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Friday, September 3, 2010

Patriotism Revisited - Dr Dzulkefly Ahmad

by Dr. Dzul

I did not want to write anything on the 53rd Merdeka Day this year. For the more discerning section of the rakyat, the spate of events that preceded it spoke for itself. But with the 16th September Malaysia Day drawing close, it doesn’t benefit anyone to remain under self-imposed gag-order. This writer is back on his combative engaging mood as to share his 2-cent worth of his grey matter.

Despite all efforts of show-casing the Merdeka Celebration as a ‘burst of patriotism, a sight to behold and a moment to cherish’ by the BN-mainstream media, many wouldn’t disagree that it was a phenomenon that didn’t go beyond the confine of the walls of Stadium Putra in Bukit Jalil. Very sad indeed it was.

Its absence was even more visible nationwide and it doesn’t take much convincing to arrive to that conclusion either. But the fundamental question to address is why?

What has become of the patriotism of the entire citizenry you may like to ask?

Why are we no longer willing to voluntarily and spontaneously express and exhibit our love for our nation, support and defend its cause with devotion? Isn’t that the universal defining criterion of a patriot? Has it been become obsolete for now? No! Is it still valid? Yes! But why aren’t we capable of showing all this anymore? Why has it gone stale, if not entirely dead?

The answers to these million ringgit questions lie in the very line of the questions themselves. The state of voluntarism and spontaneity in expressing love and devotion for the nation has a lot to do with one’s conviction. One’s conviction in turn defines one’s attitude and invariably value-judgment. You couldn’t impose and compel perception, much less conviction on others. Compulsion is very much against the nature of love and devotion. Compulsion breeds hypocrisy, the anti-thesis of true love and a disease that betrays devotion.

Lest that the writer be misunderstood let it be made clear that he is not demanding that patriotism be revisited but more importantly contextualised. It is a timeless moral precept worthy of embodiment. What remains debatable and the bone of contention is how to express and exhibit patriotism specific to one’s political and historical context.

Historically, the challenge of achieving independence from the colonial British had rallied and galvanised the nation from all walks of life and ideological persuasions. Despite their diversity the founding fathers and their generation strived and heavily sacrificed their all to attain independence in their respective ways. It was perhaps patriotism at its best.

Five decades later, the symbolism has been reduced to flag-waving of the Jalur-Gemilang and episodically parading of our youths and uniformed security forces demonstrating discipline and resolve to defend the country. Quite evidently, this symbolism of post-colonial era could no longer withhold the nation together much to disgust of our leaders. Needless to say, Patriotism is surely more than flag-flying at places of business, in house compounds and on motor vehicles.

The nation is now in a severe state of despondency, and embattled with unending crisis, it is in dire need of rejuvenating its concept and embodiment of patriotism. Not only has it to grapple with the ever challenging global economy and its uncertainties, the systemic rot as a result of subversion of all critical institutions exacerbated the nation’s decline in competitiveness.

The grim and gloomy outlook seems never ending. What the rakyat never seemed to understand is why the endemic corruption and leakages continue unabated. And why, despite the many high-sounding mantras of inclusivity and market-friendly approaches of the PM, is the nation still beholden to a ‘affirmative policy’ that eventually only favours a few business elites well-connected to the power-that-be. Why the divide of the have and the have-little is yawning further post NEP?

As if that wasn’t enough to keep the rakyat in a beleaguered state, the BN-leaders under the premiership of Najib seems least concern if this country is to be torn apart by the spate of race-hate politics that it seems to endear.

Going by the spectre of racial-slurs, inflammatory and venomous rhetoric of political leaders and many an important people, least expected of course would be head of schools, the nation stood numbed to be thinking of what lies ahead of them and their progeny.

As we celebrate this auspicious anniversary, we seemed mired in increasingly rabid and insulting racism, which greatly threatens our already flimsy unity and precarious contrasting diversity.

Perhaps it was never very good anyway of the recent past, but it has surely become a lot worse of late. Never has the rakyat witnessed anything resembling this before, save of course the scourge of 13th May 1969. Without attempting at enumerating the various events, as it pains us further every time it is repeated, you shudder at the thought of what could be the grand finale of it all. God forbids!

The nation, now apparently caught in a transition politics of change and reform, demands that leaders shall no longer turn a deaf ear and a blind eye to the many troubling and turbulent state of the nation.

With this changing landscape of an evolving New Politics and a nascent 2-party system slowly yet surely in place, the writer now implores that timeless moral imperative of Patriotism be similarly contextualised and revisited as to place it in consonant with the changing political context and challenges of an agenda of nation-rebuilding.

The rakyat must be ready to be liberated with information and knowledge, hence becoming a well-informed citizenry that will put in practice the knowledge-based politics that will safeguard the interest of the nation. The rakyat shall no longer be beholden to all power-that-be.

The maxim of the New Politics dictates that it is the Rakyat that is the real stake-holders and the actual boss of democracy, as it is in their power to elect and mandate the government of the day. Incidentally that has always been the imperative of representative democracy. Therefore the rakyat shall not be cowed to abide and support the government when they commit mistakes and worse still insist on committing ‘sins of omissions and commissions’. Volataire famous quote aptly put it that “It is dangerous to be right when the government is wrong.

The writer now implores and paraphrases the notable quote of Mark Twain, a famous writer when he said “Patriotism is supporting your country all the time, and your government when it deserves it.” In the context of our current political scenario it is perhaps pertinent to put the issue to rest conclusively by paraphrasing Edward Abbey, writer and environmentalist in his famous definition that “A Patriot must always be ready to defend his country against his government”.

Najib and his government mustn’t be in denial nor flip-flop on critical policies that affect the survival of this nation. The rakyat has now become awakened by the power of New Politics driven by the pervasive alternative media. They are relentlessly demonstrating tremendous desire for arresting the many malaises and correcting the many wrongs of the government.

The entire nation is currently engulfed not in fire but figuratively gutted in racial-hatred and antagonism never seen before. Seeing the racial divide widens sickened this writer and a good many of us, save the racial bigots that strived and thrived in racism.

The country, admitted by World Bank as one of the richest nations on earth by way of resource per capita is languishing in myriad uncertainties and under-performance.

Given the current political-economic backdrop of the nation, it would be foolhardy for Najib’s BN government to expect exuberance of Patriotism to be spontaneously exhibited by the rakyat. As for now it would really be beneficial for leaders of both divides to come to grasp with the challenging task of genuine nation-rebuilding and reform.

It pays to listen to the heart-beats of the nation, the rakyat.

Dr Dzulkefly Ahmad.

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