Saturday last, I attended a wedding reception of the son of a colleague of mine, held at Wardieburn Camp, Kuala Lumpur. As usual, those invited were mostly retirees, many of whom were my former bosses, when I was serving the army. Many have passed their 70’s, but despite their ages, they still appeared trim, healthy and ever joyous. The most senior guest was General Tun Ibrahim Ismail, a renowned soldier, and a veteran of the Second World War. He had to be ushered on a wheel chair, because of his failing age.
During a conversation with a former colleague, he raised a question as to why do the senior officers of the army today, while in uniform stoop to kiss the hands of royalties and also the Prime Minister. I told him that I too noticed it happening on a number of occasions, but this act to me is rather unusual. I could not also recall as to how it all began, but strangely enough, this practice is becoming a norm.
I have served the army for 33 years, and I can vouch that kissing the hands of royalties and the Prime Minister whilst in uniform, isn’t taught to us as a common military practice, during our days as cadets.
Being a Malay, my parents have taught me since I was a child, to kiss their hands every time I greet them. Kissing the hands of our parents and the elders is a symbol of subservience and respect. Likewise, when I had children, I too taught them to kiss their mother’s hand and mine, every time they leave for school in the morning. And this practice is now being passed down to my grandchildren, and hopefully to my great grandchildren.
I believe that the act of kissing the hands of royalties or the Prime Minister by a senior army officer whilst in uniform is unusual and should cease. As military officers, the right practice to show subservience and respect (while in uniform) to royalties, is to stand at attention, and salute them. However, if one is not wearing a cap, one need only to brace-up smartly. This is the normal practice among other world armies, that I know off.
Should this article find its way to servicing military officers of the Malaysian Army, I would like to propose that this issue be discussed professionally, in the hope that the practice be corrected, not out of disrespect and arrogance towards the royalties and the Prime Minister, but of retaining the army’s true traditions, practices and values.