The Government Doesn’t Understand Patriotism

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!

  1. #1 by good coolie on Tuesday, 27 August 2013 - 10:36 pm

    Mr. Kee, you might get into deep shit for telling only the truth, and nothing but the truth.

    I hear you hate “bullshit”. I am glad to shake hands with a patriot like you – here, in this this virtual space.

  2. #2 by tengteng on Wednesday, 28 August 2013 - 12:18 am

    Umnoputra going to get new contract supplying Malaysia flags

  3. #3 by yhsiew on Wednesday, 28 August 2013 - 1:38 am

    The patriotism of those issuing blue ICs to unqualified migrant workers is questionable.

  4. #4 by Noble House on Wednesday, 28 August 2013 - 3:27 am

    Our country is not the only thing to which we owe our allegiance. It is also owed to justice and to humanity. Patriotism consists not in waving the flag, but in striving that our country shall be righteous as well as strong.

    Patriotism is a superstition artificially created and maintained through a web of lies and falsehoods, robbing us of our dignity and increasing our arrogance and conceit.

    That government is best which governs the least, because its people discipline themselves.

  5. #5 by lbn on Wednesday, 28 August 2013 - 6:56 am

    There’re 2 entities – the country and the government. The country is permanent whereas the government changes. The country is our home. I love my country and not necessary the government. With the way things are going on here, many of us are damn frustrated with the poor state of affairs on how things are governed. So much so many of us don’t bother on what’s happening. We’re definitely loyal and patriotic at heart but not proud. How can one be proud with our country lagging behind compared with our neighboring countries – rising crime, questionable judiciary, non directional education and poor governance, etc…?

  6. #6 by undertaker888 on Wednesday, 28 August 2013 - 8:06 am

    To them goons, patriotism means kissing their a$$e$. For example, LKS is not patriotic but CSL is. Patriotism to them goons means belittling other races, calling them names and asking them to balik Cina or India. For example, the Malay wannabe Chinese Tee. To them goons, he is patriotic with his constant attack on other races.

    But if you want good governance, unity and an end to corruption, then you are not patriotic. To them goons, you are a thorn to their corrupted mindset.

    That sums up patriotism in bolehland.

  7. #7 by lbn on Wednesday, 28 August 2013 - 8:29 am

    When we don’t like the government, it doesn’t mean we’re not patriotic. We’re very concerned with the state we’re in today. If we aren’t patriotic we would not be bothered. With all the rallies, it’s because we CARE!

  8. #8 by lee tai king (previously dagen) on Wednesday, 28 August 2013 - 8:35 am

    Bodoh punya umno!

  9. #9 by lee tai king (previously dagen) on Wednesday, 28 August 2013 - 8:37 am

    Patriotism means only one thing to umno. And that is to allow umno to carry on stealing and plundering.

  10. #10 by Jeffrey on Wednesday, 28 August 2013 - 9:08 am

    Patriotism is a feeling of pride of one’s country and being identified as a part of its citizenry. Patriotism cannot be forced or legislated – it has to reside in the hearts of the people. Politicians will try to equate patriotism with supporting the country’s government and its leaders. They will try to shore up and tap on this ‘group’ sentiments, whether as they relate to patriotism of nation as a whole, or a group identification based on a race, creed or religion – anything as long as group solidarity sentiments bring them votes support and political position. It just that within a multiracial/religious country the aggressive promotion of one ethnic or religious group marginalizes and abjures the other groups and undermines group unity/solidarity on national level. So the politicians who seek most to foster and champion patriotism – for their private political ends – are actually the same ones responsible for undermining it. We’ve got better things to do to get on in life. Don’t waste time thinking or responding to the rubbish they spew daily. A selfish bunch of people who double talk and double think.

  11. #11 by Winston on Wednesday, 28 August 2013 - 11:51 am

    No, the government doesn’t need to understand patriotism.
    It doesn’t need to understand anything!
    All it needs to understand is how to divvy up the gravy train among themselves!
    And now, increasing, it is showing its prowess in ramming whatever it likes down the throats of its citizens!!

  12. #12 by sotong on Wednesday, 28 August 2013 - 12:16 pm

    Patriotism comes in many forms eg. working hard to contribute to development, being law abiding, peace loving, being tolerant, acceptance of differences, not corrupt and etc..

    Self serving politicians do not know what they are talking about.

  13. #13 by bangkoklane on Wednesday, 28 August 2013 - 1:53 pm

    I am a patriotic Malaysian. I have served in the education service and dedicated myself to teaching all Malaysian students without any bias. Yet, my services were not recognised and I was marginalised. There are so many like me. We had to sell ourselves to other countries in order to maintain our dignity and earn to pay for our children’s education overseas for a better future.
    I am still patriotic, hoping to vote in a more inclusive, tolerant and responsible government.
    I am still hoping. It may be GE-14 or GE-15 but that day will come. All Malaysians deserve to have that joyous day of a real Merdeka of liberty and love for all, not for only certain groups, parties or cronies.

  14. #14 by lee tai king (previously dagen) on Wednesday, 28 August 2013 - 2:22 pm

    Why does the umno gobermen have such mental block and finds it absolutely necessary to go to such length to persuade the people to fly the flag and sing the anthem?


    Umno people are moved by money and rewards only and nothing else. During all of umno’s election ceramahs and meetings etc, participation and attendance were always secured by money, food, goodies and other rewards by the truck loads.

    In fact such behaviour is so established in umno that it became a norm – something to be expected as a matter of course. No money no talk.

    And clearly umno is extending that practice to the rest of us – clearly, it must have thought that we somehow too have the same umno mentality and expectation.

    But umno could not afford to give everyone in the country money, food, goodies and other rewards for flying the flag and singing the anthem.

    And so umno found it absolutely necessary to explain and justify the need to fly the flag and sing the anthem. As if, without the explanations and justifications (the next best alternative to money, food and rewards) we would not fly the flag or sing the anthem.

    Endless possibilities.
    Unlimited stupidity.

  15. #15 by Sallang on Wednesday, 28 August 2013 - 4:43 pm

    The only service in Malaysia that is worthy to show our Patriotism for our country is the health service.
    That too has been politicized when MOH did not purchase medicines directly from manufacturers, but from crony agents, at inflated prices.
    Supposedly, the Postal Service was our pride, until some postmen started to throw unsent letters under some bushes.
    We love our country.
    We will fly the national flag, even if Pakatan is the government.

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