Why I Love Malaysia
Recently, a friend of mine, after reading a negative characterisation of Malaysia in Time, asked me this: "[Do you] really love your country? Or do you think it's just effed up?"
My response was to the effect that this is a false dichotomy — that you don't have to have a good country to love it. In other words, I love my effed-up country.
One thing that struck me is that this is a common attitude amongst Malaysians — that your country is only worthy of your love if your country is great. This is not that surprising, considering this is the attitude instilled by the government — its assertions of greatness often falling flat, nevertheless.
What's somewhat interesting, however, is that my friend is a Singaporean. Again, his attitude is probably one that has been shaped by the Singaporean government — the attitude that as long as your country is great, you ought to love it.
I take exception to this point of view, because it seems so faulty to me. When it comes to sports teams, we despise "fairweather fans" — people who support a team only when it does well. Why shouldn't the same be true for patriots?
Of course, one reason to be patriotic is that your country is great. But if that is your only reason for loving your country, why not be patriotic about countries greater than yours? (And if you really think your country is the greatest nation on earth, you have probably crossed the line from patriotism into jingoism.)
But if you should love your country for more than it just being a great place to live in, what should you love it for? Why should I love a country that sometimes seems to not want me at all?
One aspect of love is that it's innately irrational. Does it makes much rational sense to be attached to this idea of being Malaysian, British, Chinese? Not really. Yet at the same time, I think that people of every country are bonded by certain things — leading similar lifestyles, eating the same food, speaking the same languages, attached to the same ideals. In other words, nationality is defined by shared experiences — and if you think of a country as nothing more than its people, than does it not make sense on some level for me to be attached to those who I have so much in common with?
But another thing I've found is that, as Friedrich Nietzsche said, "There is always some madness in love. But there is also always some reason in madness." It may be a bit difficult to rationally justify loving your country simply because you grew up there. But if you believe your country has the potential to be great, is that not also a rational reason to love your country?
I think every country on earth has the potential to be great — that potential is just rarely realised. In Malaysia's case, we are literally at the world's cultural crossroads. We have ties to two of the most populous nations on earth, more land mass than the United Kingdom, and more natural resources than most countries could ask for. Yet, we have squandered all this and settled for mediocrity.
Is this a reason to hate our country? For some reason, a lot of people think so — which is why they persist in denying that Malaysia is being run terribly and that despite our flaws, we're still an all-round great place to live in. As a friend of mine said, summing up this attitude, "eat a plate of nasi lemak, because you know, apparently it rights all the wrongs in our country".
Malaysia isn't great. But Malaysia is my home. That's more than enough of a reason to love it, whether this is rational or not. But even rationally-speaking, the reasonable man should know that Malaysia can be great, if only her faults are corrected — and that is why I love Malaysia. I love her because of the little she has given me, growing up here, and because of the much I can expect from her if we finally succeed in righting her wrongs.