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MGG: Fly The Jalur Gemilang And Be An Instant Patriot!
By M.G.G. Pillai

1/9/2001 8:52 pm Sat

Fly The Jalur Gemilang And Be An Instant Patriot!

The "Jalur Gemilang" (Stripes of Glory) is Malaysia's National Flag, a hallowed symbol of nationhood, to be honoured and respected. It should not be an object of commerce or linked to partisan politics. It is, like the Constitution, an undeniable part of what Malaysia is, not to divide but to strengthen, not to instil chauvinistic values but nationalism. But when the Government calls of Malaysians to treat the Jalur Gemilang as any bunting one puts up for a visitor, it descends to no more that. When it is flown to force Malaysians to accept the primacy of a political alliance as the National Front, it devalues it. When the flag is sold, or as this year given free, to show one's chauvinism, it demeans and devalues and reduced to a farce.

The Government's contention is that if one does not fly the flag in the month of August, it does not augur well for Malaysia as a nation. The view is, as usual, ill thought out, and contentious. Patriotism one does not wear as a loud tie or purple jacket; it should be in the heart and reflected in our actions. One does not wear it on one's sleeve. One is not less of a patriot if one does not fly one of these cheap flags one is handed at petrol stations, banks and department stores. Most would not want to make a fetish out of flying it as the government wants us to. But it believes that those who do not are not fit to be citizens.

Nationalism, not patriotism, we celebrate on Merdeka Day. The government is confused and insist the two are interchangeable. They are not. It hijacks patriotism to wean support for its increasingly untenable position in the country. It extols an extreme form of patriotism, akin almost to chauvinism, by making us fly flags, and cannot get Malaysians to abide. It can hector, order and demand that citizens follow its dictates but up to a point. Today, this hectoring, ordering and demanding is signs of its own irrelevance. With it, the important symbols of nation hood is deliberately devalued: Three months on, the tattered flags flying forlornly on motor cars. At the same time, some go to the other extreme: have as many as six or seven flags.

Time-honoured conventions are attached to the flying of the national flag. When in school at the English College in Johore Bahru, in the 1950s, as a prefect I occasionally had the honour of raising the flag. There was a list or dos and donts to it that is implicity respected. The flag must not touch the ground; one went to detention class if one dropped the flag or let it drag on the ground; it is brought down by dusk for it should not be allowed to fly in the night. It had to be respected, it was drummed into us, as our lives. All that is now in the past, and with that, the respect due to it. How could that respect sustain if they are flown as it now is, day in day out, sometimes tattered, as it is on the Largest Flag Pole In The World? Or sold in shops like kacang putih or given free like advertising gimmicks?

The average Malaysian is, besides, smart enough to know when he is taken for a ride. He does not want to lend his name to a scheme by which he is shown to support the government on Merdeka and not the nation. With this comes the other view that he who keeps his emotions in check in public is not a patriot if he does not join in the official hoopla. Unfortunately for the government, these two groups, with those who genuinely believe the government has lost the moral authority to govern, despite its huge electoraly majority in Parliament, form by far a significant group that would challenge it. And there are people like me who would not adorn his car with the irrelevant advertising slogans that are often handed out. Nor would I fly a flag. Certainly not to prove to the world I am who I say I am. I am no less a citizen because I abhor adorning my car with irrelevant symbols or slogans.

One cannot ladle patriotisam and nationalism to citizens as a cook ladles curry. The finer distinctions of the two words must be kept. There are two different emotions, different in its reach, and one can have one without the other. To not put a fine point to it, patriotism refers to citizenship, and nationalism to nationality. One is political and the other an inalienable inherent right. In a society in transition, as Malaysia, the patriotism, political in its definition, is demanded as an alternative to nationalism. It is not a view on the other side of the fence would accept. Especially in Malaysia, when Merdeka Days are held with the opposition dismissed as enemies of the country. Was the Leader of the Opposition on the main dias when the Prime Minister and the King took the March Past yesterday? Why Not? It is small things like these that show up what Merdeka Day is not to the average Malaysian. That cannot obviate because Malaysians fly the Jalur Gemilang for thirty-one days every month in August.

M.G.G. Pillai