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Of flags, patriotism and sentiments
Published on: Sunday, August 26, 2018

By Datuk Stan Yee
THE “Love Malaysia” rally started off in Penang awash in Jalur Gemilang, a scene the PM had wished would be replicated throughout the country during the “Merdeka Month”.

Unfortunately, this hasn’t happened, not in Kota Kinabalu at any rate.

With a few more days to 31/8 there are still not many flags fluttering atop buildings and cars.

It seems the number has become fewer with each passing year. Does this mean that we are unpatriotic?

Or is it perhaps a sign that more Sabahans are disinclined to identify themselves with the Merdeka of 1957?

The former is difficult to gauge, but rather unlikely. The latter may have been the sentiment all along but made more focused in recent times through the social media, aggravated by the seeming indifference to the 16/9 Malaysia Day commemoration by folks on the Semenanjung side.

The feeling seems mutual, a sign that there are parochial sentiments peculiar to the three territories that make up Malaysia. At least Sabah and Sarawak have tried to show solidarity. Despite the apparent lukewarm feeling towards 31/8, the two Borneo territories do “celebrate” the day along with the Semenanjung states every year, even if only at the official level. On the other hand, Malaysia Day, which has every reason in the world to be honoured and celebrated by the whole country, was not even a national public holiday until 2010.

There is much talk about patriotism during the “Merdeka Month”. Under normal circumstances patriotism should purr like a car engine in idle mode, and roar only when revved.

It is a big concept that should be recognised for what it is and what it isn’t.

At its most fundamental, patriotism is love for the country, the land, the people and everything within its borders.

It is love for the home turf, the last place on earth, for better or for worse, and the homeland which we would vigorously defend, even to the death as many have done.

It is being house-proud and hospitable to visitors from abroad and showing proudly the local culture and way of life.

What patriotism is not a view that everything outside our borders is inferior to ours; that to be pro ourselves we must necessarily be anti others and see enemies even where there are none.

To be patriotic is not unthinking obedience and compliance and indulging in flattery, or being never critical of the establishment, or unthinkingly buying Malaysian products regardless of the quality.

A country can only be strong when a strong citizenry supports it. It is weakened when it has to support a multitude that persuades itself that it cannot stand without crutches, and that society owes it an unending debt.

Being patriotic means facing up to the challenges of a modern and competitive world.

It means not relying on a handicap system that denies one the pride and joy of a hard won victory in a straight fight. It is doing things that will help the nation, such as paying taxes faithfully, complying with the laws even when the authorities are not watching; it means not allowing anyone to vandalise or steal public property whether they be plants and flowers in our parks or trees in our forests.

Patriotism is spawned in a private domain and nurtured in society at large.

The nation needs enlightened parents to bring out the best in their children, who teach them where their roots are and to be proud of who they are.

Sadly so many teach their children negative things about their homeland and then send them abroad to study.

Just as importantly society needs dedicated teachers who are keenly aware that theirs is a job like no other.

Society needs good workers to give a good day’s work for the wages they receive.

It needs trustworthy policemen and civil servants who are helpful, and inspire confidence and respect, and not evoke fear and contempt.

The country must count on business executives, entrepreneurs and professionals with integrity to do their parts as honest service providers and taxpayers.

Unfortunately, where there are good patriotic citizens there are also those who are less so.

These range from the litter bugs, the vandals, and those who commit anti social acts like thieving and cheating, to corrupt officials who betray society’s trust. They include those who jeopardise our territorial and demographic integrity and security and our ability to maintain social order, and worst of all, those who destroy our forests and natural heritage.

“Kleptocracy” has existed in various forms from time immemorial. It is a parasitic ailment that threatens the country’s economic and social wellbeing, for which we must find a drastic remedy.

While the ailment lasts, the country remains anaemic, drained of much of its resources, vitality and dignity.

The anti-social, the corrupt and kleptocratic are unpatriotic people who must be stopped.

Hopefully they belong to a page of our history that will not come back to haunt society.

To rid our country of this scourge, we need patriotic leaders at all levels who have the political will to carry out a thorough spring-clean from top to bottom, and open the windows to let the fresh air in.

Then they must live up to the good moral conduct that they preach. This is where leadership by example comes unto its own.

As a people on this side of the South China Sea, our patriotism to the nation has not really been tested, but we can consider ourselves patriotic by being mindful of our local interests even at the risk of being regarded as parochial. Loyalty begins at home and extends outward. So it is with patriotism.

In this sense, every component part of the country has a legitimate right to pursue their special parochial moments.

We love the Sabah flag too and fly it high to make the statement that our loyalty to the country has a home base, and that it is our love for Sabah and our own roots that gives meaning to the larger love that encompasses the whole nation. That is the nature of patriotism in a federation. It subsists on parochial sentiments that make up the sum total of national sentiments.

In terms of a person’s psyche, loyalty to the home turf is embedded deep in the heart, whereas patriotism to a country formed through agreement and political alliances is an acquired commitment, a product of the intellect.

It is the intellect that reconciles the two.

Those who are very vocal about patriotism are not necessarily the most patriotic, neither are those who deck their cars with flags and look down on those who do not.

In return for our patriotism what may we expect from our country? The late President Kennedy said, “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.”

These are memorable words that have inspired many over the decades. However, I would rather think that the country and its people are one and the same and inseparable.

A country is its peoples, and its peoples make up the nation. What we do or fail to do for our country is what we do or fail to do for ourselves, and those who come after us.

The sum total of what all these good patriots can contribute to society adds up to a strong and vibrant nation able to stand tall and command respect in the community of nations.

Every national day reminds us that we have a role to play to make it so.

Flying the flags and parading our soldiers are the showy part that gets us into the national day spirit.

That is a great way to commemorate the event, as long as we remember that being patriotic means a good deal more than watching a day’s pomp and pageantry out on the field.

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