Let’s remember the sacrifices and guiding principles of the country’s founding fathers this Merdeka.
THREE days from now, we will mark the 57th anniversary of Merdeka in a year that will go down in history as one of the most painful for Malaysians.
Two tragedies involving Malaysia Airlines flights within four months have left most of us shocked and anguished and the run-up to the usual Independence Day celebrations has been rather subdued.
But amidst the gloom, Malaysians have come together in sharing the grief of those who lost their loved ones.
Tragic as they were, the disasters rekindled our sense of unity that has been strained by racial and religious bigotry over the years.
As one who was born before Merdeka and grew up in the country’s formative years, I have always held much reverence for Aug 31 and also for Sept 16, when Malaysia came into being with the addition of Sabah, Sarawak and Singapore in 1963. Singapore, of course, was expelled two years later.
Sept 16, by the way, happens to be Lee Kuan Yew’s birthday although it is not certain whether Tunku Abdul Rahman’s decision to set the date had anything to do with it.
Merdeka used to be a special occasion for Malaysians of my generation for it reinforced the measure of our belonging, however diverse we were in terms of economic standing, ethnicity or religious backgrounds.
But that feeling of oneness has gradually eroded away, leaving zealotry and dissension in its place, no thanks to misguided policies introduced from about three decades ago.
Like many of us, I often wonder what became of the belief of nationhood felt so meaningfully then. The common ground that we stood on appears to have slipped away.
With the amount of hate and distrust in our midst, as compared with the acceptance, mutual respect and optimism in the past, it seems like we are barely a nation now.
As French philosopher Ernest Renan defined it, a nation must have a soul or spiritual principle made up of the past and the present.
In his famous essay ‘What is a Nation?’ in 1882, he described it as a large-scale solidarity, constituted by feeling of sacrifices that people had made in the past and of those that they are prepared to make in the future.
“More valuable by far than common customs posts and frontiers conforming to strategic ideas is the fact of sharing in the past, a glorious heritage and regrets and of having, in the future, a shared programme to put into effect, or the fact of having suffered, enjoyed, and hoped together,” he wrote.
Looking back at events leading towards Merdeka, Malaysia’s founding fathers must have been guided by similar principles.
Last week, I had the opportunity of finding out a bit more about our pioneer group of nation builders, over tea with Toh Puan Uma Sundari Sambanthan.
She may be 85 and not in the best of health, but the widow of Tun V. T. Sambanthan, one of the signatories of the Merdeka agreement, remains sharp in mind and memory.
by M. Veera Pandiyan.
Read more @ http://www.thestar.com.my/Opinion/Columnists/Along-The-Watchtower/Profile/Articles/2014/08/27/The-meaning-of-nationhood/