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Malaysians reject insincere patriotism

We are all proud to be Malaysian and we do not need anyone telling us what patriotism means or how we should show our national pride. Like faith and love, patriotism cannot be regulated, but few politicians will understand this.

On Aug 21, Communications and Multimedia Minister Datuk Seri Ahmad Shabery Cheek ordered cinemas throughout Malaysia to play the national anthem “Negaraku” and screen two patriotic clips before starting the film. He warned cinemagoers that those who showed disrespect, faced arrest.

A few days later, Shabery announced the possibility of a new law, compelling businesses to fly the Jalur Gemilang, throughout the month of Merdeka. He claimed that companies lacked patriotism because very few premises flew the flag.

National pride cannot be defined by the number of Jalur Gemilangs that are flown from our buildings; only shallow people would equate outward symbols with patriotism.

In 2010, the Mayor of Ipoh threatened to fine businesses and withdraw their trading licences if they did not fly the flag. His humiliating climb-down came about when the public reacted with outrage.

At one point, the nation was in the grip of a competition to fly the most flags. A photo of a teacher perching precariously on the third floor balcony of a school, hoisting a banner containing several hundred mini-flags, attracted contempt. People complained that the headmaster had set a poor example for his students. Others wondered which politicians had the monopoly on the flag-making business.

Photos of proud car and taxi drivers posing with vehicles bedecked with flags also invited ridicule. People deplored the failure of the police to apprehend these drivers, whose vehicles were a road safety hazard and a distraction.

In 2010, Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, who was then the Defence Minister, stumbled into a political minefield when he attributed the low numbers of non-Bumiputeras in the armed forces to their “low spirit of patriotism”. His remarks sparked outrage, but he failed to apologise to the nation for his insensitivity.

Lest we forget, Malaysia was built on the blood, sweat and toil of all the races. Today’s youth may not have learnt about the struggles of the many groups of people – ranging from the nationalists to the communists, individuals to expatriates – who brought independence to Malaya in 1957. They may not know why Singapore left Malaysia, or that Sabah and Sarawak were late entrants. What matters most is that the contribution of every Malaysian, then and now, is important.

How could one define what makes us truly Malaysian and what gives us a national identity? Is it the Jalur Gemilang, the pot-pourri of cultures, the diversity of food, or the way we intersperse English, Malay and Chinese words in our everyday conversation?

One nasty Malaysian trait is to show recognition only for sports personalities who are ‘Datuks’. Is that why we failed to support gems like our diver Pandelela Rinong? When she competed at the London Olympics, few senior politicians or their wives were at the poolside (unlike their unmistakable presence at Datuk Lee Chong Wei’s badminton event). As soon as Pandelela won an Olympic bronze medal, the stampede of politicians to be the first to congratulate her could have earned a gold medal in the 400 metres relay.

Is being a Malaysian our willingness to socialise, at any hour of the day, at a mamak stall? Food means everything to us, and yet punctuality means nothing. We show great enthusiasm for eating, but are blind to the filth around us.

Perhaps, the way we drive shows our Malaysian-ness. If we are stopped for a traffic violation, we wriggle out of the situation with a small “token of gratitude”, folded neatly underneath our driving licence. Why do we drop our bad driving habits when we drive in a foreign country, where violating the law is not tolerated?

Why do overseas Malaysians claim to be more patriotic than their Malaysian counterparts? Are Malaysians abroad just homesick, or is it because they cannot easily be stoked by the racial and religious sentiments of our politicians at home?

From all the responses this writer received, the common theme of being a Malaysian boiled down to tolerance, decency and a sense of humour.

A proud Malaysian respects others, whatever their race, religion, gender or age. They treat people with dignity. Proud Malaysians have self-respect and are not afraid of hard work. They have shared values, communal responsibilities and a sense of belonging.

The rakyat is not conned by forced patriotism and political jingoism. People learn by example, and deeds which show justice, honesty and fair play help to galvanise and unite the nation.

Mariam Mokhtar is "a Malaysian who dares to speak the truth."

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