What genuine patriotism entails

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It is beyond flying our national flag, singing the national anthem, or just feeling patriotic, which are good, but not enough.

Come August every year, citizens would be reminded to fly the Jalur Gemilang as National Day approaches on Aug 31 and soon after Malaysia Day on Sep 16. Many government agencies would also place numerous national flags flat on their office windows, walls, and even fences.

At one time, large number of mini flags were distributed to be stuck on cars, but those dropped off were callously rolled over. Some owners adorned their vehicles, trishaws, and bicycles with a large number of flags, and they were touted by the media as being patriotic instead of showing-off.

Conversely, shops not flying the national flag in the months of August and September were warned that action could be taken against them by the local authorities. Their enforcement officers regularly participated in flag-raising ceremonies and singing of our national anthem.

These uniformed staff appeared to be very patriotic especially when belting out Negaraku with gusto while watching or saluting the Jalur Gemilang being hoisted. But for those who were on the take or have shirked enforcement responsibilities, could they still be considered as patriotic?

When it comes to cheering our sportsmen and sportswomen, is it patriotism or nationalism? The same fervour could also be displayed by ardent fans of football clubs, such as those in the English Premier League. But fans may not stay loyal as they could easily switch their support.

At a talk held by the Council of Federal Datuks Malaysia on “Understanding loyalty and patriotism to King and country” held via Zoom last month, a UiTM professor blamed the lack of patriotism among youths on the ignorance and poor understanding of the Rukun Negara.

She disclosed that university students have not been practising in hoisting the Jalur Gemilang and reciting the Rukun Negara. She asserted that patriotism was not something you can just teach, as it must begin at home, where parents should teach their children to love their homeland.

But people learned mostly by copying the actions and behaviours of their elders and leaders, and less from their teachings or beliefs. Children tend to imitate their parents or guardians, and supporters follow their leaders with the fervent hope of getting what they want or were promised.

However, understanding relevant knowledge and expressing patriotic feelings alone do not make one patriotic if not translated into positive actions. Otherwise, it remains as superficial patriotism. To be patriotic, citizens must contribute to the betterment of our country or society.

It is beyond flying our national flag, singing the national anthem, or just feeling patriotic, which are good, but not enough. Although heroic acts for the country are patriotism admired universally, there are also large numbers of civilians in our midst that could also be considered as patriots.

They include those that earned high income or generated huge profits and paid their rightful share of taxes without evading them. They are the individual and corporate citizens that helped fill government coffers needed to fund our country’s operating and development expenditures.

On the other hand, the 1.71 million civil servants generated no profit for the country. While competent government officials with integrity ensured our nation continued to run like clockwork, there is also a large number of deadwood that contributed little or next to nothing.

But even worse are those taking bribes or involved in leakages, pilferages, or wastages. At many government departments, bureaucratic procedures, lack of transparency and organised chaos are the norm, as they were put in place more by design to facilitate corruption.

The millions of documented and illegal foreign workers in our country are clear testimonies that many of our politicians and civil servants have failed to place the nation’s interest above all else, resulting in the rakyat suffering from low wages while enriching a few.

When it comes to charity, almost everyone can donate. Those short of money could contribute their time in voluntary work, and those with useful talents could write and share ideas or conduct training for others keen to learn. Caring for others and even for oneself is also patriotism.

Those who exercise to keep fit and healthy and do not overeat so as not to be overweight or obese are patriots. In the 2019 National Health and Morbidity Survey, over half of Malaysian adults were overweight or obese. We have long held the crown as the fattest people in Asia.

Obesity is a risk factor for non-communicable diseases like type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and several types of cancers such as breast, large intestine, pancreas, and kidney cancers. Our government hospitals and clinics have long been overwhelmed with too many sick patients.

During this pandemic, those who adhered strictly to the SOPs to avoid contracting or spreading Covid-19 could also be deemed patriotic, while others were only fearful of being summoned and they could be seen without masks or not worn properly or practising physical distancing.

As on Aug 3, the total number of Covid-19 cases recorded in the country was 1,163,291, and likely to reach two million by the end of September. Clearly, this showed a huge number of people lacking in civic consciousness and patriotism by throwing caution to the wind.

The UiTM professor also said the government’s repeated campaigns to instill patriotism had not worked simply because the spirit of the Rukun Negara had not been fully understood. That may be true, but ultimately, actions speak louder than words as people learn more through examples.

But sadly, the leadership has been setting bad examples over the past decades until today. And even more tragically, patriotism will continue to be promoted as nothing more than flying the national flag and singing the national anthem, as done mechanically over the past decades.

Alas, our nation will continue without being guided by our national philosophy. And just like religious or moral studies, Rukun Negara is learned by rote with superficial understanding and little application, made worse by teachers. parents and leaders continuing to set bad examples.

Hence, we will be continuing with superficial patriotism and our fabric of society will remain weak, easily shredded by pandemics and challenges. What we need is a strong political leader with integrity and genuine patriotism to lift our entire nation and all its citizens out of this hole.

The views expressed here are strictly those of The True Net reader YS Chan from Kuala Lumpur.