Dr. Kua Kia Soong.
An Article By DR KUA KIA SOONG
And listen while I sing
For love of one’s country is a terrible thing
It banishes fear with the speed of a flame
And makes us all part of the patriot game…'
These plaintive yet stirring lines from an old Irish republican song also inspired Bob Dylan's "With God on our side".
As we hear of more Malaysians emigrating (300,000 in the last 18 months?) and their reasons for doing so, allow me to write about my own part in the patriot game…
When I was a young rebel in the seventies, I received the news that my brother-in-law and eldest sister were emigrating to Australia with pious indignation. I felt that despite the injustices, Malaysians should stay and fight for our rights while helping to build the country.
It was easy for me to say as a property less and angry young man. But could I honestly feel how my brother-in-law felt as a professor of medicine in University of Malaya, watching the compromises to academic excellence in the name of bumiputeraism and suffering the indignity of being systematically bypassed in his career advancement?
His warning of the possible de-recognition of UM's MBBS degree by the British Medical Council was not heeded and this became a reality in the Eighties. The rest is history…
Today, I am not as sanguine as I was in my youth except to feel a sadness that talented Malaysians are forced to leave the land where they were born in order to pursue their careers in other countries.
Has the government cared to record how many Malaysian talents have been lost to other countries since 1969 and how much this translates into economic terms?
In my family alone, our country has lost not only a professor of Radiology (my brother-in-law) but also a professor of psychological medicine (my brother at NUS).
His daughter is an A&E specialist in Singapore and we have three other psychiatrists abroad (a cousin in Ottawa, my nephew in Newcastle and another cousin in Singapore).
Two other young cousins are doctors in Singapore, while two more nieces have just graduated as doctors from Imperial College. I doubt they will be coming to practise in Malaysia. Our own daughter will be graduating as a doctor next year and we have to keep our fingers crossed whether she will return to practise here.
A colleague of mine in the eighties had four children who were all accomplished academics at MIT, UCLA, Oxford and Cambridge. In the housing estate we live in, practically every household has children studying or working abroad and some of them have truly illustrious careers, all lost to other countries.
Apart from our medical professionals, many talented professionals in LLN, JKR, KTM, RRI have been forced to seek employment overseas ever since the "bumiputera policy" came into being.
Barry Wain has counted the glaring costs of Mahathir's rule. He puts it at RM100 billion. Maybe someone should count the collateral damage of the bumiputera policy since 1969.
Has any Umno leader expressed regret or remorse over this brain drain? No! These "drained brains" have been greeted with "good riddance!" at Umno general assemblies through the years since all the Umnoputras are more concerned about the dubious figures proclaiming a higher proportion of bumiputera representation in the professions.
No doubt the recent torching of churches has sickened many Malaysians and will prompt more to emigrate.
Our so-called "nation builders" and "outside-the-box" thinkers seem incapable of producing a "win-win" situation that can prevent this brain drain while building national unity. Wasn't it Robert Frost who said, "Originality and initiative are what I ask for my country?"
My first stirrings of patriotism
Patriotism is indeed a "terrible" thing – when the Irish use the adjective "terrible" they mean something equivalent to “awesome” rather than "contemptible".
The pogrom of May 13, 1969 had left me and many other Malaysians with a nasty taste. I had just completed my higher school certificate (A levels). Soon after, I saved up enough to buy a ticket to London and borrowed a month’s living expenses from my sister.
During those early years of sojourn in London, my first instinctive "patriotic" feelings were kindled whenever I met British people who would ask me where I was from. After I had told them I was from Malaysia, they would invariably add:
"I suppose you won't be going back there no more then…"
Without a moment's hesitation and recognizing the pre-supposition behind that statement, I always replied: "Yes, I am. I'm certainly going back to my country when I've finished my studies!"
I’ve kept true to that undertaking I made to myself even though these British people I met were just strangers in the pub or in the street. That’s not just patriotism, that’s integrity to myself.
A choice in the seventies
Then when I was at university in 1975, I suddenly got a letter from the British Home Office asking me to send them my passport since they suspected that my leave of stay in the UK had expired.
Weeks later, I got my passport back with a letter saying: "I am writing to say that the time limit and conditions attached to your leave to enter the United Kingdom have been removed…..You are now free to remain permanently in the United Kingdom. You do not require permission from a Government Department to take or change employment in England, Wales or Scotland and you may engage in business or a profession …" (The Under Secretary of State, 6 March 1975)
Until today, some people I meet still ask if I’ll be emigrating to the UK since my kids are studying in the UK and I have a British wife. My answer is always: "If I had wanted to emigrate, I would have done so in the seventies!"
When I finally finished my PhD, I returned to "build my homeland" in the early eighties. I could have stayed and enjoyed a good bourgeois existence in Britain enjoying the English countryside, good ale and the arts but my social conscience would have got the better of me ere too long…
Back in Malaysia at the end of 1982, apart from working I wrote profusely in response to many issues confronting our society during that time. It was a period when the press was relatively freer and while it was "owned by the MCA", it was "edited by the MIC for the DAP", as we used to say.