Spirit of nationalism missing: position of Malay language questioned

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at ccat.sas.upenn.edu
Wed Aug 24 14:34:21 UTC 2005

http://www.bernama.com.my/bernama/v3/news.php?id=151832 Bernama.com
Malaysian National News Agency

The Younger Generation Should Uphold The Essence Of Merdeka

August 24, 2005 12:40 PM

By Melati Mohd Ariff

KUALA LUMPUR, Aug 24 (Bernama) -- When the nation was at the threshold of
merdeka almost 48 years ago, this Penangite was a student of University of
Malaya in Singapore, pursuing history and Malay studies. University
students in those days were in high spirits over nationalism and
frequently engaged in debates on issues concerning race, freedom and
dignity. The deep sense of nationalism was intensified especially for him
and his varsity mates after their meeting with President Sukarno and Vice
President, Dr Hatta during their one-month visit to Indonesia.

The visit, organised by the Malay Language Society of Universiti Malaya
Singapore took place in July 1957, about a month before the shouts of
"Merdeka" echoed throughout Malaya. "We're all fired up after the visit,"
said Datuk Haji Omar Mohd Hashim, Chairman of Malaysia's Historical
Society interviewed recently to share his merdeka spirits. Amongst his 30
varsity mates that took part in the visit led by Datuk Noh Abdullah were
Tan Sri Elyas Omar, Tan Sri Salehuddin Muhammad, the late Datuk Mokhzani
Abdul Rahim, Kala Dewata (Mustapha Kamil Yassin), Dr Ching Hai Seng and
Anis Sabirin.


According to Omar who is also a literature and history activist,
sentiments heated up before Aug 31, 1957 as there were several parties who
were apprehensive that Malaya should attain independence so soon. Among
them were the late Datuk Onn Jaafar of Parti Negara who blatantly said
"the Malays should equip themselves first before plunging into
independence for it would bring many challenges and turmoil. "Datuk Onn
believed that if we gained our independence too soon, it might jeopardised
the many things that we had fought for. There were also radical parties
voicing their concern but they were fighting for equality along the line
of socialism," he added.

Many university students, he said, rallied behind the late Datuk Onn until
his demise in 1963. In the midst of such controversies, Omar said students
of Universiti Malaya Singapore at that time were filled with pride over
the independence of Malaya. They rejoiced because Singapore was still
under British rule and facing fierce threats from trade unions which were
under communist's influence.

"We're delighted and uncertain at the same time pondering over issues such
as the type of government after merdeka, position of non Malays and
whether they would be a source of problem in the future due to the liberal
granting of citizenship. "Issue on citizenship was voiced out relentlessly
by the late Datuk Onn whether it would follow the principle of jus soli
(citizenship for those born at that time) which he opposed," he added.


University students in those days also, said Omar had Radio Mahasiswa to
voice out their feelings. "We poured our hearts out on topics concerning
literature, language and students. Students then were also prolific
writers. As early as 1957 and 1958, we were already talking about the
usage of Malay language in university," he said.

Their spirits spiralling high with the presence of people such as Prof
DiRaja Ungku Aziz and Zainal Abidin Ahmad or better known as Pak Zaaba.
The two were responsible for establishing the Malay Language Association
of University Malaya (PBMUM) which was very active in the Language
Congress. Their main contention on nationalism centred around the fate of
the Malays, the position of Malay Language as the national language and
the Malays economic position.

They also discussed Islam as a dynamo that was pushing forward the very
existence of the Malays. Hence when asked on the spirit nationalism among
today's university students, there is a tinge of disappointment in his
voice. "I don't think there's much. Seldom did I come across speeches
whether over the radio or television like what we used to do." Omar said
nationalism should have not wither away after merdeka.

"This spirit should live on forever. Merdeka does not only mean freeing
the country politically but also economically, championing for a fair
society and creating an environment of growth and equality. "Times may
change but the fundamentals that constitute a nation persevered. The
rights and responsibilities of the rakyat to the nation too did not
change, on the contrary they increase," he added.


Omar opined that nationalism should be instilled amongst the younger
generation for them to be able to uphold the essence of merdeka that is
the affluent life they are enjoying now. "They're well contented, no
threats and danger and they don't have to make any sacrifices for their
parents have made those sacrifices. To them this new era is theirs and
what occurred in the past is bad luck for the earlier generation.

