Saturday 31 August 2013

Selamat Hari Merdeka - ruminations on patriotism, national pride and independence

Oh look! Google Doodle!
The word of the year seems to be patriotism.

What's patriotism? Patriotism is you, identifying with your nation. It's me, being proud to be Malaysian. It's me, believing that Malaysia can be so much more than she is right now, after 56 years of independence. It's us, deciding that we want to stay here, where we were born and raised, and to, hopefully, make it less *facepalm*-worthy.

It can't be solely judged on whether I fly the Malaysian flag. It's not going to be promoted by singing the national anthem in the cinema.* I don't see how showcasing our military equipment will instill patriotic feelings, but rather it might raise questions as to whether we are becoming a military state.

I don't think you can say that the Malaysian youth of today are unpatriotic, or that they don't appreciate Malaysia and her fight for independence. I just think that they (we!) see it in a different way. They see the things (freedoms?) that other countries have and they compare it to their own land and think - why are we not pursuing this? Why are we not improving ourselves this way? Why are we remaining in the past?

It's not about budaya barat (Western culture) superceding our own. It's not about wanting to only be like others and rejecting our own culture. In fact, there are many grassroot groups popping up to preserve our culture! It's really about the realities of living in a global community and wanting to make our country, our nation, stand on par with them. I mean, if you have access to all this information, a wealth of it, and you know from history the pitfalls and the problems and the solutions, but you don't make use of it because it's not our culture that either makes you backward, or an idiot, or a Malaysian politician. It's not to say that everything will work here. Not all of it will, some would need to be tailored to our situation and culture, but there will definitely be something that some other country has gone through that we can learn from. (And comparing to third world countries that were worse off than us and are still worse off than us does NOT make any sense at all).
Patriotism, according to the ruling government however, means unconditional support for them, the ruling government, because they are in power. It's all about show - if they can't see it, you aren't patriotic. It's about not complaining, even when things are obviously wrong, because if you love your country, you won't find anything wrong with it. You would have national pride.

National pride, though, is something hard to generate these days. We're awfully proud of our sports stars, like Datuk Nicole David and Datuk Lee Chong Wei. We're awfully terribly proud of our food. We're proud of our diaspora who are doing us proud out in the world (though come back, won't you?). But our country? Um, if all our politicians stop embarrassing us, maybe. If the government changes, maybe. If we do away with the racial and religious discrimination and rhetoric, maybe. If the politicians stop insulting us, maybe. (Why does it always come back to politicians and government? Oh right, they're the ones talking without turning on their brains.)

The thing with independence, really, is what you do with it. When you're 18 or 21 and you move out of home to college (or wherever), you have the freedom to do what you want - but not all your choices are going to be good ones, at least not at first. That's life. Live with it. You make better choices with time, you learn how to be responsible with your new freedom and how to live graciously with other people with the same freedom & independence as you.

So Malaysia has moved out of the umbrella of the almighty conquering British for 56 years... and what has she done with it? Not much, really. It's still bad choices after bad choices after bad choices. Instead of learning to be responsible with freedom, we talk about restricting freedom for the good of all**. We haven't learnt to live graciously with other people, instead we insist that other people live graciously on our terms.

Nationhood, or the maturing of a nation, would understandably take a longer time than the growth of an individual person because it encompasses many people, but the question is: are we even heading in the right direction?

I have this thing about anniversaries and birthdays which make me unnaturally*** introspective and long-winded, as well as rather confused, so I think I'll stop here.

Selamat Hari Merdeka!
Happy Independence Day!

* WTH, really? Under the National Anthem Act 1968 disrespecting the national anthem is punishable by “fines not exceeding one hundred ringgit or imprisonment for a term not exceeding one month". (Why is this even a law?)
** But only if "all" equals the majority and is in line with government views.
*** Okay, maybe not "unnaturally" but err.. excessively?


  1. You hit the nail on the head there Anna! We Malaysians are fiercely proud with certain aspects of our country: our food, our sportsmen, our melting pot culture... it's so true that the one thing we are ashamed of, is our politics and politicians.

    True patriotism is not measured by how many flags you fly, but by how you strive to do something that will change your country for the better.

    And may I say that it doesn't matter how many years one spends abroad; your heart will always remain in Malaysia. Which is why this diasporic Malaysian will be moving home to contribute to her country. :)

    Selamat Hari Merdeka! Some Malaysians need to remember the original vision of our forefathers who fought so hard for our independence.

    P.S.: Love that Roosevelt quote! A certain ruling party might need that on their HQ wall... ;)

  2. Love it . . . that's my daughter. I am "patriotic" about her :)