Go red on 22nd July for Sarawak Solidarity
Sarawak is seeing a period of immense change.

The last three years have seen enormous positive steps, from the establishment of a Sarawak-based taskforce to examine the issues of statelessness, to the announcement of a team heading for London to examine the state’s legal position under the Malaysia Agreement 1963 to even the celebration of 22nd July as a public holiday.

Sarawak has much to celebrate and yet, the people of Sarawak cannot afford to take this for granted.

The fight for full recognition of our rights under the Malaysia Agreement 1963 is still at the beginning and there is much distance to cover.

We still face problems with finance from the Federal Government, from oil revenues to tourism tax to stamp duty; we still face attacks on our religious freedoms in the spectre of Hudud law; our cultural uniqueness is still being ignored in the recent announcement that police officers will be banned from having tattoos.

This is why, on this 22nd July 2017, S4S and SADIA are asking Sarawakians to come out wearing red, both as a sign of solidarity and as a sign that we are still seeing red.

Sarawak must stand together to show that we support the State Government’s direction, but also that we still see the problems in our state and that we no longer accept the status quo.

Wear red to the coffeeshop, wear red to go shopping, wear red to the kebun! If you want to mix with other Sarawakians who feel the same way, the reason Why we are here at the Museum Gardens On 22nd July to show your support and to stand together and meet new friends and like minds.

The police have been informed and support the gathering. Let us show our solidarity, let us show our determination, let us show that we are serious in our fight for our rights under MA63.

Despite great growth, the fight must continue. Our new Chief Minister, affectionately Abang Jo, has taken on the mantle of the late and greatly mourned Tok Nan.

They both have created an atmosphere in which Sarawakians can openly consider their position in Malaysia, in which we can question the disparities between East and West, in which we can begin to demand our fair share.

Pride in Sarawak is high in the flying of our flag, the promotion of our own languages and even the wearing of traditional tattoos.

We have been given an example of what is possible when the state is given charge of its own issues of statelessness as the taskforce under Datuk Fatimah actively seeks to redress the long-term stateless in Sarawak and especially, the stateless children.

We have seen our representatives, like Abang Abdul Karim Hamzah, stand up for our rights and bravely face up to abuse from Federal Ministers on our behalf. We should indeed give thanks for this.

But the progress so far is largely in ideals and the concrete gains are yet to come.

Problems still remain and we must fight for the solutions. Issues of statelessness persist in Sarawak, caused by a lack of understanding of the geographical and social circumstances in our state and the importance and legal standing of our Adat.

The statelessness taskforce must become a permanent division within JPN and Sarawak must have an active role in creating national policy on citizenship that takes into account our history and specific challenges. In addition, our State Government is not properly consulted on taxation decisions that affect Sarawak citizens and still does not receive its fair share of the income.

When a tourism tax is passed by the Federal government, albeit one with minority representation from Sarawak, it becomes clear that the state’s tourism players have not been consulted on its implementation and timetable or even informed as to its distribution.

Even worse, when an esteemed Minister from Sarawak dares to raise a query, he is treated with contempt unfit for a person of high office. The fight for our oil revenues is yet to come.

Just recently, an edict has been issued by the IPG that policemen will be banned from having tattoos despite the long cultural tradition of our tattooed warriors.

Sarawak is one of the oldest tattooing cultures in the world – a culture in which tattoos are revered as the mark of a great warrior, communicating status and conferring protection on their wearer.

Now, thankfully, the cultural importance of tattoos is being rediscovered and they are becoming one of our most important tourism exports.

Yet, the police force is creating a rule that will prevent a new generation of young Sarawak warriors from entering the service of their nation. This is like asking a Sikh to remove his turban – a lack of cultural understanding at best and cultural discrimination at worst.

This 22nd July, Sarawak must indeed celebrate its gains on a new public holiday. Its citizens must enjoy being special and Sarawakian on this historical day.

