and nationalistic ideology. That Muslims are becoming more religious should be a good thing but the manner of which the Malays are learning about their religiosity is completely wrong. I say completely wrong because they are learning Islam via the traditional method of ‘the-ustaz-knows-best’ methodology of centuries past. Where once you have to put total trust in the ustaz and the institutions of religion, that method no longer holds water.
We are living in the age of the internet with every kind of knowledge at our fingertips and this requires a different approach. We are living in the age where the world is getting smaller because of real time reporting and an event somewhere thousands of miles away has deep repercussions here. We live in a network of global economy, with intertwining financial relationships as well as an economy existing in the cyber world in the form of electronic clouds. And yet, Malays love their ceramah method without reading and checking facts of hadith interpretations as well as Quranic understanding. Never mind that these Malays have gone to study for postgraduate degrees in the USA or UK, their method of learning religion is as ancient as their bookshelves with no books to read. Having spent six years in the USA for my bachelor’s and master’s degrees in architecture, and three years in Edinburgh, Scotland, I know how many upper middle class Malays view Malaysia as a Land of Melayu in Malaysia … not Malaysians.
Education is the other Achilles heels of the Semenanjung as well as Malaysia as a whole. Forget about the fact that schools in Semenanjung have become ‘holier than thou’ in Islamic manifestations, we still teach students to memorise so many things without any sense of what they are for. Success and high grades are for those who act like the computer where you can recall the information with ease. This is what I term as artificial intelligence. At the universities, learning a profession like architecture and engineering is merely imitating practices guarded jealously by the profession’s accrediting body, which can only see architecture and engineering five years into the future and in the locality of Malaysia. The idea of exporting our graduates overseas in the global market and into the realm of 30 years in the future is too much for the universities and the professional body to think.
Don’t get me started on PhD supervision and research that produces many ‘doctors’ but without the philosophy. Most local PhD graduates are more and more like research assistants, and less and less like visionaries and future trend setters. Why? Their professors are the same. The universities in Semenanjung are beautiful and state-of-the-art fortresses of mass ignorance and high egos.
What of the politicians? What of a fresh political narrative of the touted ‘New Malaysia’? Forget it. Why? Even if there were the few good politicians in the Pakatan Harapan coalition, they would never be able to move an inch or change Malaysia. Why? Every move they make will be jumped at by Umno or PAS waiting to make every issue about destroying Islam or threatening Malay supremacy. Dr Maszlee Malik and his ministry can’t move effectively to make radical changes of his ideas because the education administration is bigger than the teaching force! There are more administrators telling teachers what and how to teach while they themselves have no clue as to what real education is all about. The almost all Malay civil servants serve themselves more than they serve the public. You don’t believe me? Try finding a parking space when next you go to do your stuff at any ministry. The best and most convenient parking are for the servants and not the master. Why? The civil servants think they are the master! This culture must change or else the machinery is the boss and we the citizens end up cutting the grass while the lawn mower sips orange juice under the shade.
The cities in Malaysia are breaking at the seams. In Penang and Kuala Lumpur, flash floods occur frequently.
The term ‘flash flood’ is supposed to mean a sudden and infrequent flood that occurs taking everyone by surprise, perhaps once in a blue moon. The ‘flash floods’ in KL and Penang occur almost every time there is a tropical downpour … which is almost always every week. The city drainage philosophy is drowned by the ignorant public servant that keeps giving stupid excuses such as ‘longkang tersumbat’ or another of my favourite ‘uncontrolled construction sites’. Aiyah! Flooding is a simple calculation of how much paved area, how much grass or absorbing area, and how much rainfall we get. Itu saja! Thirty years ago, the rain was still that much but no floods.
Now it floods even after a two-hour rainfall, not yet monsoon time even … maa. That means there are more paved areas and less absorbing ones. What is so difficult? Even our SMART tunnel is apparently not so smart. It is supposed to be one of the great flood mitigation exercises … it, in turn, causes floods in the tunnel! Not so SMART lah itu macam!
Thus, I thought that the two nations of Sabah and Sarawak might benefit from my ideas about many aspects of how the Semenanjung has failed to be the idea and ideal of a Malaysian nation as well as a sustainable one. As partners in the coalition in the Malaysia framework,
I feel that it would not be a strange idea to bring Malaysia over to the two nations of Sabah and Sarawak and how the ideas of nation building can be restarted and reengineered so to speak. Both nations can’t do any worse than Semenanjung.
When Malays get agitated over some lights on a building under construction resembling a cross, you know the days of Malaysia in Semenanjung are effectively over. Thus, citizens of Malaysia, let’s see if we can resuscitate the ailing idea and ideals of Malaysia from the shores of the nations of Sabah and Sarawak.
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Dr Mohd Tajuddin Mohd Rasdi is professor of architecture at a local private university. He has published 50 books on architecture and social issues.