Liberty has never come from the government. Liberty has always come from the subjects of it. The history of liberty is a history of resistance.

— Woodrow Wilson, 28th president of US

Merdeka! Merdeka! Merdeka! Merdeka! Merdeka! Merdeka! Merdeka!

The rallying cry was uttered by Tunku Abdul Rahman, the Federation of Malaya’s first prime minister, after the proclamation of independence.

The national flag of Malaya was then raised to the tune of the national anthem followed by the 21-gun salute.

If you watch videos of this momentous event, you can see the eager faces of the people. Their hopes, their dreams and their expectations, visible for all to see.

Six years later, Tunku oversaw the formation of a new nation — the Federation of Malaysia, on Sept 16, 1963, via the Malaysia Agreement 1963.

So have the aspirations, ideals and dreams of new nations as envisioned in 1957 and 1963 materialised?

I’d say on the ‘material’ aspect, Malaya has achieved a lot. It’s a modern and relatively prosperous economy. I’m sure the oil and gas revenues from Sabah and Sarawak played a significant role in this context.

However, what about the aspirations of the people, the various communities?

Well, racial politics soon kicked in. The Independence of Singapore Agreement 1965 saw the departure of Singapore from the federation, and on May 13, 1969 there were race riots in Malaya.

Race and religious issues stoked by political considerations have to this day reared their ugly heads. This certainly has not been helpful towards keeping the precepts of unity at the forefront.

The most recent attempt to derail harmony was by PAS MP Nik Muhammad Zawawi Salleh who said the Bible had been corrupted or manipulated, and his subsequent refusal to retract or apologise.

Notwithstanding these challenges, Malaysians have worked hard, the lot of people has improved, and there is now a large middle class with acceptable educational institutions and a good basic healthcare system.

Is the Muhibbah spirit alive and well?

Well, Muhibbah is a wonderful Malay word meaning ‘goodwill’ with connotations of friendship, camaraderie, tolerance, understanding and acceptance.

It’s a term used to convey a multi-racial and multi-cultural situation that brings everyone together.

I’d say that on the individual level, the majority of Malaysians are resilient and go about their daily lives in the spirit of ‘Muhibbah’ despite the attempts by some quarters to sow hatred.

We are fortunate in Sarawak. Chief Minister Datuk Patinggi Abang Johari Tun Openg reaffirmed his support for the Sarawak way of life. Recently, he again stated that religion was the backbone for mutual respect and mutual understanding among Sarawakians.

Here in Sarawak, a couple days after the Malayan Merdeka, the Sarawak Tourism, Arts and Culture Minister made statements to the effect that Aug 31 was also our Merdeka!

But how? Why? I asked myself, as did many others.

He justified his remarks by stating that when the United States of America gained independence on July 4, 1776, it had less than 10 states. Now with 50 states — yet they all celebrate the same Independence Day.

However, this example does not hold any water.  The USA was created on July 4, 1776 and after its existence as USA, various other states joined in. So, please take note that when the other states joined later on, there was already a country called USA.

Whereas on Aug 31, 1957 there was no country called Malaysia. So how can there be Merdeka celebrations for a nation that did not exist. However, we are good at rewriting history I suppose. 

Malaysia as a nation does not need a Merdeka celebration. This is due to the simple reason that each of the four nations that formed Malaysia already have their own Merdeka and they collectively formed a new country called Malaysia on Sept 16, 1963.

The comparison between the USA Independence Day, Malayan Independence Day and formation of Malaysia is like comparing an apple and duck, not an apple and apple.

Some netizens opined — were these statements an effort to appease Malayans? Some queried if he knew the actual history? Or, as I would venture, was it just his Trump-like moment. Whatever the reasons, he was pilloried on social media.

I for one, and I’m sure the majority of Sarawakians, still prefer Sept 16 as the real date for Malaysians to celebrate a united country.

Let us all, as Malaysians, continue to be resilient and keep to the original aspirations of nation building.

The views expressed here are those of the columnist and do not necessarily represent the views of New Sarawak Tribune.