Repost: National Day & Independence Day - Any Significant Difference?
The following is a post I put up on 17 February 2007 complaining about the re-writing of Malaysian history. Now that the my main bone of contention is approaching (31 August) it is time for a re-read. I brought thsi issue up with a journalist at the New Straits Times as they run Merdeka (independence) special stories everyday to commemorate the event, but clearly they cannot even be bothered to at least put up an article that speaks of the truth-but why let the truth get in the way of a good story?
A brief historical run down. The Federation of Malaya was formed on 31 August 1957. The Federation of Malaysia was formed on 16 September 1963 incorporating 4 entities (Malaya, Singapore, Sabah and Sarawak). Singapore subsequently left in 1965. The original plan was to have the federation formed on 31 August 1963 but due to objections by Indonesia and the Philippines it was delayed 17 days. Singapore, Sabah and Sarawak became self-governing entities on 31 August 1963 as the British ceded control, and became part of the NEW country called Malaysia on 16 September 1963.
Ok, here's the original post.
Once again, for the umpteenth time I read a newpaper article about 50 years of independence-once again based on the false premise of 31 August 1957. First I need to make clear two points:
(a) The press freely trumpets Malaysia's impending 50th year of independence when that is clearly false-Malaysia was formed on 16 September 1963, and,
(b) that, at the very least, in the spirit of compromise and understanding the concept of independence and national days need to be distinguised, as far as Malaysia is concerned.
History is very clear on one thing blatantly ignored by practically all and sundry: that the Federation of Malaya was formed on 31 August 1957 upon being granted independence by the British. The Federation of Malaya than joined forces with Singapore, Sarawak and Sabah (then North Borneo) to form the Federation of Malaysia on 16 September 1963.
Obviously, Malayan independence remains an important facet of Malaysian history. This is due to a number of reasons, not least the pride many have for the successes Malaysia has achieved in its short history as an independent nation. But it is also important because it is presented in school history textbooks in a manner that implies that Malayan history is the default Malaysian history. This is clear when we witness the paucity of history pertaining to both Sabah and Sarawak in our high school history textbooks.
I'm not going to attack those who couldn't be bothered about this matter-certainly, there are more important issues afflicting the country than the supposed day of celebration to denote one of two events (independence and/or national day). However, until such time as the nation's citizens understand the proper history of the country, we cannot pretend to know our country. History needs to be painted accurately, as much as possible, a position historians Herodotus onwards endeavour to make clear despite continuous attempts by politicians and parties with vested interests to skew history in their favour.
At a time when Malaysia Day is not even a public holiday (except in Sabah where it is shared with the Governor's official birthday) it is imperative that a more accurate depiction of the nation is presented without throwing out the recent past. By this I mean that 31 August is now firmly etched in the minds of the people to the extent that 16 September simply is not going to raise the same level of unity. As well, the vested powers will no doubt oppose such a change-it would be an admission of guilt of the continuing chauvinism shown by the federal government towards Sabah and Sarawak. And to be fair, the misrepresentation of history has already made many Sabahans (I don't know about Sarawakians) ambivalent about such issues.
Tunku Abdul Rahman wanted Malaysia to come into being on 31 August 1963 and everything was going as planned until Indonesian and Filipino objections forced the UN to send the Cobbold Commission to ascertain the views of Sabahan and Sarawakians. They found in favour of the formation of Malaysia which eventually occurred on 16 September 1963. However, in the interim the British vacated Sabah, Sarawak and Singapore and these three territories governed themselves in this period. In a sense, independence arrived in these 3 territories on 31 August 1963.
Now, why can't we celebrate independence day on 31 August but without a reference year? Who cares if it is 1957 or 1963?; at least it is a true reflection of independence. National day then need no longer be on 31 August as well, for it is clearly not the national day. Malaysia Day is the national day, and must remain on the 16th of September, and be played up more in the national psyche as opposed to 31 August.
This is not even a debate, except when Pairin brought it up during his tenure in opposition. Now that he's back in government, he shuts up. It is a pity that 44 (and not 50!) years since the country has come into being that it cannot even celebrate on the right day. Perhaps a compromise on 31 August is a fair way to make things right. But I wouldn't bother holding my breath. If it ever occurs at all, it'll be a long time from now when Malaysians can truly be free to debate such issues without the overriding caveat (in the hands of the government) that we are disrupting national unity and hence, an excuse to shut the debate down. A debate that will embarass the government no end.