Monday, 23 September 2013

Merdeka and Malaysia Day

I had begun writing for Sin Chew Jit Poh on 11 September 2013. Below is  my first article for them. I have no idea what title they used as I do not speak or read Mandarin, so the only reference I can give is the date of publication.


Last week was Merdeka Day and next week it will be Malaysia Day. It seems to me that over the past few years, every time these two celebrations come around, there is a great deal of hand wringing about how unpatriotic people have become. Desperate measures are then taken ranging from the usual finger wagging at the public, to the most recent government action of making cinemas play the Negaraku before the film screening.
The government acts as though the public’s perceived lack of patriotism is a personal affront to them. And therein lies the crux of the issue. Merdeka Day and Malaysia Day is about this country. It is a time to celebrate independence from the British and the partnership forged between the Western and Eastern parts of Malaysia. It is also a time to take stock of ourselves as a nation and to look forward to the future.
What it is not about, and should never be about is the government, or more specifically, the ruling political party. Unfortunately, this is what the official approach towards these two days, especially Merdeka Day, has been.
It is of course a crude oversimplification on the government’s part to take this approach. Any student of history will see that there were many players who had a role in the acquiring of independence. Not least the Malayan left wing whose activism scared the British into working with the current political elite. Let us not forget that in 1946 UMNO was not calling for independence, just the abolition of the Malayan Union, It was the PUTERA- AMCJA that actually called for independence.
So to simply hog all the glory on the part of UMNO, MCA and MIC is disingenuous and also not very accurate. Sure they were the ones who steered the country towards independence, but they were in no way the only ones.
Now fast forward fifty six years. After decades of propaganda where Merdeka is associated so intimately with the ruling political parties, we see a nation that is politically much divided. This is a natural thing as our foetal democracy develops and matures. But what it means is that over fifty per cent of the people in this country simply do not support the ruling parties.
How then can there be enthusiasm mustered for a celebration which is so intimately and purposefully linked to those political parties?
And when ordinary people try to raise the issue that UMNO MCA and MIC was one group amongst many in the quest for independence by symbolically unfurling the Sang Saka Malaya flag in Merdeka Square, they are arrested and charged with sedition. This shows a powerful desire on the part of the powers that be to have only their version of history known.
It is this narrow world view which makes it difficult for a thinking public not aligned with the ruling party to whole heartedly celebrate Merdeka and Malaysia Day. These celebrations have been hijacked by the ruling elite to be a celebration of them and only them; when really the celebration should be about us the people and the concept of our independent and free country.
If the government really cares about people celebrating these two historic occasions and showing some semblance of patriotism then they have to do two things. Firstly they have to make it absolutely clear that racist bigots who insist that this country is for only one race are not supported by them and that they will work towards a more just Malaysia. Secondly they should just stop the usual chest thumping every time late August and Mid-September comes up and leave the people to celebrate this time in any way we choose.
This is of course impossible and unlikely to the extreme. What is more likely and desirable is we the people simply reclaim these days as ours. We can begin by not allowing those who will divide us between first and second class citizens to cow us into submission. We can stand and fight for our rights and for our vision of a just Malaysia. We can then, if we choose, ignore the normal propaganda that comes with this season and celebrate Merdeka and Malaysia Day in our own way, whatever it may be. After all these days are ours, and not the governments.

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