To celebrate Merdeka as a nation, we need to be more inclusive and accepting of one another and reject exclusivism, says Adrian Lee.
In August, Merdeka becomes the buzzword in the Malaysian public and private spheres. Television airwaves and radio frequencies contain discussions and reminders about freedom. Roadsides and pavements are ornamented with billboards and banners reminding us to love our country.
Malaysian flags now decorate our nation’s skylines. Parades and march-pasts are scheduled at state and national levels. Our leaders make speeches while Merdeka Day parties are planned and many begin to publicly declare “Merdeka”!
Merdeka is also a celebration of our multicultural, religious and cultural differences and there are exhibited through dances and cultural performances – a colourful showcase of our society’s diversity.
And Merdeka cannot be Merdeka without the image of Tunku Abdul Rahman proclaiming independence on 31 August 1957. Posters, television clips and sound bytes remind us of this.
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To many, Merdeka is a day of celebration, perhaps even a month of festivity. Merdeka to many also means a public holiday, a much-needed day of rest, an extended weekend or an opportune time to get the best deals during Merdeka sales.
Merdeka is also a time when Malaysians are called to reflect on their levels of patriotism and nationalism regardless of its positive or negative undertones. In short, Merdekaism is in the air.
In essence, Merdeka means freedom, liberty and sovereignty. These sentiments are, at least, best shared and appreciated by those from Peninsular Malaysia as 31 August is after all, the mark of independence for Malaya and not the founding of Malaysia.
History does define Merdeka as freedom from colonisation. But are we a truly free nation with the freedom to do whatever we please according to the rule of law?
As we are not experiencing war, how does one demonstrate patriotism and nationalism? What exactly is Merdeka and what comes to mind when Merdeka is mentioned?
How exactly should Merdeka, patriotism and nationalism be demonstrated and why should Malaysians be reminded about patriotism and nationalism?
Are we truly free to make informed decisions without having to be told about what is right or wrong?
Are we truly free to practise the religion of our choice without having to be told about what we can display or say lest we offend for no reason?
Are we truly free to spend our hard earned ringgit without having to worry about the rising cost of living?
Are we truly free to think without having our thoughts, ideas and opinions censored and censured?
Are we truly free to move around without having to fear about our safety and that of our loved ones?
Are we truly free to criticise and question without having to fear about repercussions and consequences?
Are we truly free to vote for the government of our choice without having a sense of feeling threatened?
Are we truly free to love Malaysia and to celebrate Merdeka the way we truly want?
To demonstrate a sense of patriotism and nationalism goes beyond flying the longest, highest or broadest Jalur Gemilang. The love for the country also goes beyond proclamations about how the diversity of all ethnic communities is loved and accepted.
It also goes beyond self-claims about a willingness to literally take a bullet for the country. Chiding, jailing and punishing critics by calling them traitors and asking them to migrate isn’t patriotic or nationalistic.
While there is no yardstick or benchmark capable of measuring, gauging and calculating how much a Malaysian loves Malaysia, I sincerely believe that many Malaysians already truly love their country.
In truth, appreciating and defending our social, political, cultural, religious and economic freedom and acceptance demonstrates a truer sense of patriotism and nationalism.
Being proud of Malaysia goes beyond proudly screaming Merdeka the loudest or demonstrating Malaysia Boleh by obsessively breaking records such as having the longest buffet lines, biggest ang paos or highest pouring of teh tarik. After achieving these culinary, decorative and infrastructural feats, what then?
Whilst these feats not only indicate a mismanagement of resources and misplaced pride, the focus needs to be about how ordinary Malaysian benefit from such record-breaking events. The instilment of national pride needs to go beyond cosmetic and aesthetic exhibitions.
Instead, Malaysians would be proud should we be capable of breaking records such as having the lowest (or even zero) corruption rates, the lowest poverty rates, the lowest unemployment rates, the lowest priced vehicles and the lowest pollution rates in the world.
Malaysians too would be proud if we could break records by having the highest crime -solving rates, the highest GDP and the highest rates of religious and racial tolerance in the world.
Do break records by having the safest roads, safest drivers, safest homes and safest streets in the world.
In fact, most Malaysians would be proud of having the best form of governance, the best network of public transport, the best national vehicle, the best standards of education, the best freedom of information, the best medical care, the best forms of jurisdiction, the best forms of infrastructural maintenance and even the best form of political stability in the world.
Don’t worry about breaking records by having the best food or best aspects of cultural and multiculturalism. We already have those and are extremely proud that they are made in Malaysia.
Feelings of patriotism and nationalism come from the love of a country that allows freedom and pride. It is a feeling of liberty – derived not only from freedom from colonial rule but also from living in a free nation that inspires love for the nation. This sense of living freely should be celebrated and cherished the year round and not only during the Merdeka month.
To celebrate Merdeka as a nation, we need to be more inclusive and reject exclusivism. We need to accept one another regardless of skin colour, creed and geographical location.
In the end, the manner that one chooses to display or declare their love for Malaysia is a personal and private affair. To paraphrase our Bapa Kemerdekaan, “…we are masters of our destiny, and the welfare of this beloved land is our own responsibility… work and strive with hand and brain to create a new nation, inspired by the ideals of justice and liberty…”
Selamat Hari Merdeka.
Dr Adrian Lee Yuen Beng is a “full-time” academic who spends his remaining time as a “free-time” filmmaker and “leisure-time” columnist.