Proud to be Malaysian?
One thing I have always found fascinating is how there are two vastly contrary political views held by Malaysians who have been overseas.
One holds that Malaysia is so behind compared to other nations; that it is regressive, either in physical, mental, or cultural infrastructure.
The other holds that Malaysians have much to be proud of, much to cherish, much to make us happy, and that we just don't appreciate it.
Being an overseas Malaysian myself now (at the moment, for my studies; I have no firm plans for my post-graduate life), I feel I can better appreciate and sympathise with both views.
It is definitely quite easier to criticise the country at home; you are presented a warped view of the outside world. The government paints home as paradise, foreign establishments paint their homes as paradise; the human instinct to perceive the grass as greener on the other side kicks in.
Likewise, it is extremely difficult not to appreciate what Malaysians have that other countries don't. We complain about racial tension, but racial jokes which barely raise an eyebrow at home are crazily controversial in that supposed bastion of freedom, the United States.
The thing you really miss most about home as a Malaysian, I would suppose, (other than the food of course) is the people. That's hardly surprising; the people are what make any country what it is, and Malaysia has been blessed with one of the most plural and interesting mixes of people you could expect.
It is thus difficult for me to sympathise with those who insist that Malaysia is vastly inferior, that it ought to simply ape other countries; there is a lot others could learn from us, a lot that we have which other countries don't. In short, we have a lot to be proud of.
But at the same time, it is impossible for me to declare that I am proud to be a Malaysian. I have no doubt that Malaysia is a country that one can be proud of.
Yet at the moment, it is a country that one cannot be proud of. How can I be proud of my country when I am told it is not my country? How can I be proud of my country when millions of my countrymen are denied access to the opportunities I had?
How can I be proud when a citizen can be tossed in jail for something he did not even write, without even being charged for a crime? How can I be proud when even academics have no freedom to think?
A person should not be proud of the athletic physique they were born with; of the great voice God gave them. They had no choice in the matter.
What a person should be proud of is working out at the gym everyday, or singing six hours a day to hone those innate talents and use them well — that is what they have a choice in doing, that is what they control.
We didn't decide the mix of people our country has, the mix of cultures we enjoy, the mix of foods we gobble up. God set the wheels of history in motion so we ended up where we are today. We have no right to be proud of these.
These are the ingredients for something we can be proud of — for the construction of a powerful nation-state which can harness the different abilities of its peoples and cultures. But we are not using these ingredients wisely; we are squandering them, pouring them down the drain and spitting them into the rubbish bin.
We have the ingredients we need for the pride we long to have for our country. But we have no right to be proud of Malaysia as long as we do not use those ingredients wisely. Until the gourmet dish that Malaysia can be starts cooking, all we are is a bunch of incompetent, arguing chefs in a kitchen full of ingredients that few other kitchens even have.