Scholar Activist Khoo Khay Jin: Reflections on the Penan Sarawak and Malaysia is a tribute to a towering yet unassuming intellectual, Khoo Khay Jin, one of the best-read scholars of his generation in Malaysia and a brilliant statistician. Undoubtedly, ‘Scholar-Activist’ is a very appropriate description of the man, Khoo Khay Jin. So too the title of this book. He was never an arm-chair critic confined to providing analytical input from behind a desk as he personally took part in a number of focus group discussions with communities across the two states to obtain and analyse data and input from various stakeholders including grassroots communities and to ensure their voices were heard and taken into consideration in national and state planning. His commitment towards providing a voice to these communities continues to be inspiring and noteworthy for all Malaysian development practitioners.
In this anthology, there are two stand-out pieces both written in 1992; (i) “The Grand Vision”, and (ii) “The Seduction of the West”. In “The Grand Vision”, Khoo Khay Jin discussed the political and economic turbulence that the country experienced during the 1980s, when Umno was split down the middle. No, it was not merely on account of differences in Mahathir‘s and Tengku Razaleigh’s personalities and their different political styles that the split occurred. Yes, there were significant differences in policy preferences. And, so too, differences in the coalitions that coalesced around them. In the wake of our current turbulence post GE15—when the Malay population is split into six or seven parties, Khoo Khay Jin already captured the fragmentation of the Malay community some 30 years ago, when he linked it to differences in policy preferences, not merely political styles on individual leaders.
Through “The Seduction of the West”, Khoo Khay Jin posited that the ‘systemic forces governing the world (would) remain the same’ when the demise of Communism was occurring. From the viewpoint of the South, the Cold War had not ended—for that Cold War was always about keeping the South safe for capitalism, the West/North. The demise of the Soviet Union meant that there would be no counter-weight to the excesses of the United States; so, there occurred an ‘apparent collapse of room for maneuver for the South. Significantly, America’s invasion of Iraq occurred in 1991-92, follows with other wars against Afghanistan, and wars or proxy wars like in South Yemen, Libya, Serbia subsequently. More disconcerting, there also occurred this unseemly rush among the states in the South to adopt the socio-economic recipes promoted by the North, which centred on the unfettered operation of the market, financial deregulation, trade liberalization and privatization, i.e. the ideology of liberal capitalism. It was as though there was no other option for societies to adopt if they wished to develop. This is the ‘seduction of the West’ that Khay Jin lamented.