Flag-raising is not loyalty

Zaid Ibrahim

At a talk with students from the United Kindgom and Ireland last week, I said that to compel Malaysians by law to raise the national flag for 30 days as a sign of loyalty to the country was a “loony idea”, and that it was a case of a politician trying to score political publicity. Let me now elaborate.

This is the kind of idea that could only have come from a Minister who believes there are many Malaysians who are not “loyal” to the country. Although he did not name them, I am sure he was alluding to the Chinese and the Indians. In some years I put up the national flag on the premises of my small publishing company, and in other years not at all. It’s got nothing to do with loyalty but is simply my way to celebrate this pivotal moment in the nation’s history. I resent anyone, including the Minister, who suggests disloyalty on my part if I do not raise the flag.

How does the Minister know that I or the Chinese are not loyal? Has his Ministry carried out a scientific study that proves that people of Chinese descent are not loyal? What does loyalty mean to him anyway? There are many Chinese Malaysians who view the Barisan Nasional Government with disgust, but that does not mean they are not loyal citizens. There will always be a handful of crackpots who will say or do something provocative to our national symbols on YouTube, but that’s not enough evidence to show that the entire Chinese community shares these views. There is an endless supply of craziness on YouTube and the Government should not waste time studying it.

During the Vietnam War there were many American students who burned the American flag and spit on their Presidents, but that did not mean they were disloyal citizens. The great Muhammad Ali himself refused conscription to serve the nation because, according to him, “I ain’t got no problems with them Vietcong”.  By refusing to join the war effort, he was not being disloyal but was opposing a wrong and cruel policy of the US Government.

Anyway, let’s for the moment agree with the Minister about there being Malaysians who are not loyal. How does the compulsory 30 days of flag-raising change that? Such an act is tantamount to nothing more than a superficial show of loyalty—surely the Minister wants loyalty that is real and substantive. The Minister will also have another practical problem on his hands. If this exercise of flag-raising is to mark 31 August, how will Sabahans and Sarawakians—who gained their independence on 16 September—feel? Why should the independence of Malaya be more important than the independence of Sabah and Sarawak? The Minister might even lose Sabah votes in the forthcoming UMNO General Assembly if he’s not careful.

If we take the feelings of our East Malaysian compatriots into account, as we should, do we then have another 30 days of compulsory flag-raising to mark 16 September?  I think we would have to. As a loyal subject of the King I would also then insist that loyalty to the King is inseparable from loyalty to the country, so I will demand another 30 days of flag-raising in June. All in all, we will be raising flags for three months in a year, not to mention for other equally important national events.

Showing your loyalty by flag-raising will certainly cost money and we haven’t even touched on the difficulty of enforcing such a practice. What do we do with people like me who will probably not raise the flag because I don’t like the inference that I am not loyal? I don’t like to be forced to do things to prove my loyalty to this country. I am a loyal subject of King and country and the Minister just has to take my word for it.

The Government must stop this pernicious idea that the Chinese are not loyal citizens. They are, and there is no doubt in my mind that they are proud to be Malaysians.  We need to be more positive about nation-building.  Why doesn’t the BN Government be more charitable and kind to the Chinese and stop this silly but dangerous politics of racial baiting. This country would not be what it is today if not for the sacrifices and efforts of the non-Malays. Their loyalty has been proven beyond a doubt. Only the blind will not see.