Every Malaysian must be clear on why we celebrate our nationhood
IN THE past month or so, before, during and after Merdeka Day, Malaysians from the peninsula have had time to reflect on what Merdeka means, that is, what it means to be free and what freedom means. Some, in reinterpreting history, argued that peninsular Malaysians (or Malayans) had always been free since Malaya had never been colonised (it was only a British protectorate, the argument goes). Whether the revised history textbooks will take this view into account or stick to the established interpretation remains to be seen. But it is unlikely that Aug 31 will cease to be celebrated. In any case, whether Malayans were free before 1957 or after it, what people should ask themselves is: "Do we continue to be free?"
On Sept 16, all Malaysians get to mull over this philosophical question: "What does Malaysia mean to me?" and "What does it mean to be Malaysian?" This, too, is not easy to answer because it is subjective. Can it be as easy as ticking a box in a form -- Malay, Chinese, Indian and "other"? What about all the other ethnicities in the peninsula and Sabah and Sarawak? Or should the answer be Bangsa Malaysia (Malaysian)? Should official forms reflect the full extent of our Malaysian-ness, or simply our one Malaysian-ness? Is a person Malaysian first, second, last, or always? What does each of these mean? Is identification the beginning or the end of what it means to be Malaysian? Does it even matter? And will such existentialist issues become less imperative as the nation grows older and its children more independent?
How any Malaysian chooses to answer these questions, and whether anyone even spends time mulling over them is entirely up to the individual. That is one interpretation of what it means to be free. But if nothing else, all Malaysians should at least be clear on the difference between Merdeka Day and Malaysia Day. In a country where there are at least a dozen national public holidays, it might be true to say of both Merdeka Day and Malaysia Day that they are public holidays and special "sale" days. But there is a difference: Merdeka Day is celebrated to mark Malaya's independence from the British 55 years ago. Malaysia Day, on the other hand, is celebrated to mark the day in which four entities -- Malaya, North Borneo (now Sabah), Sarawak, and Singapore -- came together to form the Federation of Malaysia. It is on this day, 49 years ago, that we became a nation (Singapore left us in 1965). Every person who thinks of himself or herself as Malaysian should at least know on what day to bring out the birthday cake.