BY NAZRINZULAIQA HASBI
KUCHING: National Day was celebrated on Tuesday, commemorating independence from the shackles of colonialism on Aug 31, 1957.
In an interview with New Sarawak Tribune, historian and University Kebangsaan Malaysia history programme head Dr Suffian Mansor spoke about patriotism and the challenges the nation must face today to maintain its wellbeing.
What is the meaning of independence from your perspective?
Independence for me is when a person, a race and a country is not controlled and has the power to rule and does not depend on outside powers to govern the country.
Citizens can determine the direction of their country. For Malaysia, independence provides an opportunity for the people to practice self-rule.
What is your opinion on the theme for this year’s National Day ‘Malaysia Prihatin’?
It is appropriate with our situation today. Cooperation between all parties—government, private sector, opposition, volunteers, frontliners, poor and rich—is needed to tackle the pandemic and the challenges brought by it.
What are the necessary elements in a person that symbolises the Malaysian identity?
The most important element is the sense of belonging. If we have the spirit of owning Malaysia, the love and patriotism in us is high because this allows us to keep this country peaceful, harmonious and prosperous. If this element is not present, it creates a sense of marginalisation. Every citizen needs to have a sense of belonging.
What are your thoughts on the political turmoil Malaysia is currently facing?
I see it as more to an internal crisis within the government. The lack of integration between these parties has led to this.
This should not have happened as we are already dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic. The government will not be able to focus fully on the pandemic. This will affect the people. The people are now not only affected in terms of health but also in terms of income, employment and mental health.
Is there a difference between patriotism in the past and the present?
It depends on the situation. First and foremost, during the colonial era, we were fighting against colonialism.
Second, we demanded that our sovereignty be returned. Third, we demanded progress, equality and the right to rule.
But now things have changed. We are free from the control of any party. The struggle is different but the concept is still defending the sovereignty of the country.
There is one thing we need to do now which is the struggle to build a nation. This is important because we need to feel the meaning of independence.
After independence, we must have the spirit to develop the country, for example, developing the economy, education system, transportation and maintaining peace and unity.
Some critics are saying that the spirit of patriotism among the younger generation has eroded.
Indeed, nevertheless, in today’s scenario what worries us is their understanding of independence. People celebrate National Day but they do not understand the struggle behind it.
The current generation is obsessed with technology, particularly gadgets. They forget that they need to have an understanding to defend sovereignty.
Since the implementation of PdPR (home-based online learning and teaching) schoolchildren, especially those in primary schools, don’t sing Negaraku, and there is no pledge reading ceremony. What is your view on this situation?
First of all, what we need to understand is we don’t have much choice. PdPR had to be done to prevent Covid-19 among students and teachers.
I agree that not singing the national anthem and engaging in pledge reading ceremony would cause the sense of love for Malaysia to decrease.
This situation will lead to identity issues among children. Yet I feel that this matter is something temporary. There are co-curricular efforts even through PdPR.
Are there any changes in racial relations or unity in Malaysia compared to the early days of independence?
When we want to achieve independence, we are united among the races. In the beginning, we see the struggle being shouldered together.
But now it is starting to change because some of these stakeholders are using race, religion and politics for their own self-interest. This situation will strain relations.
Do you believe that freedom of expression on social media poses a threat to Malaysia’s wellbeing?
We are in a dilemma. Freedom of speech is one of the things enshrined and written in the Constitution.
On the positive side, this helps the government to understand the community but it has its limitation because netizens always miss the point.
Turning to patriotism, they forget who occupied the country, who ruled the country and who developed the country. That’s why we see comments condemning people.
Therefore, the important thing that the community must understand is the national principles. I think if they understand the concept, they will be more careful.
What must be done to address this concern?
Education, namely educating the importance of the national principles needs to be emphasised. Sometimes, society is more into memorising but not understanding.
The cultivation of attitude, education from the very beginning so that our young ones don’t go overboard because Asian society emphasises on a polite attitude. I think early education from school or kindergarten level is the most important.
What is your hope or advice to the younger generation?
The younger generation will be the backbone of the country. The most important thing is that the people must go back to their roots.
This country has been built for years, decades and we already have a reference, we are already experiencing challenges from the west and poverty.
When we understand and get back to our roots, we can face the challenges that lie ahead well. We regain an understanding of the journey of history and culture.
Is there anything that you would like to add?
We need to have determination or a goal. We have to create a united nation, harmony among races and states, create equality, wealth and prosperity. There will be various issues and challenges in the future, so we have to handle them well.