Just what does 'merdeka' mean today?

SEPTEMBER 1 ― That iconic scene where Tunku Abdul Rahman cries out, “Merdeka!” gets me every time.

It was a pivotal moment in our nation’s history and from that point, we made our way as an independent nation... no longer a British colony. 

However, merdeka suggests something far wider. After all, what would be the point of the British departing if whoever came in their place ran our nation to the ground? Merdeka cannot simply be about changing the names of major roads!

I was alive when our nation celebrated its 20th independence anniversary and now I get to witness its 60th.

Yes, there has been tremendous economic development from 1957 till now. Yes, we have become a modern, fast paced nation. That is, in a sense, what merdeka is about.

However, the purchasing power of consumers and the falling value of the ringgit (back in school, I used to be able to order books from the US at RM2.50 to the dollar!) are indicators that the economy is not doing that well after all.

After all, if jobs are being lost and all we have to celebrate is BR1M, then we may be running on fumes, as it were.

So economically speaking, the level of our merdeka is diminishing. While our economy was once comparable to that of South Korea and Singapore, that is sadly no longer the case. And let’s face it, economic freedom is a key component in a nation’s progress.

But even that situation is not comparable to the erosion of the Malaysian identity.

During Tunku’s time and perhaps up till the late Seventies, we had a strong, cogent sense of what it means to be Malaysian. Now that is sadly no longer the case. There are two causes behind this: Malay racism and religious fanaticism.

Malay racism is unfortunately a useful political tool. By playing up to the sentiments of insecurity which was compounded by the Malays’ current ineptitude in the English language, certain political factions have encouraged a siege mentality.

These Malays then develop a sense of entitlement of the material and educational opportunities available. With this sense of entitlement, competitiveness becomes secondary.

It is far easier to simply claim one’s rights than to actually compete for them. Sadly, it is only through competition that we evolve. That is a natural fact.

How does this racism affect merdeka? Quite simply by stifling the developments of our fellow Malaysians. By reducing the opportunities available to Malaysians, we are effectively reducing the quality of our workforce.

Do you think hardworking Malaysians who make it overseas would care to return to a nation which treated them as second class citizens?

Religious fanaticism is the use of religious symbology to exert oppressive authority. In Malaysia, the increased budget and subsequently remit of the Islamic authorities have made them the main eroders of merdeka.

No longer can people be free not to observe Islamic rituals. Gender segregation is another tool which is often used to curb “immoralities.” Yet, the single parenthood and baby dumping continues.

Recently, a gathering of atheists attracted great attention and was used by politicians to gain some brownie points with the nation’s fanatics. If we are not merdeka to choose our own faith, what kind of merdeka do we really have?

After 60 years, isn't it time to take stock of who we are? Rather than simply drifting in the general direction we have been thus far, we should re-evaluate and shift our direction towards the true authentic meaning of merdeka.

* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.

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