MALAYSIANS travel the world to see ancient monuments and historical buildings and they wax lyrical about the magnificence and history of the Taj Mahal in India, or the Great Pyramids of Egypt.
They gawk at the Tower of London and walk in awe on the two-millennia-old Great Wall of China.
It is perfectly possible to imagine what it would be like to be a druid atop Stonehenge, or an Incan priest at the pyramids in Peru.
These edifices are humanity’s common heritage.
The profuse and widespread expression of anger when the treasures of Baghdad were looted or when Syria’s Palmyra was partially destroyed by Islamic State terrorists is testimony to this sentiment towards acts of wanton destruction.
Unfortunately, when home, Malaysians appear to be uncaring about their own national heritage. Currently, in Malacca, one can witness the “desecration” of the centuries-old Christ Church, the country’s oldest Protestant church.
The church is undergoing renovation, all in the name of adding an extension to facilitate tourists.
When historical buildings and sites are wilfully destroyed in the name of commercial exploitation, it is tantamount to an abomination, not from the perspective of religion, but that of history.
Is not the country’s colonial past a testimony of its centuries-old continuous history dating back from at least the Malacca Sultanate, if not earlier?
That the church is at the centre of a large, historical site stretching across several hectares, it clearly implies that a souvenir shop servicing every building can be built nearby so that the old buildings are kept undisturbed, but that feet tramping all over these historical sites without due respect can be minimised.
The 2013 bulldozing of a millennia-old Hindu temple in Lembah Bujang in Kedah was another horrifying example of philistinism, or anti-intellectualism, amongst Malaysians.
That instance was also a conflict between preserving the past and “developing” a barren future littered with ignorance.
The fault lay completely at the feet of the authorities. Candi 11 was too large to be relocated to the Bujang Valley Archaeology Museum grounds, so it was left where it had stood for millenia, registered but not protected.
And thus was forever lost a piece of incontrovertible history, which might have told us how long ago our ancestors came to this land. And Lembah Bujang is not the only piece of Malaysian history left neglected.
Malaysians travelling for more than shopping would realise how odd it is that the peninsula is seemingly bereft of historical edifices when there is the Angkor Wat in Cambodia, Ayutthaya in Thailand, Borobudur and Prambanan in Indonesia, all standing as testimony to ancient civilisations.
Nobody disputes that both Hinduism and Buddhism had once flourished in Southeast Asia. The imperative then is to discover more, and not destroy those already found.
To preserve as pristine a monumental past is to aspire to a momentous future. It is not good enough to defend destructive actions on the basis that the Unesco guidelines allow it.
It bespeaks a philistinism that is embarrassing, shameful and absolutely crass.