The notion of “patriotism” being bought and flaunted for all and sundry to see is a perverted notion of patriotism, says Mustafa K Anuar.
In the lead-up to Hari Merdeka in August, preparations apparently are already under way to usher in this historic moment that is mostly celebrated by Peninsular Malaysians.
The rakyat are normally encouraged by political leaders to express their patriotism by flying the Jalur Gemilang at offices and homes and on vehicles — although other patriotic acts obviously can also occur all year round and in various manifestations.
The recent auctioning of the “Patriot” vanity vehicle plates by an obscure NGO, Yayasan Patriot Negara Malaysia (YPNM), however, appears to have taken patriotism — and the public expression of it — to a whole new level.
For the uninitiated, YPNM was reportedly commissioned by the Road Transport Department to conduct the auction, the proceeds of which are to be used by the YPNM to promote “patriotism.”
The reserve price for “Patriot 1” is said to be set at RM1m, a value that would make it the most expensive vehicle number plate in the country’s history. It is expected that YPNM would raise some RM10m from the project, a prospect that has raised many an eyebrow among many other equally patriotic Malaysians.
Apart from the controversy that surrounds the awarding of this vanity plate contract to the said NGO, this project is also seen to have put an exorbitant price to something that is normally priceless, i.e. patriotism. In fact, it has commercialised “patriotism” to such an extent that only the well-heeled are able to wear their love for the country on their sleeves, or in this case, their licence plates.
Furthermore, it is ironic for a few of these seemingly entrepreneurial leaders of the YPNM, who are also associated with the consumer movement, to have been involved in a scheme that encourages excessive profiteering from — of all things dear in life — patriotism!
Incidentally, if this vanity plate project was inspired by that of the Greater Boston-based New England Patriots Charitable Foundation, the YPNM should have at least spelt out to the public what their concrete programmes are that will be funded by these huge profits. It goes without saying that consumers have the right to know what they’re buying into — apart from acquiring the physical vanity plates.
It is a painful paradox that this so-called patriotic project involves the “sacrifice” of money as opposed to something non-monetary that ordinary citizens can participate in for the love of their country.
If patriotism is simply defined as the devoted love, support, and defence of one’s country, then a group of soldiers who have put their lives on the line in protecting and defending their country are indeed patriotic. In this case, no price tag can be put on their devotion and loyalty.
There were a few others who, in the line of duty, braced themselves for political intimidation and even threats to their lives. The late Tan Sri Ahmad Noordin Zakaria, Malaysia’s undaunted and outstanding Auditor General, comes to mind. He was relentless in his professional objective to save national coffers from bleeding as a result of corruption or chronic financial mismanagement in the nation’s administration.
Another is Jalil Ibrahim, the Bank Bumiputra auditor who was sent to Hong Kong in the 1980s to investigate the Bumiputra Malaysia Finance (BMF) scandal — and subsequently had his life snuffed out in the former British colony for merely doing the job that was assigned to him.
Excelling in sports and putting Malaysia on the world map through their sterling achievements is also an act of love for the country. Malaysia’s squash player Nicol David has carved a name for herself and placed the country on the international stage. National gymnast Farah Ann Abdul Hadi recently snatched a few medals in the Sea Asian Games in Singapore for her outstanding performance (even though some people preferred to focus on her “indecent” costume!).
There are, of course, unknown but conscientious Malaysians who in their small way attempt to save or protect, say, the physical environment from being destroyed by natural elements or predatory developers.
There are also those little men and women who risk their jobs, if not liberty, when giving inside information as part of their effort to fight against endemic corruption in high places.
And there are those who resort to the pen or keyboard to give constructive criticism in the hope that they can help improve conditions in society- just as satirical cartoonists make those strokes on paper to raise awareness about social distortions and wrongs that need to be righted.
The point is, patriotism is often a selfless dedication to the country by conscientious and diligent citizens whose priceless contributions are recognised as exemplary. The selling of the “patriot” vanity plates mocks the very concept of patriotic acts.
To reiterate, selfless actions clearly do not sit well with the notion of “patriotism” being bought and flaunted for all and sundry to see. It is even jarring if they are juxtaposed against the action of selling “patriotism” to the highest bidder. Put another way, it is a perverted notion of patriotism.
This profit-motive kind of patriotism would put a slightly different twist to the maxim: patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel.