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Patriotism is alive but some are too blind to recognise it

 | August 18, 2017

Masses of Malaysians love their country so much that they are willing to risk arrest to express it.

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If you went through a typical adolescence, you know what it felt like to have your heart broken by that one girl who got away no matter how hard you tried to make her love you. Eventually, some time after you’ve learned to live with the rejection, you arrive at one painful truth: love cannot be forced.

As we approach our 60th independence day, a word that’s been thrown around a lot is “patriotism”, which is just a fancy term for “love for one’s country”.

Those of us who’ve had our hearts broken and learned that it’s futile to force love must have been dumbfounded to hear that a city council is considering making it compulsory for property owners and business owners to fly the national flag.

If all the Kuala Lumpur mayor cares about is a superficial show of patriotism, then there’s nothing more to be said of it.

However, the tone of his statement indicates that he believes there is a lack of patriotism and that forcing unpatriotic people to fly flags will make them suddenly fall in love with the country they live in. Perhaps our mayor was a lucky teenager who never experienced the pain of unrequited love. If so, we’re here to tell him that love cannot be forced.

Soldiers who fought during the communist insurgency can tell you that putting a flag in a communist spy’s hands and telling him to wave it is not going to make him give up his ideology. This was something retired brigadier-general Mohd Arshad Raji hinted at in a recent interview with FMT.

Patriotism, like love, has to be cultivated and nurtured naturally. In order to do this, you need to find out what might be preventing some Malaysians from loving their country or taking pride in it.

Several factors immediately come to mind: the wide income gap between the poor and the rich, the corruption of our officials, the embarrassing statistics that point to a lack of quality in our education system, and the racism that is apparent in our political discourse.

Nevertheless, it’s doubtful that the lack of patriotism is as alarming as the mayor seems to think. Yes, a few kids have been caught refusing to stand up when the national anthem is played in cinemas, but there’s some evidence that large numbers of Malaysians still love their country.

In fact, the real problem, it would seem, is not a lack of patriotism, but the power elite’s failure to recognise patriotism when they see it.

Instead of counting flags on our cars and above our buildings, our leaders should see how many of us are making appearances at rallies and demonstrations aimed at making Malaysia a better place to live in. Yes, masses of Malaysians love their country so much that they are willing to risk arrest to express it.

Don’t count the suits in big cars who go on television to tell us that Malaysians ought to be thankful for what the government has done for them. Count the poets and activists wearing ragged shirts and dirt stained pants, calling for change and justice.

Patriotism is found in people like A Samad Said, Aunty Bersih and young people like Anis Syafiqah. Patriotism is found in 73-year-old religious teacher Wahidah Md Salleh, who in 2014 stood in front of a Kuala Lumpur City Hall backhoe loader with her fist raised after the city had demolished her home of nearly 50 years in Sentul.

The problem is that the very people who surmise that patriotism is dying just because they don’t see enough flags waving are the same people who are referring to the patriots we do have as “ungrateful” Malaysians.

Patriotism is alive and well. It’s just that patriots don’t wave flags anymore.


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