AUG 2 — National symbols are — at the risk of sounding stupid here — expected to be “national” in character, meaning and appeal so that they are able to attract, and be appreciated, honoured and even jealously guarded by the citizenry concerned. They may range from the Malayan tiger to the national flower or Bunga Raya (Hibiscus rosa-sinensis).
And like these national symbols, national institutions such as the National Museum are to evoke a certain kind of collective identity among ordinary Malaysians as a people of a particular nation.
The National Museum is supposed to display exhibits that represent the history and cultural heritage of the Malaysian people from diverse ethnic, religious and cultural backgrounds.
In other words, anything that is supposed to be “national” should have the capacity to enable ordinary Malaysians to relate to and identify with it rather easily — and even with patriotic pride.
Likewise, the national flag, or Jalur Gemilang as it is now known, has the characteristics or elements to represent the nation called Malaysia. Most, if not all, Malaysians are able to identify themselves with this piece of cloth that kindles national consciousness.
The flag, on the other hand, would not be able to stir up that vital sense of belonging to a nation among the citizens if it has, for instance, elements of a dacing, or scale, that is easily associated with the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN).
There is indeed a vital distinction to be made here especially as the demarcation line is often conveniently blurred: a government (and a ruling party) is not, and should not be, synonymous to a nation.
This is why the recent attempt by the BN federal government to deploy a logo and a catchphrase of “Janji Ditepati” (Promises Fulfilled) in its preparation for the upcoming Merdeka celebration has caused much disconnect between the federal government and the people in general — in terms of discordance and restlessness amongst many concerned Malaysians as both the logo and the catchphrase are largely seen as associated with the ruling coalition’s electioneering slogan.
By and large, only card-carrying members and supporters of the ruling BN can relate to the controversial logo and the catchphrase. In short, both items do not have what it takes to be a symbol that warrants national fervour.
Indeed, a National Day is a special occasion meant for every citizen, irrespective of ethnic origin, faith, class and political affiliation, who calls Malaysia his or her home. It is a day when Malaysians from all walks of life not only come together to celebrate the country’s independence from colonial Britain, but also cherish inter-ethnic understanding and co-operation and the country’s achievements in terms of socio-economic development.
It is also an occasion for all Malaysians to reflect on the shortcomings of Malaysia as a multi-ethnic, multi-religious and multi-cultural nation.
Moreover, it is also a time for Malaysians to aspire to a better tomorrow. Thus, it is considered simply outrageous for the sitting government to exploit this day of national significance only to pursue single-mindedly its narrow party interests in the larger context of an impending electoral contest. It is a case of a national thing vs a parochial one.
Which is why there’s something jarring in the so-called National Day theme song that was fervently penned by no less than Information, Communications and Culture Minister Rais Yatim to the point that some Malaysians felt that the song was vulgarly propagandistic and insulting their collective intelligence.
For one thing, the “kita” of the “Janji kita ditepati” refrain in the contentious theme song doesn’t refer to the universal “us” made up of ordinary Malaysians, but instead the “us” of the ruling elite and party followers.
In other words, there is an indication of an attempt to hijack the “national” in the interest of the “parochial”, which is incongruent with the general sentiments of patriotic Malaysians.
The alternative theme proposed by Umno-BN’s nemesis, Pakatan Rakyat, for this year’s national day may well strike a chord with many, if not most, Malaysians: “Sebangsa, Senegara, Sejiwa” (One nation, One country, One soul).
This is because it has that vital ingredient of inclusiveness especially at a time when there are pockets of people who have been marginalised from the mainstream of society over the years.
One contention that the BN was merely exercising its democratic right to put its partisan stamp on National Day is indeed hogwash because such a narrow approach is both crudely inappropriate and highly divisive.
Wouldn’t that spell a licence for almost everybody to appropriate National Day to their own disparate ends? Surely, there’s a time and place for democratic practices, and this is certainly not one of them. If anything, one would be mocking democracy silly by playing partisan politics at this juncture.
It would be a National Day of real significance and importance if the politicians concerned consciously cease insulting the collective intelligence of ordinary Malaysians. Indeed, it would be a welcoming relief for ordinary and patriotic Malaysians who have witnessed a surge of verbal and mental diarrhoea coming from among politicians in the recent past.
* The views expressed here are the personal opinion of the columnist.