Independence and the young

IF the flying of flags is an indicator, the past National Day was a subdued affair. We hear laments in the media of how there were barely any flags being flown leading up to 31 August and now as we move towards Malaysia Day. Patriotism is waning, it has been said, as the meaning of Merdeka is lost upon the younger generation.  

So in attempt to ‘instil patriotism’, we are forced to sing the national anthem in cinemas. We are served with short videos which are supposed make us appreciate the country. A State-funded feature length film is released, to remind us of the ‘enemies within’ who threaten our peace and harmony. Just like every other year, we are bombarded with flags, patriotic songs, parade and speeches. Of course, not to mention interviews with veterans in the military or public service, bemoaning how young people these days do not appreciate the struggles of our freedom fighters and founding fathers.

When young political aide Dyana Sofya Mohd Daud suggested a UiTM-type college for non-Malays, she was branded a ‘traitor to the Malay race’. Perkasa’s 
secretary-general Syed Hasan Syed Ali labelled her ‘young and naive’ while others weighing in saying Dyana ‘did not know her history’ and she had ‘no patriotic spirit’. Instead of arguing the merits of her suggestions, they dismissed her views on account of her age. 

What is worse, they questioned her commitment to Malaysia. These comments are symptomatic of the attitude towards the young people of this country. Impertinent, brash and naive young people. We are ungrateful and unpatriotic, it seems.

Yes, young people may not be so eager to drape ourselves in red, white, yellow and blue of the Jalur Gemilang. We may not be as receptive to singing patriotic anthems on top of our lungs. Some may actually resent the Merdeka Day parade because of the traffic jams it creates. We are hot-blooded and rash and quick to folly. But does that mean that young people have no love for the country? 

Your definition of ‘patriotism’ is far too narrow. Your patriotism is linked to symbols; the flags, the songs and the logos. Anything that does not fit within this rigid concept of patriotism will be deemed to be ‘unpatriotic’, a ‘crime’ worse than corruption.

But what are symbols, if not merely symbols? What about the things that these symbols represent? What about the people and the country itself? What about love for the country and appreciation of Merdeka expressed in other, non-conventional ways? Surely patriotism is more than just the exercise of flag-waving?

Those born after Merdeka will never know about life under a colonial master. Those born after Malaysia Day will never know about life before the formation of Malaysia. How are the young people expected to understand the meaning of Merdeka if independence is solely identified with the struggle to break away from the chains of colonisation?

That is why the ‘meaning’ of Merdeka must constantly be re-interpreted so that it captures the aspirations of that generation. But at the same time, fundamental principle of  independence remains true; the freedom to forge our own destiny as a nation. 

Be fair to the young. Do you not see us on the streets, protesting for a better Malaysia? Do you not bear witness to our activism as we do our part for a better Malaysia? Do you not see how we came out in our millions to vote for a better Malaysia? Do you need see our tweets and Facebook statuses, expressing our views for a better Malaysia? Do you not see our anger and our frustrations, but also our hopes and dreams for a better Malaysia? 

Listen to our voices, as we declare our love for this country, without actually saying the words. Just because we do not celebrate Merdeka do not make us unpatriotic. Just because we do not show love for Malaysia in the same way as you do, does not mean we do not love the country. Instead of dismissing us or patronising us, why not try to understand us? We are as much part of this country’s future as you are part of the country’s present and past.

> The views expressed are entirely the writer's own
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