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Saturday, August 31, 2013

From Merdeka to now, a nation at the crossroads


Just before celebrating Merdeka Day, Malaysia saw a group point to an art piece as insulting to Islam while theatres began showing the controversial Tanda Putera film framed around the May 13, 1969 race riots.
How have we come from a hopeful nation of industrious and intelligent people to one where ignorance and idiocy rules? Or one that keeps revising its past and future for the sake of the present?
When did we slide into defining Malaysia by what its people take offence to?
When did we fall into ignorance about pop culture references in art?
When did we plunge into this abyss of intolerance?
When did we become this country that we laughed at and ridiculed in the past?
Shuhaimi Baba's government-funded Tanda Putera aims to portray the friendship between two Malaysian historical figures, Tun Abdul Razak Hussein and Tun Dr Ismail Abdul Rahman, at the pivotal time of the race riots.
But can fictional aspects and revising context and perspective help portray that friendship? Would that even help us understand our national leaders better? How would that even contribute to a meaningful Merdeka Day celebration?
For that matter, banning the movie or advising people not to watch the movie is also nonsensical. Let market forces decide, let the people determine whether Tanda Putera is worth anything more than the price of the ticket.
The Muafakat group's complaint about J. Anu's artwork "I for Idiot" beggars even more disbelief. How can such an art piece be remotely linked to insulting Islam or even have references to Malaysia?
Did the stripes in the flag give that away, just as the Arabic words? Or was it the chimpanzee, which is not native to the country?
Is Malaysia the only country to use Arabic and have stripes in its flag? Or the faint words "Mission Accomplished"? There are endless possibilities to this group's interpretation of the artwork.
Then there is ISMA, the Muslim group that produces a Merdeka video blaming Shia Islam, Christianity's liberation theology and others for working towards getting the Malays to forget their identity.
Everyone is pointing fingers at each other rather than lifting their hands to work together to make Malaysia a better nation. That is how far we have come from that Merdeka Day in 1957 when Tunku Abdul Rahman spoke eloquently about the new nation named Persekutuan Tanah Melayu or Malaya.
On that August 31, the then prime minister prefaced the Merdeka Declaration for Malaya with the following words,
"But while we think of the past, we look forward in faith and hope to the future; from henceforth we are masters of our destiny, and the welfare of this beloved land is our own responsibility: Let no one think we have reached the end of the road: Independence is indeed a milestone, but it is only the threshold to high endeavour - the creation of a new and sovereign State. At this solemn moment therefore I call upon you all to dedicate yourselves to the service of the new Malaya: to work and strive with hand and brain to create a new nation, inspired by the ideals of justice and liberty - a beacon of light in a disturbed and distracted world."
Are we still that beacon of light in a disturbed and distracted world? Or just at the crossroads between light and darkness?
Selamat Merdeka.
* Jahabar Sadiq runs The Malaysian Insider.

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