It’s a staple (overused cliché?) in blockbuster plot lines: faced with a seemingly insurmountable obstacle, humanity bands together, and against all odds succeeds in overcoming it. The commercial success of movies such as Independence Day (1996) and others which followed illustrates the narrative’s popularity (or cinema’s marketing prowess and celebrity appeal). After all, what’s not to like about an exciting Hollywood epic where the underdogs pull through only by uniting with one another. In this case, art imitates life. The parallels are more than clear on Malaysia’s very own Hari Merdeka- our Independence Day.
In contrast to many other countries, where multiculturalist politics serve as a means to adapt to changing national identities, the Federation of Malaysia was founded 59 years ago with multiculturalism itself as our national identity. Malaysians came together with the knowledge that regardless of their differing backgrounds, they were all a part of this great adventure, facing adversity together as citizens of a new nation. Those years since have not been easy, and it is only through the sacrifice of previous generations that my own today enjoys the opportunities we are fortunate enough to have.
Undoubtedly, many challenges for the country remain. Despite progress, 300,000 are still below the national poverty line (US$8.50 per day in 2012) and many more struggle to make ends meet, compounded by rising costs of goods. It is often far too easy to feel distant from these fellow Malaysians in our privileged bubble, and I am humbled by the fact that nothing more than a lucky draw in the ballot of life makes an immense difference in standards of living. Access to quality education to address this should remain a serious priority in line with the Malaysia Education Blueprint, especially for the Orang Asli population, which sees just 6% of children complete both primary and secondary school. Beyond opening doors for individuals, the skills acquired through an education system fit for the future will be vital in ensuring Malaysia remains competitive in the global marketplace, and innovates to protect our natural environment.
Malaysia must also be sure to take its place on the international stage. The past month has seen the country hold the rotating presidency of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) for the second time, during which we emphasised “the peaceful resolution of conflict, moderation, the protection of civilians, and the rule of law”, anchaired a UNSC open debate on the non-proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction. While such contributions are positive, we should look to commit ourselves further to UN principles and fundamental freedoms through the ratification of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), as well as the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR). These core human rights treaties derived from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights have 168 and 164 UN member states already party to them respectively- Malaysia would do well to join them.
Through it all, we’ve never forgotten that we’re not strong in spite of our diversity, but because of it. After all, who can argue that’s not the case with the food? Challenges await, and we will have to meet them head on and united as others have before. Malaysia has come a long way from 1957- let’s keep moving forward. At the end of the day, there’s no place on Earth quite like it.
Selamat Hari Merdeka!