Is the taxi driver who bedecks his vehicle with flags and becomes a safety hazard, more patriotic, than the car owner who has no flag on display?
If you had asked the Subang Jaya Municipal Council recently about patriotism, they would have said, “The patriotic Malaysian is one who flies the national flag outside his business premises”.
This was also the view adopted by former Ipoh Mayor, Datuk Roshidi Hasim, who in 2010 ruled that businessmen who failed to fly the flag, outside their businesses, on Merdeka Day and on the Sultan’s birthday were “unpatriotic”. They could be fined or blacklisted.
These councils’ bully-boy tactics were just a means to extort money from legitimate and law abiding businessmen. The public outrage which followed forced the councils to make U-turns.
Former Defence Minister Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi claimed that non-Malays were reluctant to join the armed forces, because of the low wages and their dislike of discipline; but it was his assertion that non-Malays showed “less patriotism” which attracted much public censure.
Loving our country and being prepared to die for it, is most honourable, but Zahid’s callous remark is a snub to the sacrifice of all the non-Malays who defended Malaya, British North Borneo, and Sarawak against the Japanese invasion in World War Two, the communist guerillas during The Emergency, and against Indonesian forces, during Confrontasi.
Moreover, not everyone can serve in the armed forces. All those who served — Malay, non-Malay and foreign troops — displayed immense strength and courage to repel a foreign invasion and fight for liberty.
Is patriotism all about upholding one’s own culture and language, to the detriment of other cultures? Is the Chinese father who sends his child to a Chinese school unpatriotic? What about the Malay whose child is enrolled at the same school? Is the desire for certain educational standards, being confused with patriotism?
Would Malaysians from immigrant backgrounds be considered less patriotic, even though they know no country except Malaysia? Do they deserve the term “pendatang”, and to be treated as second-class citizens, despite being a fifth- or sixth-generation Malaysian?
Why do some of us think that these “pendatangs” cannot have the shame shared values and sense of belonging as us? Is showing one’s racist credentials a sign of patriotism?
If we want to make our children understand what it is to be patriotic, why has the history taught in our schools, allegedly been rewritten to ignore the contributions of the non-Malays who opened our towns, mines, rubber estates and transport systems?
Roads, on which the railway quarters were located, are called “Coolie Lines”. The labourers who worked on our railways once lived in these houses.
In George Town and Singapore, roads called Sepoy Lines are where Indian soldiers pitched camp when they were transported to these places, to serve the British military in the 19th Century.
How can our children learn from our past, if every attempt is made to change the road names representing the people who once served this nation? Names like Hugh Low, Swettenham, Brewster and Guillemard?
Every small town has a connection with our colonial past and also the immigrants who came in the 18th and nineteenth centuries to help build this country. They are all part of our history but the authorities seem to allow xenophobia, racism and Malay nationalism to get in the way.
Patriotism is not about the numbers of flags flying outside our homes and business premises, or serving in the armed forces. The overseas Malaysian is no less patriotic than the Malaysian at home. The Orang Asli and Orang Asal East Malaysians are just as patriotic as the rest of us. Patriotism is about a shared identity, a common history and a sense of belonging.