NegaraKu at the movies wont go with the popcorn

If I were given a ringgit for every simplistic idea our beloved Malaysian government proposed and implemented, I am fairly certain that I would be as disgustingly rich as those failed Malaysian tycoons that thrived on government privatisation projects.

My latest ringgit would have been courtesy of the secretary-general of the Information Ministry, Dr Arshad Hashim, who all but wrote the cheque to me when he announced that the government will be ordering cinemas nationwide to play the NegaraKu before the movie starts.

Besides this venue, the good doctor has also prescribed that the national anthem be played before the start of official government functions and at all kindergartens, schools and institutions of higher learning.

The declared reason for this is '... a move to honour the national anthem and arrest the declining respect for it'. The irrefutable evidence for this is '... the attitude of some Malaysians who do not respect the national anthem when it is played and there were also schoolchildren who failed to memorise the lyrics.' What is more, even in sporting events '... there were also athletes who did not even sing when the national anthem when it was played'.

In short, because some Malaysians, a bunch of kids and some athletes don't sing the anthem, the rest of us have to suffer. This is the typical ass-backwards type of reasoning that is commonly applied in governmental policy.

Firstly, honouring the national anthem is not an end in itself but a mere side effect. The honour that we give to our anthem is directly related to our sense of belonging and pride in our country. The doctor should be focusing on the root causes of this phenomenon instead of its effect like a good doctor should.

One does not cure a cold by stopping the sneeze. The doctor would find many causes to explore and would find a great deal to think about even if he merely limited himself to exploring the effect of institutionalised racism and religious imperialism on patriotism.

Secondly, has the doctor done any research or has even a shred of evidence to support the notion that playing the anthem at governmental functions, movies and kindergardens is going to result in more people honouring it?

Would it result in a wild upswing in terms of respect for it? And why just there? Why not in the kampung? Why not before every programme on TV? This idea has all the hallmarks of sloppy (or lack of) thinking, lack of supportive evidence, and too much idle time filled with loose talk.

Thirdly, why is it that every time a small segment of society 'misbehaves, government policy is immediately formulated at some petty function (his announcement was made at 'a gathering to instill love and affection for the NegaraKu for staff of the Information Department and Bernama') and then implemented on everybody else?

Why isn't action just taken against those who have misbehaved? This mentality is just endemic in Malaysian government policy. Or are these announcements made merely so that these petty government officials can have their Warholian fame?

Fourthly, the good doctor should also study why it is the Malaysian government is so obsessed with this deadly combination of extreme materialism and shallow patriotism. How patriotic we are does not depend on how many cheap plastic flags we stick on our car near National Day, nor does it depend on whether we stand up and sing along during the anthem just before the movie 'White Chicks' comes on.

Patriotism is a daily occurrence. We are patriotic when we obey our country's laws. We are patriotic when we take the trouble to speak up about things we don't like happening in our country (especially if it's done by the government).

We are patriotic when we promote the good things about each other and our country, and overlook and try to make good the bad things. We are patriotic when we share, care and help our fellow citizen irrespective of race, religion or gender. And finally, we are patriotic when we ask what we can do for our country, and not what our country can do for us.

Fifthly, the good doctor also mentioned that in the past, the cinemas used to play the national anthem before the start of a movie and he wants to revive this. Firstly, now is not then. Times, people and ideas have changed.

We are no longer in the early throes of nationalism anymore. Secondly, doing something simply because it was done before usually is not a good idea. We cannot go back to how things were simply by re-enacting what was done back then.

Thirdly, playing the anthem in our movie theatres may backfire and result in the anthem being even more cheapened and disrespected since it is played at casual and frivolous occasions. We are not like the Thais who have such deep respect for their king that they leap to attention whenever the royal anthem is played.

I sincerely hope the good doctor would reconsider this futile and simplistic idea, and direct his simple mind and efforts to more fundamental and no less pressing issues affecting our country.

And I, of course, hope that he would write me that cheque for one ringgit.