By Kee Thuan Chye
I would like to talk about patriotism. Not just because Merdeka Day is coming up this Saturday, but also because the Government has lately shown its lack of understanding of what patriotism means.
It doesn’t mean flying the flag during the Merdeka month or at any time. That’s put-on patriotism and counts for nothing. It doesn’t mean playing the national anthem at cinemas and getting people to stand up for it.
Patriotism is what you carry in your heart – your love for your country, if you want to put it that way. It is something that makes you decide you will fight to protect it, perhaps even die for it. It is not something for you to shout out and tell the whole world about. Not even in Malaysia, which has a habit of wanting to show off and grandstand – for example, by sending to the prime minister last Merdeka Day the highest number of twits … sorry, tweets.
Patriotism is also about showing concern for your country. At no time was that kind of patriotism more evident than during the run-up to the last general election, on polling day and even after the results had been announced. At no time before had so many Malaysians shown their concern for the country in expressing their reasons to save it from its current corrupt mess. They cared enough for the country to want to see it improve and stop it from going the wrong way.
This was not something forced on them, unlike what the Government is doing now by getting cinemas to screen videos from Aug 28 to Sept 3 to remind people about the significance of independence, and to get cinemagoers to SHOW that they are patriotic by standing up at the end of the videos when ‘Negaraku’ is played.
Worse, the cinema operators have been asked to switch on the cinema hall lights when the national anthem is played and to ensure that their patrons stand up.
Nawawi Mohamad, writing in the online news portal Malaysia Chronicle, is right in observing that this is “Umno’s brand of false patriotism”, and that it pathetically contrasts with the real spirit of patriotism: “If you were to attend any of the Opposition’s ceramahs or political rallies, and these are usually multi-racial unlike Umno’s only-Malays, you will find the ‘Negaraku’ is sung spontaneously and each time before the crowd disperses. It is always with joy and participation.”
According to Communications and Multimedia Minister Ahmad Shabery Cheek, “We hope this exercise [in the cinemas] can move the hearts of Malaysians.” He’s indulging in wishful thinking, of course. Even if it does, it will merely be superficial. Such exercises don’t instil true patriotism; they are only heart-tuggers that have short-term effects. And they will tug the hearts of only the simple-minded, not the true patriots.
To instil patriotism, Ahmad Shabery and his colleagues in government need to know that they have to restore whatever glory the country has lost and take it to even greater heights. That is the only sure way of making Malaysians feel the country is worthy of their patriotism. After all, who would want to die for a country that is shabbily governed, headed for financial distress, and one in which the Government plays politics to divide the people?
Even in Ahmad Shabery’s call to all businesses to fly the national flag, we can see this playing of politics. He is slyly insinuating that a community of Malaysians is not patriotic and so they must fly the flag to show that they are.
He has also said he is even going to study the need to introduce a law to make this compulsory during Merdeka month. Such a law, he reasons, would make especially private businesses understand the importance of flying the flag to show their love for the nation.
That, of course, is a stupid idea.
First, it won’t work. No amount of flag-flying will make anyone love the nation if they don’t love it already. It’s just going to make people hypocrites.
Second, how would the Government enforce such a law? There are countless businesses throughout the country; how would the Government monitor who are flying the flag and who aren’t? It would be a sheer waste of resources doing that. Such resources would be better employed for something productive.
Third, this idea promotes form over substance, something that is typical of our ethos but needs to be reversed. For example, we take on the form of appearing religious – observe the rituals, pray five times a day, go to the mosque on Fridays or to the church on Sundays – but when no one is looking, we demand a few million bucks in kickbacks, or take sexual advantage of an underaged girl, or kill someone who’s a threat to our own well-being.
Ahmad Shabery says Malaysians should be like the citizens of neighbouring countries who enthusiastically fly their country’s flag during their independence month. He clearly ignores the possibility that they do so because they have natural and spontaneous reasons for it.
“For all the benefits of independence and harmony enjoyed all this while, we are only asking for a little sacrifice, namely, to fly the flag,” he says. “Sacrifice” is indeed the wrong word to use in this context. If flying the flag has to be a sacrifice, it is something not heartfelt. Then what would be the point of doing it? Again, just for show.
He also asks, “After more than 50 years of independence, is it still necessary to be asked to fly the flag?” He should instead ask “why?”, a question he has cleverly chosen to ignore. And if he were to search for the answer to “why?”, he would find Umno at the centre of the root cause.
He and his government colleagues should face this root cause squarely, rather than pass the blame on to the Malaysian people. The leaders’ failure to do so would only show their own lack of patriotism.
Frankly, I wouldn’t be surprised if they were less patriotic than the Malaysians who want change.
* Kee Thuan Chye is the author of the bestselling books No More Bullshit, Please, We’re All Malaysians and Ask for No Bullshit, Get Some More!