Finding strength in adversity

Alifah Zainuddin


MALAYSIA marked its Merdeka Day this year in an unusually sombre mood as an extended restriction on movement and the emergence of new coronavirus clusters caused many Malaysians to pull back from their usual celebrations.

Fireworks shows were cancelled and the national day parade was called off, voiding the celebration of joyful colours and public displays of civic pride.

Many Malaysians celebrated Merdeka Day where they have been for months — at home.

Some had hoped the holiday would put the flags out that the worst of the pandemic had passed, but the rise of new clusters proved that the battle was far from over. Daily infections spiked to its highest in two weeks on the eve of celebrations, prompting the government to continue with controlled movement restrictions until Dec 31 and toughen penalties for flouting confinement orders.

Hundreds of thousands, if not millions, have either lost their jobs or seen cuts to their income, as lockdown measures on businesses and households saw Malaysia’s economy shrank 17.1% in the second quarter, the country’s worst showing in over two decades.

2020 was also supposed to be the year the country achieved developed status, but the target has since been delayed to 2025, one might add, in the true spirit of the nation’s relaxed approach to time.

Democracy too is in shambles after a political coup in February forced a new government to take shape in a form that continues to transmogrify. History was made when former Prime Minister Datuk Seri Mohd Najib Razak became the country’s first leader to be convicted of graft in July.

If 1957 served as a milestone for independence, 2020 certainly sets the milestone for adversity. Amid the chaos, however, there is truth to be found and that the nation’s strength is often overlooked.

At a time when morality is scarce, that strength today is kindness. The #KitaJagaKita movement has borne witness that the Merdeka spirit is well and alive albeit in small pockets of society. No matter how divided the society is, there are always efforts to keep Malaysians united and organised.

Whether it’s a nine-year-old using her time off from school to sew protective gears for medical workers in Kuala Pilah, Negri Sembilan, or a couple working to distribute vegetables bought from farmers to rural folks in Kg Baru, Pahang, Malaysians are holding themselves accountable for their own communities and are showing strength in unity.

Whether they realise it or not, these are the people who are responding to Tunku Abdul Rahman’s call for service: To work and strive with hand and brain to create a new nation, inspired by the ideals of justice and liberty — a beacon of light in a disturbed and distracted world.

The story of independence has always been a tale of perseverance, about how victory is not granted so easily. Success lies in a nation’s strength to persist against all odds to achieve what it sets out to do.

“Let no one think we have reached the end of the road: Independence is indeed a milestone, but it is only the threshold to high endeavour — the creation of a new and sovereign state.”

Alifah Zainuddin is a writer at The Malaysian Reserve.