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There's still reason to cheer in Malaysia's Independence celebration this year

Publication Date : 20-08-2014

 

"Write something with a Merdeka (Independence) theme”.

That was the request made by my editor. Since he has never requested anything of me before, I feel rather obliged to try. But it is easier said than done.

There’s a whole bunch of stuff already written on this theme within the pages of this paper and I really do not know what I can possibly add. I mean, how many ways can you say that we have lost the sense of unity that existed in 1957; or that there has been an erosion of certain democratic values; or how ethnic relations seems to have deteriorated.

Actually, sometimes I wonder whether we look back to 1957 with rose-tinted glasses. Was it really that much better? There is a tendency to be overly kind to the past when one is being nostalgic. I mean, when Merdeka comes round now, I get a bit irritated because the jingoistic flag waving seems out of sync with the numerous problems that we are facing.

Unemployed and underemployed young people; racist and fascist groups running around; the crumbling of democratic institutions; all these things place a pall over any sort of celebration.

Add to this of course the awful tragedies that the nation has suffered with the two crashed airliners and it does seem that any sort of festivity seems out of place.

Yet when I think back to my boyhood, Merdeka was a great laugh and I get all warm and fuzzy inside.

For one thing, it meant no school and me and my little pals would joyfully scream “Merdeka” as we left the class; our temporary independence from the clutches of our teachers giving real meaning to the word.

Plus, on Merdeka Day there was that wonderful novelty of television in the morning. Sure it was just a bunch of people marching around, but as a red-blooded young man, the sight of tanks and armoured trucks never failed to get me excited. So, when I think back to my own small Merdeka day experiences, it is always with a sense of happiness and not cynicism.

Could it not be the same thing when as a nation we collectively look back to 1957? Perhaps we are being too harsh on ourselves now and too generous with our recent past. I don’t know, but it would be an interesting subject for some historian to study.

Anyway, what about this year’s Merdeka day? Numerically, it is quite interesting. We obtained independence in 1957 and now we are 57. I wonder how many people are going to choose those digits at the local betting shop.

Flippancy aside, is there anything to cheer about? I would like to think so. Sure, there’s a whole lot of nastiness floating around, and politicians on both sides of the divide have been acting in a manner that has induced head shaking of seismic proportions, but I think there are a few reasons to be optimistic.

The people of this country are far less fearful of the powers-that-be compared to the past. We are more willing to criticise those who wield influence. Concepts that were alien to most people just 20 years ago, such as civil liberties and human rights, are becoming part of the lingua franca.

And there is, I believe, a growing desire to want to “do something” in the face of developments which we think are a threat to the nation and the people of the nation.

It is now just a matter of focusing our energies so that we can hold the powerful in check and the extremists at bay. Many people are already thinking in that way.

If we can turn those thoughts to meaningful acts, then we would be celebrating Merdeka in the most meaningful way, for we would be ensuring that the shackles of the British have not been exchanged with our own home-grown tyranny and cruelty.

 

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