Many years ago, I was interviewed in London by BBC Radio 2 as part of a series on the great languages of the world. I was asked about some significant differences between Bahasa Indonesia and our own Bahasa Melayu. I feigned ignorance about the existence of a language called Bahasa Indonesia. I said what Indonesia claimed as its language is really Bahasa Melayu.
They had no choice but to use Bahasa Melayu, the lingua franca of the Malay world to communicate among themselves because they never had a common language to begin with. Malay is undoubtedly the basis of their language. So, if we do what they in Indonesia do so well, we should be burning their flag every day because they have purloined our national language.
An excessive display of nationalistic zeal is generally considered "ugly" in civilised societies. The Indonesians by their actions have reduced themselves into sad figures of ridicule and fun. Their claim, and not for the first time, that we have infringed their "cultural copyrights" is totally absurd. They now have got it into their heads that we should stop singing our national anthem because the tune was Indonesian. What else next? Stop eating satay and wearing kain batik because these are Indonesian?
I remember the time when Indonesia took it upon themselves to rename the Indian Ocean as the Indonesian Ocean, and had the new name put on their official map. The Indians demurred, and Sukarno the regional bully boy realised that it was not such a clever thing to do after all.
Last year we had Wahyu Susilo of Migrant Care, an influential labour organisation telling us "We also want Malaysia to legalise illegal workers and not simply deport them home." Then, again last year we were reminded by Indonesian lawmakers that Malaysia-Indonesia relations were "at their worst since Sukarno's days of Konfrontasi in the sixties."
The reference to Konfrontasi is mischievous in the circumstances. It was a attempt to stampede us into submitting to their will. Indonesians should want to forget that disastrously miscalculated adventure which ended with a bloody nose for their country. On the positive side, it brought to an end the reign of the megalomaniac Sukarno only to be replaced by the rapacious Suharto. Perhaps we had a match in our own country, and we should not gloat over it too much. As a matter of interest, even the normally calm and staid Najib when Deputy Prime Minister was moved to refer to Malaysia as the "Whipping Boy" of the Indonesian media whenever they felt they had a grievance, real or imagined, against us.
I mention all this as a way of reminding ourselves that history provides important lessons for us all. Patterns of political behaviour are often deeply entrenched in the consciousness of a nation, and in the case of our big and unwieldy neighbour, this phenomenon is more marked than is good for them. We want to continue to maintain good neighbour relations with Indonesia, but Indonesia must remember that we are not a client state, and there is a limit to how far we are prepared to go to be nice. We have to think about protecting our national security interests and not putting them at risk. After all, our responsibility is to our own people, first and last.
I recall vividly the burning of our flag in 2002 in Jakarta, that very violent capital of Indonesia. Dr. Mahathir, the then Prime Minister responded in a statesman-like manner to the crude officially orchestrated provocation in which the petulant Speaker of the People's Consultative Council, Amein Rais played a big role. So, in the most recent incident, we were yet again treated to a pattern of behaviour that seems to have been well integrated into the great Indonesian cultural psyche, and that is part of their culture they can keep without any fear of copyright infringement by Malaysia.
It is obviously difficult for us to engage such a volatile country without causing offence and endless misunderstandings, but we must show patience and wisdom and do all we can to keep the relations on an even keel. Indonesia is still a country in transition and has yet to find its own realistic level in international relations. It seems to lack the confidence of a potentially rich and credible nation, and therefore occupies its time in the luxury of blaming others when things do not go their way. I suppose they will now want to take back all their nearly two million nationals, both legal and mostly illegal, working hard, and robbing hard, to keep body and soul together.
We are not your whipping boy. Grow up Indonesia!