I am Malaysian — Leroy Luar
AUG 29 — This is a story as old as time itself.
Once upon a time, a gentleman-prince — politician debonair, orator extraordinaire and all around hero — stepped up onto a podium in a stadium and into history where he declared, in no uncertain terms, that his country was to be released from the shackles of imperialism. Malaysia, then called Malaya, was to be free; and along with her, her people as well.
In one word, repeated seven times — culled to three in televised footage in the interest of editorial brevity — Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra Al Haj vindicated the struggles and sacrifices of his predecessors and contemporaries.
He gave voice to the hopes and dreams of a generation of newly liberated citizens and gifted to generations of Malaysians to come our very own backyard to play in, bedrooms to rest in, kitchens to feed — and be fed — in and libraries to learn — and teach — in. He gave to us the trappings and comforts. He gave to us a home to call our own.
“Right from the moment when I became prime minister, my aim, my thinking, my planning and as a matter of fact, my whole heart was set on building up a prosperous and happy Malayan society.” said the good Tunku.
And prosperous we certainly were and - in spite of the recession — still are. Malaysia boasts sophisticated infrastructure — soaring sky-scrapers, soon-to-be far reaching mass transit, near nationwide broadband access — a curiously resilient economy, priceless natural resources, insulation from damaging natural phenomena. By all accounts, Malaysia seems to have it all made.
Yet, in spite of all the roses on full display for the world to see, beneath the blossoms are thorns in equal, if not greater, profusion. As recent research has indicated, Malaysians have never been more divided from one another, never more suspicious of each other.
Malaysians who believed that ethnic unity (perpaduan kaum) as “sincere and friendly” declined from 54 per cent in 2006 to 35 per cent in 2011, a drop of 19 per cent while the number of people who felt ethnic unity was “superficial” rose from 29 per cent to 44 per cent.
And who can blame them? It is all we see in the news lately; Christians allegedly proselytising to unwilling Muslims, political parties shattering the fabric of our nation for favours and votes, this, that or the other entitlement or “special right” being intruded upon, documents of all sorts — the Bible, the Quran, the Constitution — being bandied about to justify acts of varying atrocities. And so on and so forth.
Above all else, it has become painfully apparent that fear is the biggest thing we all seem to have in abundance lately. While not completely debilitating in its effects at this stage, I fear this environment of fear — if allowed to fester unchecked — will be that one proverbial straw responsible for breaking our poor camel’s back.
For fear of a colour — for fear of what it represents, for fear of the ideas it may inspire and the actions that may follow — our reputation was bruised, a handful of people were injured, scores more were arrested and the national capital was sent under siege in an unprecedented move probably more suited for actual times of Emergency.
For fear of breaking with archaic, outmoded traditions — for fear of acknowledging that change may be a good thing, for fear of losing the privileges and benefits these traditions guarantee — great transgressions to human rights have been committed.
A recent incident remains fresh in the memories of Malaysians who care: a woman lost her life for want of that one right to which every human being is entitled — not the right to dress as she wants, speak as she pleases or marry as she wishes but the fundamental right to her identity and by extension, her existence.
For fear of causing offence in this so hyper-sensitive period of time — for fear of being considered agent provocateur on the one hand; as one ill-timed and badly-told joke recently suffered, for fear of being considered traitorous on the other hand — we have been reminded time and again to muzzle ourselves, drown out our thoughts with distractions and along with it our voices and opinions.
Oh yes, even as we gear up to commemorate the anniversary of our nation’s liberation — flags, anthems, parades, dances, retail promotions… the whole shebang, I can’t help but wonder; “Are we truly Merdeka?”
For there is more to Merdeka than just colourful, and sometimes bizarre, costumes that no longer have any relevance to or practicality in our daily lives. It is more than merely watching a parade convoy of the best defence technology money can buy or distributing and flying miniature flags for one day and forgetting all about if for the rest of the year.
Merdeka is more than just a public relations exercise. It transcends interviews and campaigns, eclipses personality-driven travelogues and professionally produced advertisements and leaves behind in the dust the limiting confines of tongue-twisting slogans and incomprehensible catchphrases.
Merdeka is the man — and occasional woman — who drives the buses we all take to go to work in. Merdeka cheered alongside each other when Harimau Malaya took home the Suzuki Cup 2011 and groaned in unison when Lee Chong Wei fell, yet again, to his bitter rival.
Merdeka agrees to disagree with each other on so many things at so many levels — people are not born identical after all — without being disagreeable. Merdeka lives in the myriad faces we see every day, bustling about and around each other, sharing space and time, in our mad — and sometimes futile — scramble to weather our personal storms just to get through the day with our dignity intact.
In Tunku Abdul Rahman’s declaration of independence, he concludes “The Persekutuan Tanah Melayu is and with God’s blessing shall be forever a sovereign democratic and independent State founded upon the principles of liberty and justice and ever seeking the welfare and happiness of its people.”
In our 54th year of Independence, I believe it is more important than ever for us to come together not only in celebration — yes, after all is said and done, there is reason still to celebrate for we have made it this far, have we not? — but also in meaningful reflection of what we can, and should, do to live up to the ideals of Merdeka as put forth by the good Tunku himself.
If recent events are an indication of things to come, a great change is set to sweep through the nation and for better or for worse, we are all bound as one with our collective fates hanging in the balance.
In looking forward to such day as will come when we can all step forward for our day in the sun as friends, as family and as equals, long may the Jalur Gemilang fly and long may we all prosper in solidarity and in harmony.
* Leroy Luar reads The Malaysian Insider.
* This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication. The Malaysian Insider does not endorse the view unless specified.