September 18, 2007
My second article on Bolehland’s website…
(noun; One who loves, supports, defends one’s country)
My Merdeka weekend was spent in the quiet, sleepy town of Taiping. Here, even here, the call to show significant allegiance to the nation’s 50th birthday of independence seemed to be taken heed of. In fact, more cars had flags flapping away in the wind that I had recalled seeing back in Kuala Lumpur. One zealously strapped on 55 Malaysian flags (not counting the stickers pasted all round the windows nor the flag-jersey hanging inside) in commemoration of our Golden Age.
It reminded me of a survey reported about some time ago, that tried to determine what being a “Malaysian” was, really. In the survey, some elements that made up a true “Malaysian” were as follows: 1. Speaking the national language, Malay; 2. Living in the country Malaysia itself; 3. Flying the flag or celebrating Independence Day. I wondered silently whether any or all of these elements were necessary classifications of a true Malaysian. And further, whether or not a “true Malaysian” really exists. If so, who is given the jurisdiction to judge or determine its elements?
I think of the numerous Malaysians living abroad who still proudly profess to be Malaysians, and consider them equally Malaysian. I think of numerous individuals whose entire lives are dedicated, through their work at non-governmental organisations and other civil society groups, to improving Malaysia but who may not necessarily desire to indulge in the flag-flying exercise. I think of fairly intellectual Malaysians who have of late struggled and strained mind, body and soul to tirelessly figure out what the heck our identities are through blog posts, mass e-mails, public statements, coalitions, forums and late night mamak sessions.
These efforts surely must be considered as patriotic, if not more than, physical displays of marches, fireworks, fanfare and bullish shouts.
Not that I have anything vehemently against parades. It is merely frustrating when intellectual dynamism, so much revered in the past as necessary elements of patriotism, is today counted for little else but “activism”.
Indeed, Dr. Chandra Muzaffar in a recent nation-building dialogue commented with dry irony that we did not have any real dialogue about Independence leading up to the 50th Merdeka Day celebrations this year. There were no honest self-reflective seminars or dialogues conducted on large scale. Despite all the hullabaloo and clapping ourselves on the backs in self-congratulatory emotional affairs, no such session was initiated, not least by the Government, in pondering critical issues such as identity formation, religion, the social contract, independence of the Judiciary, pillars of democracy and development, and the list goes on.
The fact is, these important discussions are handled with much greater proficiency by civil society. I personally find it shameful that the Government, whose very role includes maintaining the strength, reliability and respectability of key institutions in society, has to be constantly urged and almost begged to take these issues more seriously.
Again, the irony is that by carrying the burden of public education, information dissemination and training of key issues like media independence, transparency and accountability, these are not just unaccounted for as elements of a patriotic Malaysian, they are considered as damaging to national fabric.
The truth is, nationalism comes in many forms. If we were all merely flag flyers and parade-goers, national thinkers and strategists would count for nothing in the search for a patriotic Malaysian. Thus, in the same dialogue, it was shared that the late Tun Sambanthan in his days as Minister of National Unity fervently believed that all faiths must be given the freedom to be practiced and expressed accordingly, an “integral part of a free nation”. Tun Dr. Lim Chong Eu, former President of the Malaysian Chinese Association and Parti Gerakan Rakyat Malaysia, believed in the safeguards of an independent Judiciary, Executive and the conference of Rulers. He even believed strongly that the non-Malays should make up at least one third of the Parliament so as to ensure no major decision would be made in a biased manner.
Our historical leaders were intellectual statesmen who earned their respect by engaging in serious issues with rational reasonable arguments made for the sake of Malaya/Malaysia. This is true nationalism. Good on them if they flew the flags, but if they didn’t, who cares? They contributed to the greater good of nation building. Today’s leaders have much to learn from them in fearlessly speaking the truth in love.
If speaking Malay, living in Malaysia and flying the Jalur Gemilang are the only elements of a true patriotic Malaysian, perhaps this is not the country I want to be in. But if true nationalism incorporates that and more, in the form and shape already marked for us by past leaders – contemplating and fighting for fundamental elements of a free democratic society through honest critical fearless self-analysis – then Malaysia, I am truly yours.