Unapologetic launchAPRIL 27 ― I recently published my first non-fiction book titled Unapologetic, in which I set out my vision of a nation of equals for Malaysia and my ideals of individual empowerment, secularism, and civil liberties.

This book would not have been possible without my editor Joan Lau, who patiently edited my columns and had my back whenever overly sensitive people got upset with my writing.

I should also mention my best friend Alex Liew, who was the one who told me to write a column in the first place because he got tired of listening to me complain about politics.

I have always felt that it was no big deal putting one’s opinions down on paper. After all, I have opinions on almost everything, from whether women’s clothes should have bigger pockets, to politics and religion.

I am honest about my thoughts because I don’t see any reason not to be. I don’t like lying to my readers about what I really think. Trying to be socially acceptable, to one audience or another, isn’t technically lying, or to use that popular term, “fake news” but the permanence of writing demands honesty.

My book contains my columns in Malay Mail on various topics, from sex and marriage to race, religion, democracy, and politics. It also has several new essays, including a piece on what I would do if I were prime minister.

I titled my book Unapologetic because I believe that we should stick to our stand on whatever issues if we think that it is right. Our stand should not waver according to public sentiment. Of course, I have changed my mind occasionally when people bring up new points which I may never have thought of before.

But by and large, when we write, our job is to persuade people to adopt our stand. Or at the very least, to understand where we’re coming from. If people disagree with our opinions, then we can start a conversation.

Opinions and ideas are not a threat. They are not fake news. Anyone can have an opinion on anything. If you disagree with something, just write a rebuttal. No need to lodge police reports or to be a troll, although I believe that the right to free speech also includes the right to be an asshole online.

The reason why I wrote Unapologetic is because I was tired of waiting for politicians to change the way Malaysia is governed. I know that we’re a young country, just over 60 years old, but this is 2018. It’s mind-boggling how we still act like we just became independent yesterday. 

We freed ourselves from the British, but both Barisan Nasional (BN) and Pakatan Harapan (PH) still use divide-and-rule strategies. This has allowed them to get away with having vague or no positions on most issues, whether it’s local council elections or whether taxes on the rich should be raised, because they just pander to their own ethnic group.

So, this sometimes results in totally contradictory positions within the same coalition. And yet, voters are expected to vote for the coalition as a whole, not the individual party.

If politicians were more honest, parties like Umno and Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (PPBM) should contest the elections on their own, against MCA and DAP, since they have different positions on vernacular education, for example.

Political parties should run in every seat in the country to prove that their platform is acceptable to all Malaysians. Let Umno and PPBM run in Damansara, or MCA and DAP in Kota Baru. All parties can contest against each other everywhere. Form a coalition with whoever only after the election.

A better Malaysia starts with some honesty. We must be honest about what we stand for. Unapologetic even, if we believe that our ideas are the best for the country. All we need to do is to convince people of our ideas and go beyond simplistic appeals to racial and religious sentiments.

I believe that people are rational. They are not idiots. They will listen, if we take the time to explain our position, even if it’s controversial.

My book Unapologetic tries to do that. In my book, I explain how we can build a nation of equals so that we will all be empowered and lead happier lives.

I give some ideas about how we can make the land prosperous, not by avoiding uncomfortable truths, but by confronting them together and giving up all of our selfish privileges for the good of the nation.

Because the matter of fact is that all of us here in this room and outside have some form of privilege attached to our skin colour. And Malaysia cannot move forward if we cling on stubbornly to our little privileges.

We must stop discriminating against people of another skin colour. This is even more important in the private sector than in the public sector, especially if we want the private sector, and not the government, to drive the economy.

I cannot fathom how in this day and age, more than 60 years after independence, there are still some people who can only speak Chinese, or how so many companies recruit only Chinese-speaking employees. We call ourselves Malaysians, so we should all be able to speak the national language, even if we aren’t really fluent in it.

I want us to stop relying on the government for everything. I believe that we’re capable of so much more. All we need is hard work and equal opportunities to achieve our ambitions and to make money. Everyone must have equal access to education, for a start. The rest is up to us.

Politicians from both BN and the Opposition don’t like to talk about these things. They don’t like asking their supporters to give up their own privileges. They like to play victim most of the time instead. They don’t like to empower people. They want people to depend on them, and then they complain when the people turn against them. They treat voters like charity cases.

Politicians from both sides of the divide don’t actually like democracy. If they did, they would be encouraging more elections, like local council elections or even primaries, which are mini elections for ordinary voters to select which candidates a political party is to field in a general election.

Or they would teach and encourage people to give feedback on Bills in Parliament or in the state legislative assemblies before these laws are passed. Or have more town hall meetings, or even debates for candidates to talk about policies and their position on various issues.

It’s 2018, but we still don’t see these things.

My book Unapologetic pushes the case for individual empowerment, secularism, and civil liberties, based on my belief that human nature is good and we should be able to make life decisions based on our own personal values.

If people want to sleep around and smoke and drink their lives away, they should be free to do so without the State stepping in. I’m not advocating for people to be sluts, chain-smokers or alcoholics, obviously. I’m just saying that people should be able to decide for themselves what to do with their own bodies. Whether it’s immoral or against their religion is none of our business, or the government’s.

Morality is a personal choice that should not be dictated by the government. To do so is an invasion of privacy and a waste of taxpayers’ money. The government should also not interfere with the free market and set excessive taxes just to stop people from smoking or drinking Coke.

If we start doing things like that, then we might as well fine or jail people who don’t go jogging three times a week.

Essentially, the government should be as small as possible and leave the free market and citizens alone. Businesses must be encouraged to grow and make profit so that there will be more jobs and people don’t have to turn to the civil service for work.

All the government needs to do is to fight crime that actually harms people, like robbery, murder or rape, and provide good infrastructure and access to education and health care.

We must realise that the more laws and regulations we enact, the more money and resources will be spent and the greater the opportunity for corruption. Politics is the allocation of resources. And I would rather resources go towards good roads, public parks, libraries, education, health care, and research and development, rather than policing what people say on social media or what they do in their own bedrooms.

I believe that we can make all these things happen. It doesn’t matter if the current generation of politicians refuses to let go of the past. We don’t need them. They are here now, at least for the 14th general election, but their relevance will disappear when people start imagining a radically new and brilliant future, for themselves and for the country.

There are many more elections after GE14. There is time to eradicate race politics and make democracy work in Malaysia. The people want it. It will happen sooner rather than later, because my generation and those younger than me have the courage to do what it takes.

This is why I want to run for office soon, not in this election, of course. If politicians across the board aren’t interested in making things work, we can’t force them. But somebody’s got to do the job.

Why not me?

* Unapologetic is available in major bookstores and in the Gerakbudaya bookstore here. Read a review here.