Singers can leave their mark even when they are long gone. Their iconic songs can be remade by others, even done well, but often pale in comparison to the original. Man In The Mirror forever reflects the tragic genius of Michael Jackson, whilst Dendang Perantauproves that Tan Sri P. Ramlee can still make grown Malaysian Muslims cry every time Hari Raya rolls by, especially if they are abroad.
For Malaysians, August inevitably leads us to remember another local talent gone too soon: Datuk Sudirman Arshad. He left us in 1992, but his contribution to the nation’s Merdeka celebrations — in the form of Tanggal 31 — is still as infectious and stirring as ever. Within the space of two short minutes, his evergreen composition will get citizens vociferously waving flags faster than a local politician backtracks from a silly statement.
And yet, as anyone who has lived within the last 60 years can observe, things are not quite the same anymore. Whereas the first 40 years had seen the anniversary of Malaya’s independence celebrated with gusto and vigour, the past decade and change has seen a visible apathy creep in. The fireworks are a shadow of the joyously raucous bangs that used to be. Schoolkids no longer get all excited — and even the adults tend to be less enthusiastic.
As usual, this state of affairs has gotten politicians from all divides concerned, with some making statements on the three “levels” of patriotism. The Selangor state government is even insisting that businesses fly the Jalur Gemilang from Aug 15-Sept 16 (so as to include Malaysia Day) from next year onwards, lest they get fined.
Now, the direct definition of patriotism is simply “the love for or devotion to one’s country”, according to the dictionary. It is different from nationalism, which is “a desire by a large group of people (such as those sharing the same culture, history, language, etc.) to form a separate and independent nation of their own”. In fact, nationalism can arise because of patriotism, but hardly the other way around (at least, not naturally).
For me, it all boils down to a love that encompasses all, and grows to a higher plane. Patriotism is there when everyone speaks the same language regardless of their cultural heritage, as can be seen in Kelantan, Sarawak and Sabah.
Patriotism is there when athletes give their all while representing home at international events. It is there when those athletes — regardless of their skin tone — are cheered by the masses, again regardless of their background, and whether it happens from the comfort of their homes, or down at the mamak with their friends, neighbours, or even total strangers.
Patriotism is there when the citizen wants what is best for their nation — not as a case of “My country, right or wrong” — but “Ask what you can do for your country”. It means protesting peacefully but loudly against things that besmirch the nation’s psyche, such as corruption, racism and intolerance.
It is there in those sons and daughters of the soil are overseas, but whose hearts still belong to tanah yang tumpahnya darahku, as the propagation of Bersih worldwide shows. When the people spontaneously sang Negaraku at those events — that is patriotism.
Patriotism is more than just rote recitals of the Rukunegara — and it does not mean that you have to fly the flag. It just means that if you do want to fly the flag, it is for everyday and not just once a year. It means that you look after the flag, and prevent it from getting torn and tattered.
Patriotism means being a good Malaysian who respects and accepts his neighbours, upholds truth and fairness, helps those who need help, and who learns and progresses. For this 59th Merdeka celebration, let’s all be proper patriots, shall we?