Infernal Ramblings
A Malaysian Perspective on Politics, Society and Economics

What Does Malaysia Stand For?

Written by johnleemk on 3:34:14 pm Jul 14, 2007.
Categories: ,

Just over ten days ago, the United States of America celebrated its 231st independence day. Malaysia itself will be celebrating its 50th national day in just over a month from now.

To commemorate the American independence day, a Malaysian friend of mine, who graduated from an American university, posted the lyrics to "The Star-Spangled Banner", the American national anthem, on his blog.

I've never paid attention to the lyrics before. After all, I've never had a reason to. But now that I did, I realised how strongly it resonated with me:

O say, can you see, by the dawn’s early light,
What so proudly we hailed at the twilight’s last gleaming,
Whose broad stripes and bright stars, through the perilous fight
O’er the ramparts we watched, were so gallantly streaming?
And the rockets’ red glare, the bombs bursting in air
Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there;

O say, does that star-spangled banner yet wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?
It made me reflect on what a national anthem — on what any national symbol — is supposed to stand for: the principles of the nation's people. The last two lines of the American national anthem make this unequivocally clear: the United States is "the land of the free and the home of the brave".

What do Malaysians stand for? If our national anthem is to be relied upon, we stand for a united and progressive populace, and a safely enthroned king.

Of course, there's nothing wrong with a king. I consider myself a mild constitutional monarchist. And there's nothing wrong with progression either. Who's against being a progressive?

The problem is, our national symbols never deal with what this is supposed to mean. The Americans make their stand clear: they believe that to be happy, to be progressive, to be [insert corny word with lofty associations here], you must be free.

Does the Malaysian nation believe its people can be happy if they are enslaved? If they cannot speak their minds, if they cannot think freely?

Just what does it mean to be a Malaysian? What do you have to stand for if you want to be a Malaysian? As it stands, foreigners sometimes have more rights than Malaysians themselves do.

In any event, our national anthem's lofty talk about progression continues to be a sham. Malaysia is one of the most regressive nations, if you look at our politics, if you look at our policies, if you look at our education, if you look at our society.

We've come a long way since independence, no doubt. But should we be happy with going two steps forward, while taking one step backward? Should we be happy with continually running the risk of decelerating, and eventually halting our progress?

I don't need to enumerate the reasons why we have to fear the death of Malaysia. But as long as Malaysians continue to stand for apathy and for regression, instead of the progressiveness our national anthem claims we stand for, it's difficult to see Malaysia climbing out of the grave it is digging for itself.

After all, what is our country coming to? It's gotten to the point where a virtual nobody can just be taken away by the police just because he dared to make a small difference and work for changing the country for the better.

I'm not a fan of fads. I don't like those buttons and banners people plaster all over their blogs and websites. But I will make one of my rare exceptions for this particular case that, though not that extraordinary, nevertheless should haunt the conscience of every Malaysian who believes in the progressive values we claim to stand for.

Free Nathaniel Tan


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Infernal Ramblings is a Malaysian website focusing on current events and sociopolitical issues. Its articles run the gamut from economics to society to education.

Infernal Ramblings is run by John Lee. For more, see the About section. If you have any questions or comments, do drop him a line.


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