How Can I Be Proud of Negaraku?
There has been a lot of fuss as of late about the national anthem and how it was sampled in a critique of Malaysian government and society. But it occurs to me that amidst all this hubbub, hardly anybody has given the matter of the actual anthem any significant thought?
Oh, yes, we've all paid Negaraku lip service. We've either denounced the tongue-in-cheek video as insulting to the anthem, embraced it as an expression of unvoiced views, or accepted it as a proper exercise of one's freedoms.
But it seems to me that nobody has bothered to think about what the national anthem means. Nobody has bothered to ask whether we truly have something to celebrate with our national anthem in our nation's 50th year of independence.
Oh, yes, we've managed to somehow not be colonised by any other country for fifty years. But what good is that if we are still slaves to distant rulers who we rarely, if ever, see?
I'm not saying there is nothing good about this country. There's plenty of fine things about it — if there weren't, then Malaysians would never be homesick when we go overseas.
But how can we celebrate, when there is so much to make one be ashamed of being Malaysian? How can we take pride in having squandered our independence by letting politicians plunder our natural wealth for their own ends, all the while neglecting the needs and wants of the Malaysian people?
The human rights activists of course keep finding reasons to hide their faces. Be it the Internal Security Act, Sedition Act, or simply religious freedom, these people can expostulate at length on how saddened they are that their country is associated with this barbarism.
Those who remember why these laws came into being have reason to be ashamed, too. Malaysians were promised freedom after the end of the communist insurgency, which necessitated temporary precautions, but this promise has been broken. In effect, our founding fathers have been betrayed — they have not bequeathed any meaningful independence to us in our own country.
And yet, these laws have proven to be completely ineffective in fighting the threats facing modern Malaysians. Many of us dare not walk the streets at night for fear of robbery, or worse. What meaningful merdeka do we have if we cannot even walk the streets as free men and women of Malaysia?
How can we be proud when all our education teaches us is to memorise what the government has dictated? When thousands of graduates from our local education system are so poor in ability that they cannot find gainful employment to support themselves?
Most shamefully, how can I be proud of negaraku, my country, when my fellow countrymen are starving to death, and when your position in life depends on which family you were born into?
It does not have to be this way. There is so much more we could have accomplished in 50 years of negaraku yang merdeka which we have failed to do. We might not be in a position where every child in Malaysia knows that if they have the ability, they can be Prime Minister or head of a world-class corporation — but we would at least not be in a position where only those born into a certain race, a certain class, are assured of a particular future.
But perhaps I spoke too soon. What is most shameful is that, in the view of many, I have no right to call this country negaraku. As part of the kaum pendatang, I am at best a second-class citizen, who can easily be told to balik tongsan whenever I do not like something about the way this country is run.
Truth be told, I am numb, and I am tired. I may be outraged by all this bullshit, but that outrage is like the pain of a numb limb slammed against the wall — it is felt, but in a disjointed and disconnected way, like it does not belong.
I don't want to say I have given up, because I don't think there are many things in this world worth giving up on — especially not this country.
But these things I say, they tire me. I have read them too many times before, written them too many times before. For far too long, I have heard the same old tripe from the same old bigots and chauvinists — that I do not belong, that this is not my country, that I am not a true Malaysian. I am a second-class citizen, for I apparently have all the responsibilities of a citizen, but none of the privileges of citizenship.
Since the Negarakuku parody video scandal broke, I have been slightly obsessed with listening to different renditions of the national anthem. Although I never found it particularly enthralling in my school days, I never did decide (unlike many people I know) that it was not worth singing every Monday morning at assembly.
I've found a sort of broken beauty in Negaraku that I find, depressingly, not enough people seem to appreciate. The anthem still carries some sort of poignancy in it, some reflection of the beauty that this nation could be:
But is this really negaraku? Is this really my family? Can even a young Bumiputra boy or girl answer those questions in the positive, when they know they have no chance of leading a Malaysian corporation unless they kiss enough politicians' asses, and when they know they have no chance of becoming Prime Minister unless they marry the child of the current Prime Minister?
Is this really my country? Saddeningly, this is a question I cannot answer — and this is a question which, I think, all Malaysians (or, ahem, residents of Malaysia) deserve to have answered. It is a question of far greater import than the doings of some amateur rapper in Taiwan.
The national anthem is supposed to symbolise our nation. But if we cannot even say that this is our country without lying, how are we suppose to sing this anthem? How are we supposed to respect it? How is it supposed to mean anything to us?
How are we to go about our lives, knowing that we are dispossessed aliens in a country that is not ours, leading a lie of a life, singing a lie of a song? Our material needs may be met, but our spiritual desires — to be of greater meaning than just some cog in a machine, some aid to a politician's plunder — go unquenched. Until we can confidently say that "Yes, this is my country," and unerringly assert our independence and freedom, the question of insulting the national anthem is academic. After all, how can you insult a Negaraku that is not really yours?