TODAY is our National Day but the mood in the country is pensive. This has been a year when the mood has been severely dampened by those who spew divisive remarks on a continuous basis.
TODAY is our National Day. I wish I could say that I woke up early to wave the Jalur Gemilang. And that my heart is bursting with pride because it is all pumped up with extra doses of patriotic fervour.
I do recall a time not too long ago when everyone was indeed eager to wave the flag. We even had little flags on our cars and there was a genuine spirit of patriotism. We needed no reminders that we are one as a nation.
Sad to say, the mood in my neighbourhood, and in the country overall, is pensive.
Please do not get me wrong. I am a patriot. And most of us, as citizens of this blessed land, do know what allegiance to the nation means. We not only love our nation but have full respect for the institutions that bind us together.
But on a day-to-day basis, this has been a year when the mood has been severely dampened by those who spew divisive remarks on a continuous basis.
From politicians who seek the limelight for all the wrong reasons to self-appointed champions of race and religion, these people have created an environment to embolden even the lesser-known individuals and instant NGOs to amplify their extremist views.
I dare say that I am more loyal than these people. Many of us wonder why they continue to find space in the media to articulate their outrageous views. The publicity given them by some media outlets is akin to providing oxygen to these dangerous elements.
A vibrant democracy should provide space for the healthy discourse of differing views and perspectives. We can certainly benefit by disagreeing without being disagreeable.
But hate politics does not deserve space.
I would like to put on record that like the majority of Malaysians, I am proud that we have come so far as a nation. In just over five decades, we have surely come a long way.
There were many naysayers when we achieved independence who did not give us much of a chance of making it. They predicted that the natives, as we were called, would end up fighting each other and the whole country would end up in chaos.
Well, they thought we would be like one of those countries in Central Africa which are forever locked in a civil war involving one ethnic group or another.
Malaysia has proven them wrong. Not only did we survive but we have progressed well and we remained intact too.
So what is it that disturbs me greatly this Merdeka?
Perhaps it is the sadness over the loss of the two Malaysia Airlines planes within the same year. The meaningless loss of innocent lives on board MH17 is so hard to bear even as we despair over the fate of MH370 where the plane has yet to be found.
It has been a horrible year indeed.
But it is also the never-ending, disturbing and offensive statements from extreme personalities. Many of us wonder why these people can get away with what they say. Shouldn’t they be charged with sedition or do they have powerful backers, as some have questioned?
Sadly, it is not just these politico-types but also ordinary Malaysians who post outrageous remarks on social media. They involve normal people, some of whom I thought I know well enough. But their inability to exercise some form of self-restraint and not add fuel to the fire is highly worrying.
No one is spared now. Thanks to social media, these people seem to believe that they can post and put up whatever comments they want without a second thought. They do not care if their sweeping comments affect the feelings of fellow Malaysians.
Everything seems to be fair game. While politicians are expected to take even the harshest criticisms in stride, there has always been an understanding that we do not undermine the various institutions that not only make Malaysia unique but also hold us together as a people.
Even the royalty has been targeted, and many of the remarks made are not only improper but outrightly seditious. It does not help that some politicians are leading by example. If they are in Thailand, they would be in jail now.
I am sure our founding fathers, if they were alive now, would have been shocked, if not saddened, by what they see of us today.
Yes, in terms of physical development and our standard of living, we have been a shining example. We have a huge middle class, unlike other neighbouring countries where the gap between the rich and poor is wide.
This is a country where people have no worries over the next meal although many are unfit because they eat too much. We spend huge sums of money to reduce weight and even bigger amounts to slim down.
We have also become a country of whiners. We complain over our high electricity bills but we want to sleep with the air-conditioners on, while wrapped up in our blankets. Of course, it is much easier to blame the government for increasing our electricity bills.
We should be glad that we have taken away preventive laws such as the Internal Security Act and the famous detention camp in Kamunting has closed down.
But, to some people, this seems to have opened the floodgates for unrestrained remarks, often laced with extreme racial elements, to flourish.
Many of us seem unable to articulate a point or a thought over an issue without dragging the racial element in.
Many of us also cannot draw the distinction between criticism and insult.
Some have become arrogant in their line of comment while some have become so thin-skinned and sensitive that they take offence easily, sometimes blowing up over a minor issue.
I grew up in Penang where places of worship were built next to each other. This is similar in many parts of the country too. We take pride in it. Now we have bureaucrats and politicians who tell us it’s not possible because it is sensitive.
Sensitive to who? The racially twisted bureaucrats and politicians themselves, perhaps? Real people have no issue with one another.
This is a multi-racial country even though the demographic landscape has changed drastically. A plural society is an asset, not a political liability. But we seem to have reached a point where many of us are frightened, not just shy, of upholding such values lest we be seen as going against our own community and religion.
Like it or not, there are certain realities that we, as Malaysians, must accept so we can be realistic in our expectations.
For a start, the Malays are the majority and they are Muslims. We must acknowledge and respect their deep reverence towards Islam, the race and the royalty.
But the Chinese and Indians are here to stay, so please stop these nonsensical pendatang remarks. Together with the many other races, and especially the original inhabitants of this land, we are all Malaysians.
We need to focus on real issues within our country, which include education, health, crime and a healthy business environment. Our priority must also be to ponder seriously on how to handle race relations, religious freedom and the sentiments of the people in Sabah and Sarawak who are an integral part of Malaysia.
We need to get our act right so we can compete efficiently as a member of the global community.
We should spend more time thinking, listening and reflecting instead of making silly remarks. We can help chart a better future for Malaysia. Then we will not only fly the flag on Merdeka Day but our heart will always beat as a Malaysian too, all the time.
Wong Chun Wai began his career as a journalist in Penang, and has served The Star for over 27 years in various capacities and roles. He is now the group’s managing director/chief executive officer and formerly the group chief editor.
On The Beat made its debut on Feb 23 1997 and Chun Wai has penned the column weekly without a break, except for the occasional press holiday when the paper was not published. In May 2011, a compilation of selected articles of On The Beat was published as a book and launched in conjunction with his 50th birthday. Chun Wai also comments on current issues in The Star.