"But they forgot that the prosperity they're enjoying now could vanish in
just a short time like what's happening in many countries such as Africa.
Many countries in that continent gained their independence very much
earlier than us but now they're reverting to tribalism," he explained. He
also cited the great Malay Kingdom of Champa which had collapsed after
existed for one thousand years. Lest we forget, the bliss of merdeka could
just disappear too.

"It may not be political power but economy and thinking. Even now we could
see this clearly. Just look at the Malays' economic standing compared to
other races, it's still way down below. "Even though the Malays are better
off than their parents but that's only a handful. The mass media often
portrayed the Malays as rich including dramas, live in bungalows with
swimming pools ...for me that's only an escapism from reality," said Omar.


He also chided some tv programmes including reality shows which he said
are making the rakyat too preoccupied with entertainment especially the
Malay youngsters. The youngsters are lulled into this life of non-reality,
forgetting the responsibilities and the works that they should focus on
which is to deepen their knowledge and deliberate on the fate of their
community and race.

The time that should have been spent on sharping their minds to be more
critical on the happenings in and outside the country is wasted on
televisions and entertainment fests. "This is a disservice to the nation,
making them weak, too preoccupied and reluctant to work hard and be
serious," he said. In ancient Rome, he recalled, the Roman Emperor would
have gladiators fighting in the coliseum with thousands of spectators.

"The Emperor wanted to preoccupy the minds of his subjects so they
wouldn't have time to dwell on their hardship and rebel. Indirectly I feel
there's a parallel between this and what's happening today," Omar added.
In that respect he said there should be a mechanism to control the
direction and contents of entertainment programmes which he reckoned is
only doing a disservice to society especially the Malays. Do we still have
a policy, censorship panel and people to guide us in this matter?

The youngsters also, he opined should pick icons to emulate. "During the
times of our grandparents, they had warriors such as Hang Tuah. In the
recent past, we had leaders such as Datuk Onn, Sukarno, Nehru and Ghandi.
"Now I don't have an inkling who are the icons of the younger generation.
The media has a key role here but what's being shown are artists, their
pictures blown up, trivias on their boyfriends and the breaking up of
their engagement. These are the stuff read by the youngsters whom by right
should have a high idealism and reach for the sky," he explained.


The younger generation should thus be made aware of their doings. But how?
"This has to do with the nursery. What I meant is school right to
university. We may have to review the education system and see how it
instilled the right values including nation building," said Omar who was
the Deputy Director General of Education Malaysia (1985-1990). He also
proposed a revamp in the teaching of history to make it "alive and
relevant" besides highlighting cases such as May 13th and the Social

"We must tell our children that there's progress and harmony in this
country with no fighting and civil wars because of this sacred pledge
that's holding us until now and the future," he explained. The sacred
pledge referred by Omar is the social contract in which the Malays were
willing to share the citizenship and by implication power with the
newcomers (Chinese and Indians) and they in turn accepted the special
position of the Malays in the life and politics of this country.

"If this social contract was not agreed upon before independence, I think
the country would be in chaos as predicted by many British and outsiders,"
he added. No doubt there is no written document about this sacred pledge
but it is embedded in the Constitution and the manifesto of the Alliance
Party, he said. "Civilised society in the past in Asia placed great honour
on spoken words or pledge. They don't believe in written code in
particular the Malay society which has a long oral tradition and expects
the other party to honour the engagement and feel saddened and cheated
when transgressed," he said.

In that respect, he said the new generation of non Malays who benefited
from this great sacrifice of the Malays cannot just regard this social
contract as a small matter and they are not bound by it. They also should
not hurt the feelings of the Malays.


In learning history, he said initially the younger generation should learn
first the history of their family and kampung. "They would be surprised to
find out many who have done so much in the fight for independence. "Their
fathers and grandfathers might have served as policemen or soldiers,
putting their lives in fighting off the communists but theirs deeds had
never been recognised. The same with teachers who also played a role in
bringing out the ideas of independence and freedom," he said.

It is the responsibility of the younger generation to track down these
unsung heroes before they get too old and breathe out their last. After
all independence is not achieved by a few political leaders but behind
them, there were thousands of other fighters and supporters!


Copyright  2005 BERNAMA. All rights reserved.

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