Malaysia Day, a hazy concept 52 years on

-A +A

(Sept 15): Tomorrow is Malaysia Day, the day Malaysia was formed 52 years ago when Malaya, Sabah, Sarawak and Singapore became a nation of about 10 million people.

Ordinarily, it would be a day of great celebration but this year, two items stand in the way of joy – that most of Malaysia is smothered in haze, a polite euphemism for the blanket of thick smoke in the air, and headlines of rallies in Kuala Lumpur for the majority Malays to assert their dominance.

The smoke has become an annual occurrence and unless Kuala Lumpur and Jakarta can hammer out something, it will remain a yearly nuisance to all and sundry in this part of south-east Asia.

But the rally is something that we as Malaysians can turn into something positive really. We don't have to fear it as long as it is peaceful and not a nuisance to the rest of Malaysia.

After all, everyone has a right to a peaceful public assembly. Bersih 2.0 proved it can be done two weeks ago, so let's give the silat groups and anyone else wearing any colour they want the opportunity to do the same.

In any democracy, everyone has a right to speak up and out on their beliefs – no matter how misguided it may appear. Some believe Bersih 2.0 is wrong, some believe the group wearing red shirts are wrong.

The fact of the matter is these rallies show that the concept of Malaysia is as hazy as the skies over the country. No one, including the current slate of politicians, appear to take what our founding father Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra Al-Haji declared 52 years ago.

"The great day we have long awaited has come at last – the birth of Malaysia. In a warm spirit of joy and hope, 10 million people of many races in all the States of Malaya, Singapore, Sarawak and Sabah now join hands in freedom and unity.

"We do so because we know that we have come together through our own free will and desire in the true spirit of brotherhood and love of freedom," the Tunku said.

The country's first prime minister spoke about the trials and tribulations of getting Malaysia off the ground, with opposition from some neighbouring countries and internal politics.

But Malaysia came in to being, 16 days later than the initial target date of Aug 31, 1963 – the sixth anniversary of Malaya's independence.

"The Federation of Malaya now passes into history. Let us always remember that the Malayan Nation was formed after many difficulties during a long period of national Emergency, yet its multiracial society emerged, endured and survived as a successful and progressive nation, a true democracy and an example to the world of harmony and tolerance.

"As it was with Malaya, so it can be with Malaysia. With trust in Almighty God, unity of purpose and faith in ourselves, we can make Malaysia a land of prosperity and peace," Tunku said in his speech.

Malaysia, a land of prosperity and peace. But the headlines of today do not speak of prosperity and peace, only despair and unease. We need to change that ourselves if our leaders themselves seem incapable of it.

What we Malaysians have to do is not allow any of these events to dominate the national narrative and discourse. This is a country of 30 million Malaysians of many races, faith and creed. It does not belong to any particular group except Malaysians.

We need to restate that point. And even if there are no national celebrations of the formation of Malaysia, we should do it ourselves and share the joy among our neighbours and friends.

There are various events across Kuala Lumpur that celebrate Malaysia, and not some narrow world view of what it must be. This is a country for all, not the few. Where all colours belong to everyone, not just anyone.

Let's reclaim the Malaysia our founding fathers had set out to form. Let's share it with each other. We don't need politicians or our so-called leaders to tell us what to do.

We can do it ourselves. We can overcome the racism and xenophobia of the few by sharing Malaysia Day this year with everyone – cutting across all divides and ideologies.

Let's not make Malaysia Day one that is filled with fear and dread. The air might be hazy but the concept should be clear. We became a nation of Malaysians 52 years ago and not one that owes its existence to any particular group.

Enjoy the day. Some might want to inhale smoke in a field, scream their lungs out and show off their martial prowess. So be it. It is a right available to all.

The rest of us can be Malaysians by sharing and creating memories of the Malaysia that the Tunku had sketched out.

Selamat Hari Malaysia!  – The Malaysian Insider

* Jahabar Sadiq runs The Malaysian Insider.