Just Johor - State patriotism at an all-time high

“I AM Johorean and proud of it!” ... these words boldly embellished on a T-shirt donned by a young man in the streets of Johor Baru last week encapsulates the prevailing sentiment in the state now.

Suddenly, there appears to be a new found sense of parochialism about all things Johor. There is now an undeniable heightened feeling of self-esteem and pride about being Johorean. And people are no longer afraid to show it.

There was a time not too long ago when the southerners bemoaned and cringed when asked to reveal their origins. Johor always brought with it negative connotations of a “deprived” state, still struggling to come to terms with itself because of its proximity with overbearing Singapore.

Today, however, they have no qualms about saying it loud and clear … that they’re from Johor. More importantly, they now readily wear this fact on their sleeves with great gusto and pride.

The recent Sultan of Johor coronation celebrations have only served to accentuate this sentiment. Pictures of the ruler and his consort, looking majestic and regal in their sparkling bejewelled crowns as the Sultan and Permaisuri of Johor, have only served to intensify this sense of self-esteem and pride.

While steeped in tradition and customs, the coronation ceremony itself was modern, befitting Johor’s recent rise as a dynamic and progressive state.

Sultan Ibrahim, in media interviews in the run-up to the coronation, did not mince his words when he openly declared that he wanted a contemporary Johor that is “moderate and open to all races”.

“This state is the home of all Johoreans regardless of race or religion,” he had stressed. “There is no room for extremism in Johor. The moderation path is not a cliché but one that has been long practiced.”

This promise was exemplified when, despite opposition by certain groups, Iskandar Waterfront Holdings (a state-owned company) was given the go-ahead to stage four days of open-air concerts in Danga Bay, featuring among others, immensely popular K-Pop groups from South Korea.

Those averse to the free public concerts had pressed for a ban because ostensibly the K-Pop singers were “too hot” for local audiences. But it was the voice of moderation, as advocated by the Sultan, which prevailed at the end of the day.

The concerts were good, clean fun with no untoward incidences. It was a classic showcase of world-class entertainment on our own turf. Seldom has a show evoked so much pride and joy among Johoreans.

It really showed that JB has truly come of age and has the venue (Danga Bay), people, and resources to stage first-class entertainment that even the Singaporeans are raving about.

Several other recent events have also raised the bar when it comes to this heightened pride about being Johorean. One that easily comes to mind is the sensational “Southern Tigers” or Johor Darul Takzim football team.

The team has fired up legions of fans across the state with its winning streak and “star” local and foreign players. This is patriotism at its best with even Johor-born citizens living elsewhere now, clamouring and cheering for the team.

Iskandar Malaysia was yet another rallying point. Since its establishment nearly a decade ago, Johor has seen a paradigm shift in development with highways, flyovers and modern infrastructure sprouting everywhere.

Indeed, it was Iskandar that first triggered the fire that has now become the pride of the people of Johor. It was the catalyst that evoked this unexpected outpouring of attachment and belonging to Johor.

This really comes as no surprise because after all, there would be no Legoland theme park or EduCity with its world-famous universities in Johor, if not for Iskandar.

Similarly, it was this special economic growth zone that opened the doors for the influx of investors keen on bringing the hi-life living concept as epitomised by upmarket condominiums, elegant luxury homes, fabulous marinas, specialist hospitals and even new waterfront cities to Johor.

Indeed, humble little Johor Baru has truly come of age. We have now proved ourselves to have the people, the facilities and the resources to stand shoulder to shoulder with the big boys in Kuala Lumpur and Singapore for pride and prestige because we now have got it all right here.

This surely says something about how far Johor Baru has come on a global scale. Small wonder then that state patriotism is at an all-time high!

Bumper stickers that unabashedly proclaim in big bold letters: “Proud to be Johorean” aren’t hard to spot, and neither are T-shirts that spell out “I love Johor”.

Roy, a long-time resident of JB, is a keen watcher of economic, political and social trends on both sides of the Johor Straits. Comments: letters@thesundaily.com