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2006-08-31,1:54 PM

One Simple Message: Proud to be Malaysian, 49th National Day

KUALA LUMPUR: "To fly or not to fly the flag" may be something 23-year-old Felicia Ong and her friends debate about, but all of them agree on one thing: they are proud to be Malaysians. And they are not alone.

Nine out of 10 Malaysians said they felt immense pride living in a country which continued to be peaceful and stable after 49 years of Independence. Nine out of 10 also said they saw a future for themselves here.

"I am so proud of being Malaysian. Although there are still things to be improved, we enjoy a peaceful atmosphere and the economy is not bad. You cannot find this diversity elsewhere," Ong said.

She was one of 1,030 Malaysians, aged between 18 and 30, polled in a survey commissioned by the New Straits Times on what Merdeka meant to the country’s younger generation.

Conducted by the Merdeka Centre and sponsored by telecommunications company Digi, the survey’s aim was to find out young Malaysians’ thought about the country, being Malaysian, their aspirations and concerns.

Johan Ismeth Emir, 18, said: "Malaysians are Malaysians, and we are all in this together.

"I am against statements about Malay being Malay and Chinese being Chinese, and so on. I consider myself ‘Bangsa Malaysia’."

This sentiment was echoed by El-Joel Teoraj Paul. "I was brought up in a Malaysian culture. I believe in the Malaysian spirit and culture. So, I see myself as Malaysian first," said the 20-year-old of Indian and Chinese parentage.

Eight out of 10 said they never thought of emigrating to another country. Those who said they had, cited reasons such as economic opportunities or personal development.

Johan, who wished to work abroad in future, said wanting to go abroad did not mean less love for the country.

"Of course, I love Malaysia. I had been to many countries but there is no place like Malaysia.

"But, for personal development, I would like to study and live abroad. But I’ll come back eventually."

A majority (75 per cent) of the respondents were satisfied with the conditions in the country, although some were concerned with the economic stagnation.

What about their thoughts on patriotism such as flying the Jalur Gemilang? Looks like the young Malaysians were split on their views, with 54 per cent saying putting up flags was meaningful, and 43 per cent believing writing a letter to the newspaper over some issue was patriotic.

Paul felt that there were different levels of expression.

"It boils down to what you feel about the nation. It may be waving flags or writing letters voicing your opinion. But, is it genuine? That is what matters most," he said.

But 22-year-old Lena Abdullah had a different view.

"I think people under-estimate the power of the flag. Some may think it is just a flag, but for me, personally putting up a flag involves some measure of intent to show your patriotism and some effort to actually go get one and put it up every year.

"It is a sense of pride that says ‘I don’t care if this huge flag looks somewhat silly plastered on my car bonnet, this is my declaration’."

The survey showed that a fifth of young Malaysians watched the National Day parade every year, and more than half had attended the parade at some point in their life.

There were, however, some slightly alarming points raised in the survey.

Only three out of 10 knew that this year would be the country’s 49th anniversary.

And one in five did not know who the nation’s first prime minister was, with some naming Tun Abdul Razak, Tun Hussein Onn or other figures.

"More than a third who had just completed secondary school did not know that Tunku Abdul Rahman was the first prime minister," said Merdeka Centre director Ibrahim Suffian.

On a more challenging question, only one in 10 knew that the first King hailed from Negri Sembilan. The vast majority had no clue.

It was clear from the survey that racial harmony was important to youths. Most cited May 13, 1969 as the most significant event in the country’s history since achieving Independence in 1957.

"It remains imprinted as a landmark event even though all the respondents were born after that date," Ibrahim said.

Ong believed youths considered the event important due to the realisation that tolerance in a country such as Malaysia was crucial.

"It is also an element of fear. When I saw what happened during the race riots in Indonesia years ago, I realised that every one of us had to be tolerant or we could turn out like that. It was scary."

For Lena, the date May 13, 1969 triggered more of a reaction than Aug 31, 1957 because it was an event filled with fear, blood and death.

"I may not know what truly happened, but the way my parents and the older generation talk about it brings up a lot of dark thoughts. We imagine the worse that can happen if we do not work at racial unity."

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