TOMORROW is Malaysia Day. And it is extra special because it is the 50th anniversary of the formation of Malaysia.
It is a day when we need to remind ourselves that on this historic day back in 1963, Sabah and Sarawak (and also Singapore at that time before it left the federation two years later) helped to form Malaysia, and not that Sabah and Sarawak joined Malaysia.
Subtle differences like these also remind us that 50 years after the formation of Malaysia, many of us still lack a clear understanding of the differences and the similarities between two distinct geographical areas of the same nation.
The physical divide of the South China Sea sometimes pales into insignificance when we realise how little we know of one another even after all these years.
Tomorrow, the Malaysia Day parade will be held at Padang Merdeka in Kuching, Sarawak and graced by the Yang Di-Pertuan Agong Tuanku Abdul Halim Mu’adzam Shah and Raja Permaisuri Agong Tuanku Hajah Haminah.
Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak and his wife Datin Seri Rosmah Mansor, Deputy Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin and his wife Puan Sri Norainee Abdul Rahman, Chief Minister Tan Sri Abdul Taib Mahmud and his wife Puan Sri Ragad Kurdi Taib as well as Federal and state Cabinet ministers and their wives will also be attending.
It will be a big event. And it will be special.
For those of us who have taken the time to attend such national celebrations, we cannot but come away impressed with the pageantry as well as be touched by the diversity of our nation and how we are truly one nation.
In any country, the perspective from the centre, in our case the seat of power of the Federal Government, often takes precedence.
But as one former Federal Minister from Sabah pointed out four years ago when he applauded the decision to declare Sept 16 a public holiday, “it is a historical fact that the Federation of Malaysia was formed on Sept 16, 1963 when the Federation of Malaya, Singapore, Sarawak and Sabah mutually agreed to become a new nation.”
“The level of awareness among Malaysians in Semenanjung on the formation of Malaysia is lower than those in Sabah and Sarawak, so much so they believe Malaya or Semenanjung is Malaysia,” he wrote in his blog.
Be that as it may, the significance of both days must be duly recognised in the right context. In celebrating Malaysia Day, we do not diminish the significance of Merdeka Day.
But more important than the day itself, we need to celebrate our togetherness as one nation. And while there is a tendency to see things from the peninsula’s perspective, we also need to view things from the other side.
As one commentator recently put it, there is a need for more accurate and balanced reporting on the true roles of Sabah and Sarawak in Malaysia. There is a tendency, he wrote, to always talk about how the formation of Malaysia had brought progress to Sarawak and Sabah, while ignoring how the decision by Sarawak and Sabah to join the Federation of Malaya to form Malaysia had brought enormous benefits to the people of the peninsula states.
The debate can go on, but we as a people should focus on our relationships with one another, no matter which part of the country we come from.
Where there are good lessons to be learnt from others, we should.
In terms of racial and religious harmony, we in the peninsula can certainly learn much from our brothers and sisters in Sabah and Sarawak.
This is but one example of many in this diverse land of ours that are the real glue that binds us together.
Our early years as a nation were not without problems.
That we not only survived, but prospered, is an indication of the tenacity and perseverance of our people.
And so, on this 50th Malaysia Day, let us once again reach out to one another through the bridges that unite and not fall for the antics of the few who seek to build walls that divide. Happy Malaysia Day.
The Star Says The STAR Online Home Opinion Columnist Sunday September 15, 2013