53 years ago, Tunku Abdul Rahman recited in the Merdeka Proclamation, among other things, that this nation "shall forever be a sovereign democratic and independent State founded upon the principles of liberty and justice and ever seeking the welfare and happiness of its people and the maintenance of a just peace among all nations."
Liberty, justice, welfare, happiness, peace. These are the ideals upon which this country was supposed to be grown and nurtured into greatness. Somewhere along the way, we as a country - leaders and followers alike - have made bad decisions for different reasons: fear, ignorance, apathy, greed, corruption. Those decisions have led us astray from the Proclamation's ideals, and we have strayed far.
Economic and educational disparities, race-based politics and political parties, a questionable judiciary, suppression of individual freedoms, legitimized racism - these are a few of the myriad of problems which we face today, some of them which have only been aggravated over time. We have strayed far. What was supposed to be a splendid garden of diversity, harmony and growth is now a wild, gloomy maze, and we as a nation are walking in circles; we are hopelessly lost in the dark.
52 years later, we have strayed far from the country's ideals and I ask, where are we going?
"Somewhere else lah, hahaha."
A lot of people I know would readily respond with that. I admit that I was probably once one of those people. Growing up in an environment that was segregated and a system that was bitter and reeking with the stench of injustice, I was often quick to pounce on Malaysian idealists because I thought this country was a lost cause, and that we were better off exerting our efforts elsewhere, hopefully another place where it would be more acknowledged and more appropriately rewarded.
The truth is, there probably is, but the in the light of recent events and experiences, I've come to realize that there is no other country that I could as readily and easily call home. I don't think I would go as far as to urge all Malaysians to return to this country, an issue which is highly relevant to people of my age group. I believe globalization has enabled Malaysians to continue contributing to this country despite not residing or working here.
But home is more than where you are. It's not just a bunch of coordinates on the map, it's where you belong. I think I would always feel more like a stranger somewhere else; there is no warmer welcome than the one I feel here. I think of the moments I had during my days in the public schools; I remember playing guitar at the back of the class, singing songs with Malay, Chinese and Indian classmates alike. I think of the conversations I've had when I've been the odd one out, racially, and yet how we were all able to share common, colour-blind ambitions for the country.
I think of all these things, and I realise that we don't have to be idealists, intellectuals or activists to appreciate such moments. And we most certainly don't need ambigious slogans like 1Malaysia. Because we've all had these kind of moments at one point or another in our life here in Malaysia.
These experiences serve to remind us that we as a people are greater than how Malaysian society is painted in mainstream (and sometimes, alternative) media: fractured, intolerant and in conflict. If we can rise as a people above those man-made misconceptions, then we are a few steps closer towards a better Malaysia.
Tunku Abdul Rahman has laid down ideals which make for a sound foundation for our country and we should keep striving for those ideals. I believe that the more youthful generation of today are increasingly aware of national issues, following up on that awareness and more importantly, they believe in these ideals and act upon their beliefs. I have met very inspiring and passionate young Malaysians who are interested in change and some who have started to create change; I have met even more people who see themselves as Malaysians above anything else, Malay, Chinese or Indian.
And I know that one day these individuals will get older, become the greater part of society and its leadership, and knowing that gives me a realistic measure of hope. It is not another blind brand of idealism. I am convinced to think that this could all just work, with endurance, patience and untiring effort.
I love Malaysia, not for what it is. I love Malaysia for what I know is good in it, and what is even greater that can come from it - a splendid garden that blooms beautifully, a beacon of liberty, justice, welfare, happiness and peace. We have strayed too far for too long, now let's make our way through this maze. This Merdeka Day, I urge my dear readers: let's all find our way back to those ideals.
By, Z.Wei Lee