It is that time of the year again when the government comes up with a national campaign to rally all Malaysians to come together, not only to celebrate the country’s independence from colonial rule but also to instill pride among its citizens.
This year’s Merdeka celebration is different; it is the first time in the country’s young history that we have a new government, and a lot of Malaysians feel that we have more reasons to celebrate, that this year’s celebration is more meaningful.
In this new Malaysia, we are not only celebrating our independence but we also celebrating freeing ourselves from the perceived yoke of Barisan Nasional rule.
Truth be told, when I first read about this year's National Day theme “Sayangi Malaysiaku” (Love My Malaysia), something didn’t feel right. My initial thought was, not only was it a grammatical misnomer, the message felt a little bit confrontational too, divisive even.
I’m in no way an expert in the national language but I would like to think that the message is intended for all Malaysians, is it not? If so, then why are we being asked to love someone’s Malaysia?
I can’t speak for anyone but that is how it felt to me.
Call it occupational hazard, if you will, I can’t help but wonder how the thinking process behind the theme was; was there a strategic method followed behind the development of this idea? Was it a proposal from an agency? Or was it conceptualised by an individual or a handful few?
I can only wonder.
But before I could stop wondering, upon seeing the logo - meant to be the visual manifestation of the National Day theme – and reading the rationale given, it made me ask more questions.
In all honesty, I found the rationale to be weak. It was obvious to me that it was post-rationalised, done backwards and without following the universally accepted and practiced process of designing logos; logos should be the manifestation of the thinking, and not the other way around.
(According to Communications and Multimedia Ministry Gobind Singh Deo, the logo aims to portray Malaysians of different races living in diversity, harmony and unity)
The logo - created by Nik Zulkifli Nik Hitam and selected from 632 entries received by ministry - and the subsequent explanation didn’t explain how, or which aspect of the logo elements represented the virtues of “diversity”, “harmony” and “unity”. Was it the “3 humans”? Was it the heart?
It also didn’t explain who the three people represented. My initial thought was that the three humans were meant to symbolise the three main races in Peninsular Malaysia, the same thoughts shared by other designers when I asked them.
In most design cases, less is more; simplicity is the key to creating a successful Brand or Campaign Identity. In the case of the “Sayangi MalaysiaKu” logo, the more the designer tried to connect the colors used to explain its meaning, the more it didn’t make sense to me, and the more I believed that the rationale came after the logo was developed.
Anyway, going back to the theme, as mentioned above, I find it to be a tad bit provocative and divisive, considering that what we need in this new Malaysia is for the people to be united, regardless of color and creed, and yes, even political affiliations too.
But I’m not getting that impression with this year’s theme; what I’m getting is that we are asked to love someone’s Malaysia, that somehow there exists two sets of Malaysia.
Unless the message is meant for non-Malaysians – which is highly unlikely – then it makes perfect sense. Maybe that’s the thinking behind it?
On a positive note, at least we have moved away from putting the number of years the country is supposed to be celebrating, a recent past practice that is very insensitive and tend to alienate the people of Borneo. But that is a topic for another time.
Suffice to say, with the Malaysia Day celebrations this year being held in the beautiful state of Sabah and it is not far fetched to think that the people of the “Land Below the Wind” will find the theme rather interesting, and surely, something that would make for a good conversation.
What does Merdeka mean?
To conclude, allow me to leave each and every Malaysian with these thoughts:
Is Merdeka felt through expensive campaigns on the internet or television?
Or found in the rhetorical words of our politicians?
Is Merdeka understood and felt through the pop songs that appear once a year in August, only to be forgotten for the next 11 months?
Merdeka will never be felt when Malaysians have leaders who do not uphold their promises to the people.
Merdeka, truly, is only when our people are free from persecution, instability and poverty, when they can pursue their dreams and inspire success, regardless of their backgrounds, to make this country proud.
Merdeka can only be felt through a united Malaysia, where Malaysians do not see unity through polarised eyes, and where religion, race, and political identity do not matter.
Merdeka is only felt in the breath of her people, who live in peace and harmony, when we fight for those in need, and be cognizant and guide every Malaysians’ struggle to impart infinite love for our beloved country.