Reflections on the eve of 58th Malaysia Day

That’s me (second left) with an original copy of the Malaysia Act 1963 and Independence of the Federation of Malaya Act 1957 at the House of Parliament, London.

On anniversaries, we tend to make heroic vows and promises which we can’t keep. Perhaps our intent is sincere and magnanimous but more often than not, we’ll find out on the anniversaries that follows that we are more disappointed than satisfied, because of the vows and promises that we have made remained just that, something we were not able to realise. New Year resolutions are especially notorious.

On the eve of the 58th anniversary of the formation of Malaysia, it is worth reflecting for a moment on what we have achieved or gone through the last 57 years. Obviously, there will be pleasant moments as well as the not so pleasant. They all make for a colourful mosaic of our recollections, and we have to accept all the colours — the vibrant ones, the sombre and dark ones, the greys and in-betweens, that comprise the mosaic of our total experience. Such is life, you take it as it comes. 

A worthy thought to be mindful about and a good place to start is by recalling a Moroccan proverb which says, “The tar of my country is better than the honey of others.” This is akin to our own proverb or peribahasa which says as follows:

“Hujan emas di negeri orang, hujan batu di negeri sendiri, lebih baik di negeri sendiri.”

This can be roughly translated as follows:

“It may rain gold in someone else’s country, and be hailing stones back in your own, and yet it is best to be back in your own country.

In the last 57 years as a nation, we have undoubtedly made tremendous progress in a physical sense, as exemplified by the tallest buildings in the whole world in the last millennium and many landmark structures. But I would hasten to say that we have missed many opportunities to be stronger in the spirit.  That would be my one sentence assessment and summation.

Without listing the physical achievements and projections of our tremendous efforts and achievements in the physical dimension, I’d like to talk about some of the things we could have done better. The intent is to inspire us to do better in these areas in the years ahead. For example, we could have done better in ensuring a much closer national integration at the emotional and psychological level between the East and West and not fall into the mindset trap of “us” versus “them”. 

A mindset of “we are all one” in every aspect of public life should be a fundamental ethos that gets translated into everything that we do as a nation. For those on this side of the divide, we feel we could have done better to close the gap, one that has been amplified by a physical barrier of a gaping body of water that separates Peninsular Malaysia and the Borneo states of Malaysia. Extra efforts and sensitivity to the marked difference in terms of regional development between the Borneo states and the rest of the country, such as, for example, roads networks and other infrastructure, and much needed facilities. 

We could have made better strides to prove Rudyard Kipling wrong when he said: “Oh, East is East and West is West, and never the twain shall meet.”

The gap between and amongst the various races and ethnic groups that make up our multicultural society could have been narrowed and, who knows, possibly eliminated. We could have realised our aspiration to make Malaysia a vibrant example of what was meant to be a nation or society that is “Truly Asia”, in line with the powerful, and smart phrase coined in the past that “Malaysia is Truly Asia”! 

The amazing tallest towers in the last millennium.

We have claimed this space for Malaysia — that Malaysia is, or should be, truly Asia. Let’s not give up that claim or aspiration to others in Asia or surrender it by our own inadvertent actions and unthinking behaviours and opposing traits. Finally, let’s try to make it happen and not leave it as mere slogan or empty rhetoric. I truly believe we can realise this.

We have it in us to be a nation with a great spirit — ordinary Malaysians are friendly, forgiving, charitable, kind and magnanimous. We are ambitious, forward looking and having a desire to take a lead role in the world. We are a generous people, willing to share what we have, especially, and some say ironically, people who live in the backwoods and rural parts of our beautiful country.

The poor are the most generous in spirit. Perhaps that is what is inferable from the words, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven”, which is a verse in the Bible, if my recollection is right. On the other hand, the ones with the most wealth tend to be the most stingy and tight-fisted. Again, generally Malaysians are not that hard-hearted, for it goes against their grain to be so. Of course, there are exceptions, but we are generalising here to make a point.

On a personal level, I am sure that in terms of the East-West divide, many have had achieved amazing and beautiful relationships with their friends and counterparts from all over the country. I studied in my university days and worked more than 30 years in the West. I made many friends and met sterling personalities from whom I have learnt a lot and who have helped shape my own values and views about life in general.

I still maintain and value my connection and relationship. My better and fairer half also hails from the West, just like many of my friends and others I know. And that is how it should be. We should be truly pan Malaysians in spirit and intent. Probably, the kind of things that caused Tunku Abdul Rahman, our first prime minister, to say that he was the happiest prime minister in the world in those early days of the nation.

So, on the eve of Malaysia Day and in line with the spirit of humanity, I’d say better to recommit our hearts to continue on a ‘Journey of Love’ — caring for others as fellow humans and treating them as we expect them to treat us. Living by the Golden Rule: “Do unto others what you want them to do unto you!” is an embarking on a virtuous journey. 

As Victor Hugo once said, “Certain thoughts are prayers. There are moments when, whatever be the attitude of the body, the soul is on its knees.” A useful reminder as we reflect on the future for Malaysia, to have good thoughts which will become prayers.

The final thought that I have is in relation to our stewardship of the environment. I am quite confident that the majority of us would agree that we could have done better in this dimension. It is not for the lack of laws but in the execution and realisation on the objectives behind these laws, the delivery of many strategies and plans that have been crafted over the years to be implemented, that requires room for improvement. 

Out for lunch (fourth left) in downtown Singapore in the haze a few years ago.

The last decade until now has demonstrated the ugly side of the destruction of the environment due to human activities. I remember well those years when we were literally choking in the smoke and haze caused by uncontrollable forest fires and indiscriminate burning throughout the region. 

Today, the term global warming is accepted as real, and it is recognised that this existential threat is contributed to a large extent by the human-induced warming of the Earth system. The other, and related term called ‘climate change’ can refer to natural as well as anthropogenic change. The two terms are often used interchangeably.

On the eve of the 58th anniversary, let us refresh our desire to be better stewards of the environment, to strengthen our ambition to do more and to ensure that we will put our natural environment at the top of our agenda going forward.

In conclusion, for this year’s edition of Hari Malaysia, my wish is for us never to forget the noble intention behind the motto “Bersekutu Bertambah Mutu” and to keep on striving towards realising the full potential of what we originally intended it to mean when the forefathers first coined those insightful words some 58 years ago this year.