On the Beat | By Wong Chun Wai

Truly standing up for our country, Malaysia

As Michelle Yeoh once put it, "one can practically smell a fellow Malaysian anywhere when one is overseas".

The last time fellow Malaysians and I sang aloud and with much passion the Negaraku and to raise the Jalur Gemilang was when we sailed on the Sea of Galilee. We were on a Christian pilgrimage in Jerusalem and amidst the spirituality, it warmed our hearts tremendously when we were able to display our national identity in such a manner.

In the run-up to our National Day, it is good that a debate has started over the playing of the national anthem at public events.

We should have no reservations about making it a practice for the national anthem to be played at all major sports and political events, irrespective of whether they are organised by the Government  or private  sector.

There is no reason why the practice should be restricted to school assemblies, the television and radio stations, and the weekly gathering of civil servants at the various ministries.

The national flag should also be flown by motorists, not just during the National Day celebrations, but at all times.

For a start, our leaders should take the lead by encouraging such a practice.

They should display these little flags on their cars, not just their official Perdana black cars but also their private cars.

But having said that, I hope our leaders and civil servants do not get too carried away in their efforts to promote the anthem and the flag.

Standing at attention and singing the national anthem do not make anyone a patriotic person. For example, a corrupt politician, who has been putting his fingers into the public coffers, surely cannot be considered a patriotic person.

Likewise, a Malaysian who is prepared to sacrifice national interest for foreigners, either for monetary or political interests, cannot claim to be loyal to our beloved country even if he has the Jalur Gemilang flying in his garden.

To put it simply, we should not measure the patriotism of Malaysians by the flying of flags or how they respond to the Negaraku. It would be a shame if that is how we gauge the level of loyalty.

We cannot force patriotism down the people's throat. I dare say that almost all Malay- sians are loyal to the country.

As much as the opposition politicians are sometimes labelled as anti-national and disloyal, the fact is that loyalty to the country does not mean loyalty to the ruling party. It's two different things.

The current issue is the playing of the national anthem in cinemas.

Although there was some confusion initially, it is good that Information Minister Datuk Seri Abdul Kadir Sheikh Fadzir has clarified that the singing of the national anthem before movie screenings would not be appropriate.

"Negaraku should only be sung at appropriate times and only when the occasion calls for it," he told reporters.

Many young Malaysians may not be aware of it but during the 1960s, the national anthem was played in cinemas.

And during those turbulent times, when the country was fighting communists and communalists, not everyone stood up when it was played. Some sat in defiance, ignoring the stares of other cinema-goers.

But in current day situations, I cannot imagine myself standing up, with my hands by my side, as the Negaraku is played before the movie comes on.

And as soon as it is over, it's back to business, watching Kungfu Hustle or the latest SenarioXX , with my hands in the popcorn packet this time.

But playing the national anthem at stadiums, particularly at sports event, is entirely different. We want to build up the passion, so to speak, before a game with another country.

Games involving fellow Malaysian teams should also include this ritual. Even in the United States and many European countries, the national anthem is played before a game starts.

On a trip to Thailand recently, I was surprised to find shoppers and traders standing in respect when the Thai national anthem was played at the closing time of Chatuchak market.

To put it in context, the current debate has helped many of us reflect on what it means to be a citizen of this blessed nation. I believe we should all be thankful and proud that we are Malaysians.

As we prepare to celebrate our 48th Merdeka Day on Aug 31, I believe all Malaysians already know how to stand up when the national anthem is played. We not only stand up for Negaraku, but we all truly stand up for our country.