MALAYSIA Tanah Tumpah Darahku


Tuesday, August 31, 2021

Merdeka: What is there to celebrate?


Today we celebrate 64 years of Merdeka, but many are asking if there is anything to cheer about given the depressing situation in the country.

We are in the strangling grip of the Covid-19 pandemic, with rising infections and deaths. On average, about 20,000 new cases and more than 200 deaths are being reported daily.

A recent Bloomberg Covid Resilience Ranking placed Malaysia right at the bottom of 53 developed countries. The ranking was based on such factors as mortality, vaccination coverage, quality of healthcare and the rate of reopening the economy.

On the economic front, many have lost their jobs or seen their income reduced and thousands of businesses have folded. Official figures for June put the number of unemployed at 768,700 persons. Covid-19 and movement restrictions are expected to cause more damage to the economy in the months to come.

Most people, including analysts, blame it on government incompetency, those flouting SOP rules and the deadlier Delta variant of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. Our politics is a mess and many Malaysians who had hoped for a sliver of light after Muhyiddin Yassin’s government collapsed had a huge disappointment when almost all the same people were named to Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob’s Cabinet.

With so many deaths and the virus continuing to spread rapidly, compounded by a loss of confidence in the government’s ability to bring the nation out of the crises, few are in the mood for celebration.

Many are asking what is there to celebrate this Merdeka.

Well, revelry is out of the question but there is some cause for optimism, even cheer.

Let me state upfront that in saying there is reason for cheer, I’m neither diminishing nor disparaging the sufferings of millions due to the pandemic. I feel for the families of the thousands of Malaysians who have died and the tens of thousands infected by the Covid-19 virus.

However, beyond the suffering, and considering that today is the 64th anniversary of our independence, I do feel there is also some cause for optimism.

For one, unlike some nations, we enjoy peace. Look at what’s happening in Afghanistan. There’s killing on the streets, suicide bombings and tens of thousands are fleeing the country now that the Taliban is back in power.

Look at Lebanon. It’s facing financial collapse, with about a quarter of its population facing a food shortage. For a year now, there has been no government in place due to endless wrangling among political leaders.

At least our politicians are very neat when it comes to a change of government. Even if they are incompetent or slow in implementing reforms, eradicating corruption, tackling the pandemic and such other things, in the past three-plus years they have demonstrated to the world that no one does government change better than Malaysia.

Look at Syria. The civil strife is into its 11th year, and it has become the world’s largest refugee and displacement crisis involving about 11.5 million people. An estimated 13.4 million of its population of 17.5 million are in need of humanitarian assistance.

I can give more examples but I think you get my point.

More importantly, the Covid-19 pandemic has shown us the strength that we as a people possess. Malaysians throughout the country have risen spontaneously to help those who are short of food or money. For instance, the white flag movement – where anyone in need would raise a white flag – took off and kindhearted people have been responding either by supplying food and needed items or cash to NGOs at the forefront of these efforts.

Even small-time vegetable sellers and restaurants have special days or times when they offer free takeaway food for those who cannot afford to pay. It says much about the kindness inherent in Malaysians.It also says much about their willingness to break away from depending on a fumbling government and help each directly. And that is cause for cheer.

Mind you, except for one or two instances where certain individuals put up signboards saying the food or items were only for people of a certain religion or race, the rest are going out to provide aid regardless of race or religion.

We aren’t seeing Muslims helping Christians or Christians helping Muslims. Neither are we seeing Hindus helping Buddhists or Buddhists helping Hindus. We are seeing Malaysians helping Malaysians. We are seeing human beings helping one another.

I am reminded of what our Bapa Malaysia Tunku Abdul Rahman once told me at his Penang house long after he retired as prime minister. Tunku said: “Malaysia is like a boat. If the boat sinks, we will all sink. So, we have to keep it afloat. We have to row together. If water gets in, we have to scoop it up and throw it out together. Then we will be safe and happy. That is what I want for this blessed country.”

His advice is so appropriate in our current situation.

And thousands of kindhearted Malaysians are doing just that – working to row together, to keep the boat from sinking. That, I feel, deserves to be celebrated this Merdeka.

We should also find optimism in the greater political awareness among our youths and their willingness to stand up for their convictions. Some of them courted arrest in demonstrating and speaking up for the suffering of the people, particularly the poor.

They did this because of their love for, and loyalty to, Malaysia. They want a better Malaysia. I’m confident these young people will one day play important leadership roles in the nation.

When young people are willing to face arrest or harassment for their ideals and convictions, it means democracy is alive in that nation and that its youth are right at the centre of it. That is cause for cheer.

They are not the only ones. Many ordinary people have taken to social media to criticise when something is not right and applaud when praise is deserved. In doing this, they are participating in the democratic life of the nation. And that is also cause for optimism.

Since the local Covid-19 cases were discovered in February 2020, health and medical staff have been toiling to stem the tide. Despite being tired, despite physical and mental strain, they continue to work so that many others can live. That spirit of sacrifice is something to cheer about.

For years we have taken our doctors, nurses, and especially the cleaners and mortuary attendants for granted. The pandemic has shown us how important they are, that they are the real heroes.

The pandemic has also made abundantly clear the crucial role of the delivery rider. Many of us in urban areas depend on them, especially now that dining-in is restricted. The delivery rider is no longer just a “delivery boy” but a human being helping us stay safe.

Those whose head resembles a rain forest now realise how important the barber is, and those who walked past the security guard at the mall with nary a glance, now see him or her as a person and not part of the furniture.

What I am trying to say is that the pandemic has made us see people in a different light. We now recognise that even the simplest job has dignity.

We now appreciate how important unnamed ordinary people are in our lives and how important we are in other people’s lives. We now see better the interconnectedness of our lives. Isn’t that cause for cheer? - FMT

The views expressed are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of MMKtT.

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