Jata Negara art controversy - not about national unity but national fear - Commander S THAYAPARAN (Retired) Royal Malaysian Navy
Thursday, July 02, 2020
Malaysiakini : "Patriotism is the virtue of the vicious." - Oscar Wilde
(Disclosure: Gerakbudaya has published a couple of volumes of my articles and I consider its founder, Pak Chong, a friend.)
| I am not surprised that the political establishment, while beset by
problems, has decided to retreat to "patriotism" as a means to
radicalise a certain section of the population. This
idea that "altering" a national symbol means a lack of patriotism or
the publication of a book with such art is somehow anathema to national
unity is a continuing narrative meant to divide Malaysians further.
have never understood (and I say this as someone who served in the
state security apparatus) how anyone could enforce love of a country or
reverence for "national symbols". Most times, the people who are most
vocal about respecting these symbols have never served the country in
any capacity, beyond serving political parties or their various proxies.
Some people make all these declarations of supporting the troops,
cherishing the flag or believing in national dogma, but they actually
spend all their time gaming the system, mostly for economic gain.
have not met one political operative, and I have known a number over
the decades, who actually feel some sort of affinity to national
symbols. However, nearly all pay lip service to the idea of national
identity, whatever that means, which more often than not is toxic to any
form of national unity.
Is it better to be feared or to be loved?
To me, what is extremely shocking are the comments
of a principal fellow of the Ethnic Studies Institute (Kita) at
Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM), Teo Kok Seong. Shocking because it
is a clear articulation of mainstream ideas when it comes to these
symbols and institutions.
Teo believes that a certain "cluster" has not learned any lessons after punishments were meted out in previous cases. And when Teo says, "Before this, we saw how our national flag was flown with other designs and Negaraku
was sung in a different language, other than the official language,
while an official statement of a ministry was issued in other
languages," we know which specific cluster of Malaysian society he is
talking about, right?
He also said, "Something needs to be done here. Why does it happen continuously and at a constant frequency?" What
exactly needs to be done here? Do we round up people who "disrespect"
national symbols and incarcerate them? If someone sings the national
anthem in Tamil or Mandarin, do we drag this person to court and then
sentence them to a couple of years in jail? If someone incorporates
symbols of national unity in their artwork, does this warrant the boot
of the state on their neck? Remember, according to people like Teo,
context is not important.
symbols, Teo said, "It is sacred, must be respected and placed at a very
high level as it represents the country, it symbolises the sovereignty
of the country." What Teo said does not sound like
"respect". What he said, and his implication that there should be
stricter punishment, sounds more like fear.
Folks like him want
you to fear national symbols. They use words like "sacred", "respect"
and "national unity" when it comes to these symbols, but what they
really mean is fear and compliance.
and institutions (non-democratic ones) have never been about the
country. There are merely tools of power. These symbols and institutions
have been weaponised for the sole purpose of keeping the rakyat in
It really does not matter if that particular artwork
has been around for some time. It really does not matter if the artwork
was inspired by another piece of art. What is important is that
citizens acknowledge that what the state considers "sacred" and what the
state considers "unity" is embraced by the majority. Everyone else is a cluster that needs to be reeducated.
Patriotism - loyalty to the government?
when it comes to people disrespecting symbols, the "whys" are not
important because these symbols are not about the people, but rather the
state. Whether you choose to imbue those symbols with power is entirely
up to the individual, but the reality is that only the state has any
power when it comes to such symbols.
"respect" towards a symbol is a fascist imperative. After all, if you
have to force people not to disrespect the national anthem, what does
this tell you of the "need" of some people to disrespect a symbol that
represents everything we are supposed to believe in?
I see all
these non-Malay pressure groups and political operatives attempting to
demonstrate their loyalty and subservience to the political
establishment by making police reports because they claim to be so
aggrieved by the alteration of this national symbol.
Zunar was right when he was reported
as saying, "... elements of racial politics have come into play in
blowing the issue out of proportion." This has always been the
inconvenient truth, right? That these national symbols have been
appropriated by racial supremacist groups and political parties and the
rest of us have to always demonstrate our respect for these symbols -
otherwise, our "patriotism" to our country is questioned. Non-Malays
are targeted by elements who have weaponised patriotism and who use
individual acts to either form or continue narratives that, supposedly,
the non-Malays in this country have no real love for this country,
beyond the perceived economic advantages this country has given them.
forced allegiance to symbols and institutions is how the political
elite in this country maintains its hegemony. The political elites claim
that they love the country, the flag, race and religion while engaging
in corruption, political and religious malfeasance. This is indicative
of the reality that those who proclaim love for this country really do
not love this country.
Yes, Pak Chong has apologised
for whatever hurt feelings Gerakbudaya may have caused. And yes, the
state security apparatus has made a show of confiscating the books.
does anyone really think that this kind of action fosters national
unity? Such enforcement and displays of brute political strength have
nothing to do with national unity - but national fear.