But, its citizens must also look ahead to the future, to the fight ahead. So, come to the Museum Gardens to mingle and learn, discuss and debate, meet new friends and show why we are truly a city of unity.

We are united in our push to achieve our full rights under the Malaysia Agreement 1963 and we are united behind a State Government that is moving towards this.

Let the people see a sea of red, one of our State’s colours and an expression of our intent. We love Sarawak and will ensure that our state gets everything it deserves.

The Malaysia Agreement 1963 was intended to create the basis for national unity. The very idea that it was an agreement, negotiated and signed by all the different parties, was key and its terms and conditions reflected the very real concern felt by all the various parties that this union would need to be carefully managed if it were to be successful – as Lord Cobbold put it, each partner would need to maintain its own ‘individualities’.

Without the various safeguards in the Malaysia Agreement, it is almost certain that Malaysia would never have existed.

Now, 54 years later, Sarawakians feel that many of the terms of this agreement have been ignored. Many of the concerns that the signatories and those they represented raised have indeed come to pass.

Sarawak has lost its oil revenues. Sarawak has not achieved the economic potential of West Malaysia, despite its wealth of natural resources and talents.

Sarawak is under-represented at the highest forms of government and business. Sarawak does not receive its fair share of tax revenues or development expenditure. Sarawak’s history is rarely taught. Sarawak’s economic and cultural identity has been eclipsed by Malaya’s.

However, despite these concerns, Sarawak has not given up on the idea of Malaysia yet. After 54 years of union, Malaysia still means something – if nothing else as a potential that has yet to be realized. It is wrong to say that Malaysia is at an end.

It is more accurate to say that Malaysia never truly began. For Sarawak, the promises made in the Malaysia Agreement must be honoured before the partnership can truly start.

Sarawak did not agree to be one state out of thirteen. Sarawak did not agree to be economically downtrodden. Sarawak did not join Malaysia, it formed Malaysia.

Sarawak formed Malaysia to build a new nation, not to be tacked onto an existing one like a poor cousin. The Malaysia that has existed for the last 54 years has been Malaysia in name only and, until the terms of our founding agreement are met in full, that will continue to be the case.

It is unfair to say that Sarawakians reject Malaysia or a Malaysian identity. This is a way to paint Sarawak as the troublemaker; the delinquent.

Sarawak is not rejecting Malaysia, it is attempting to build the Malaysia it was promised. They may reject a Malaysia in which their cultural uniqueness is not represented. They may reject a Malaysia in which their development comes second to the other 12 states.

They may reject a Malaysia which promotes the dominance of a Malayan identity, including Hudud and the Allah issue, as well as the universal celebration of Malaya’s Independence Day instead of the day of the formation of our nation.

They may reject a Malaysia in which the natives of Sabah and Sarawak are consigned to be ‘lain-lain’ and the police are forbidden from getting tattoos, despite the long tradition of Sarawak’s great tattooed warriors.

Sarawak has accepted an unequal Malaysia in which it has been marginalized for many years. Simply asking for what we were promised is not unreasonable and any attempts to paint Sarawak as demanding or difficult for asking for its dues are unwarranted. Sarawak only wants what is fair. Sarawak wants the nation it signed up for.

The calls for greater autonomy are not the end of national unity. In fact, greater autonomy for each region can be the new basis for national unity and a new national identity. Malaysia is famous for being a multi-cultural nation and yet we do not fully celebrate our regional uniqueness – instead it is masked in a racial blanket.

Autonomy can give us the chance to celebrate our diversity, not just in name but also in reality.

Each region of Malaysia has its own fascinating history that should be taught. Our differences should never be the end of any relationship.

In fact, they should be the basis of one. The circumstances of our union should not be forgotten, unique as they are, they should be taught in every school and discussed in every coffeeshop with pride.

But that can only be done if our nation has lived up to its own goals. Now is the time for Malaysia to start doing so. Then we can all be proud to be part of this new nation our forefathers foresaw.