What is National Identity?


So there's a new group of wanna be do gooders in town who are determined to do something to better their country. Apparently the people behind this group decided that bitching and moaning isn't going to solve the problems plaguing us. They've put out a video that was intended to unite us all and forage a national identity that we can be proud of.

When the video was making its rounds, the first thing the cynic in me asked was: What's this group's motive?

Many of my friends stated on facebook that they thought that the We are Majulah video was created by a brownnoser who wanted to score brownie points. Some others have even said that the video is blatant propaganda. I guess that that the video's quip about people being cynical was a self fulfilling prophecy after all. A Malay friend even pointed out that the group completely misunderstood and butchered one of their language's most elegant words.

I can understand why much of the criticism swirling around the video has been focused on the "will you die for your country" part of the video. Will you die for your country is a question that's deeply personal to many of us. Most of us either talk big and proclaim "Yes! I will die for my country!" or recoil and say "Why should I?" It is question that most of us can't definitely answer because there is no existential threat in front of us.

We're not clairvoyant. We don't know for sure what we would actually do to survive because we haven't lived through wars like our parents or grandparents have. So what kind of sacrifice would you make for your country? Give up two years of your personal freedom and your physical prime to help contribute to the defense of your nation? Give up your lifelong home and community relationships so environmentalists can force the government to build their MRT line somewhere else?

We always think that sacrifice is measured by how much you give up. These days proclaiming that you will die for your country reeks of pseudo patriotism and idealism. There are many of us who feel disillusioned because we feel like we've fallen through the cracks while others have benefitted.

I asked some friends (guy friends mind you), if there was anything worth dying for. They all gave me this familiar refrain: I would die to protect my family or loved ones. One person even added the caveat that he didn't want to die needlessly during peacetime. None of my friends never felt the need to wrap themselves up with the flag and proclaim: give me liberty or give me death (probably because they knew they'd be made fun of).

We are Majulah hoped that its name would be a slogan that could be used as a clarion call to unity like what We are Charlie Hedo or even Malaysia Boleh has been to their respective nations. But the group seems to have missed the point. National Identity is not something that you can define with one video as a clumsy attempt at starting a dialog.  National Identity is similar to what what some philosophers have said about the soul: No nation is born with an identity. It is something they earn through suffering and thought and yes, maybe even a little prayer.

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