By YS Chan
In most third world countries, patriotism is defined as support for the government of the day. Instead of being debunked, the definition is perpetuated after changes of government.
It is also customary for the regime in power to whip up nationalistic sentiments because many less developed societies tend to mix up nationalism with patriotism.
Nationalism shows its ugly side when citizens of one country rejoice in the downfall of another.
While celebrating a win in sports is healthy nationalism, unsporting behaviour will tarnish the image of the country and its people.
Britain chose to pull out of the European Union because of nationalism, and the same sentiment may see Scotland voting for independence from the United Kingdom. Donald Trump is clearly a nationalist but he will be unpatriotic if his policies bring harm to the United States.
North Korea is famous for its huge military parades, designed to whip up nationalistic fervour and keep its citizens in check.
To commemorate important events, people around the world would raise national flags and sing national anthems.
Raising the Jalur Gemilang and belting out Negaraku would make Malaysians reverberate with pride, but such nationalistic ardour must be translated into positive action to be patriotic.
Parking indiscriminately to participate at such events and leaving the venue littered with garbage are anything but patriotic. So are uniformed officers practicing corruption.
If we continue to measure patriotism by the number of national flags we fly, we will remain a superficial nation. Our national flag is sacred and should be flown majestically on a flag pole, not used as an ornament.
It is common to find many government buildings decorated with a large number of national flags. Mercifully, it is no longer the practice to distribute mini flags to be fastened on cars. These flags would often fall off, to be rolled over by passing vehicles.
The press has been guilty of promoting a falsehood by calling those who bedeck their vehicles, trishaws or bicycles with many such flags “patriotic”.
It is time everyone promotes true patriotism and leaves out the rhetoric.
First of all, healthy nationalistic feelings for our country must be translated into concrete action; otherwise they remain as superficial displays.
Schoolchildren should study and play hard to become wholesome adults. While rote learning is good for developing memory skills, it is more important to understand and practise what is learnt.
There is no lack of moral and religious studies for students in schools, and millions of Malaysians regularly throng places of worship, but courtesy is grossly lacking in adults and children, showing these exercises in studying and praying to be nothing more than rituals.
Adults, too, should work hard and stay healthy to be productive. Those who truthfully declare their income and pay the tax are the largest group of patriots in this country. Those who keep themselves healthy so as not to burden the government with the bill for their healthcare are also considered patriotic.
Those who contribute to charity and society by volunteering are even more patriotic. The contributions can be in the form of treasure, talent or time.
It is the duty of those in the uniformed forces to defend the country, ensure law and order, and keep the civilians safe. But those who risk their lives in covert operations, such as the Special Branch officers who infiltrate and mix with the enemy to gain intelligence, are our greatest patriots.
Sportsmen and sportswomen who have won international competitions are heroes who deserve all the accolades we can shower on them.
While ugly nationalists are hated in other countries, patriots are admired universally as they make their country great without harming others.
For our country to progress, we need to introduce incremental steps. What is the point of aiming to be among the top 20 countries by 2050 when current issues are not addressed?
Can we really expect to reach there in 33 years? We were nowhere near the top 20 countries 33 years ago. Can we assume that all the other countries will stagnate while we are able to develop rapidly in the next 33 years so as to be in the top 20?
It makes sense to compete with the top countries only if our progress already nearly matches theirs.
What we have are middle-income earners, a group that includes the government servants, most of whom are unable to earn enough to live comfortably, and the poor who are continuing to suffer.
What we need are leaders who can introduce solid and sound measures to raise the standard of living in this country. When they do, they will be saluted by all Malaysians as the greatest patriots of all.
YS Chan is an FMT reader
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