Sunday, August 20, 2006

National day and patriotism

August 20, 2006

"Merdeka",do we have real freedom?

As we approach our national day on 31.8.06, our national media are full of reports of the various ways Malaysians celebrate our hard earned independence. Various generations celebrate in ways peculiar to their own experiences in life in our beloved nation, as it turns 49, come this August 31.

To demonstrate our patriotism to the nation, we are encouraged to hoist the national flag in our homes, offices, shops and on cars. It is becoming increasingly more common to see cars fully draped in the beautiful colors of the Jalur Gemilang.

In schools our children are asked to wave flags as they sing the national anthem and other patriotic songs. Almost daily the schools organize assemblies, eloquent speeches and other activities towards this end. Being children as they are, most of them are full of enthusiasm to participate in all these as they create an environment of festivities during the month of August each year.

Some of our politicians even go to the extent of castigating those who do not hoist the national flag as being unpatriotic and ungrateful for what the country has done for them.

Is national day all about waving the national flag, singing patriotic songs, having parades and tea parties? Definitely it transcends these physical expressions of joy of our independence.

It should be a day to recollect our achievements and failures over the years since independence. While celebrating our victories it is also the time to resolve to right the wrongs in our country. If we fail to do this all our achievements will be rendered meaningless.

Racial and religious tolerance is at its lowest since independence and is continuing to slide further. Those in power do not appear to value the importance of racial unity. They fail to realize that it is an asset that needs to be cherished and nourished. There is developing a dangerous trend where Malaysians today are living “peacefully” within their own communities.

Corruption has become an accepted way of life among Malaysians. It is a norm these days to “reward” those in authority for even obligatory services rendered. The ordinary man on the street is not able to get things done as he is not able to follow this new culture of “give and take”.

Road deaths are taking a very high toll on the lives of our people especially the young. Basic etiquette on the roads is badly missing. There is chaos on our roads and driving on them is like going to war. Breaking the laws without getting caught is considered a feat.

Crime rate is unacceptably high and is threatening every peace-loving citizen. People are living in fear, not able to go about their routine without danger of being raped, robbed, assaulted or even killed. The authorities do not seem to have the will to bring the situation under control. There is fear that mob rule will become the order of the day in the near future.

Quality of education is on the decline but the cost is escalating and becoming beyond the means of the ordinary wage earning citizen. Those in power are least perturbed that none of our local degrees are now recognized internationally. Eligible students with maximum results in examinations are denied seats in public universities. To solve this problem, higher education is being privatized which further escalates its cost. Many private institutions have sprung all over the country, many of them of questionable quality and credentials.

Basic medical care has become too expensive and privatization has made it beyond the reach of ordinary citizens. Abuses of Health Insurance Schemes are further aggravating the already unhealthy situation. Quality of medical care at government hospitals is far from excellent as it is managed by junior and inexperienced doctors. Most of the senior doctors have left for “greener pastures” in private practice where many of them are fast losing their hard-acquired skills over years of service.

An arrogant, uncaring and at times abusive public service is a sure indicator of its decline since independence. Biasness and favoritism to certain groups are standard practice. There is a need for greater professionalism in the civil service.

Eradication of poverty is confined to just one particular community although it occurs among all races. The real hardcore poor are not getting a decent share of the nation’s wealth. The rich are getting richer and the poor remain poor.

Freedom of expression and respect of human rights are also on the decline over the years. A small ray of hope was seen after our present prime minister took office but there are powerful forces that are eager to extinguish those rays of hope prematurely.

As Christians and belonging to the minority groups, “merdeka” is becoming progressively less meaningful as we are gradually becoming irrelevant in the mainstream development of the country. Not only are we not consulted in any major decisions but even our constitutional rights are being denied. The very institutions that are established to protect our rights fail us miserably.

Our children are denied admission to public institutions of higher learning; we are not given jobs in the civil service and armed forces, no state funds are allocated for the construction of places of worship and worse still churches and temples are indiscriminately demolished without proper dialogue or consultation.

To make “merdeka” more meaningful for the rakyat, serious concerted efforts by all parties must be made to correct these wrongs. Only with the provision of the basic needs, can true patriotism develop in the people.

Displaying flags, singing patriotic songs, wearing special costumes, participating in parades and banquet are just superficial displays of patriotism. These do not instill true and lasting patriotism. Nationalism and patriotism are not inborn in us. They should be cultivated from an early age just like how parents nurture them in their children..

The nation, like parents, must provide for her citizens all the necessary needs before it can expect undivided patriotism and loyalty only with the provision of the basic needs, can true patriotism develop in the people.

Dr.Chris Anthony

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