July 6 – I have been called a lot of names throughout my career as a journalist and columnist – contrarian, provocative, pro-DAP, BN stooge, anti-Malay, Chinese traitor, anti-Islam, pro-Christian, liberal, anti-socialist, left-wing, libertarian.
But I’m not fazed by the contradictory labels because I know exactly what principles I hold.
And it’s not true that I’m “contrarian” either, defined as “someone who automatically tends to take the opposite point of view from the person to whom they're speaking, or to disagree with society at large out of a sort of knee-jerk reflex”.
I sincerely believe in all the viewpoints I express in my column.
There is no reason for me to deliberately seek attention because it’s not like such attention will enrich me or make me powerful.
On the contrary, I crave approval like everyone else. I just can’t really be bothered to suck up to people because I don’t think they’re better than me; we’re all born equal.
Although most of my opinions may appear to run against public sentiment, I daresay there are equal numbers of those who agree and disagree with them. They just run in different echo chambers on social media.
The reason why I’m supposedly “brash” in my writing is because I believe that being as simple and straightforward as possible will reach the biggest audience, who may not have the time to unwrap double meanings in obfuscated essays.
Through my writing, I had always hoped to encourage other people to be brave in expressing their opinions, no matter how “sensitive” they might be.
This was because I believed that it was only through honesty and a willingness to confront the thorny issues of race and religion that Malaysia could move forward. And if more people spoke up on any issue whatsoever, this would create a vibrant space for discussion and debate with diverse opinions.
It is true that I haven’t actually “done” anything per se, like going to jail for my beliefs, though police reports have been lodged against me over some of my articles.
But I have tried to report on wrongdoing and racism when I could, such as the case of a National Civics Bureau (BTN) official who called the Chinese and Indians derogatory names during a closed-door Puteri Umno function back in 2010, six months into my job as a journalist. I have tried to give voice to the disenfranchised. Among my favourite stories I wrote were about the homeless of Kuala Lumpur and the poor living in public housing.
Besides reporting on human rights issues and interviewing activists, I also advocated civil liberties, equality, secularism, and good governance in my column because I believed that these things would make Malaysia a better place to live in.
More importantly, I had hoped to encourage people to be equally vociferous in demanding for their rights and pushing their elected lawmakers to uphold issues dear to their hearts. Because all governments by nature, whichever party and from whichever country, are tyrannical, in the sense that they will always prioritise the majority at the expense of individual rights and minorities.
Politicians will only be driven to action if they believe that they will lose votes. Left to their own devices, politicians will just focus on fence-sitters whose support can go either way, but pretty much ignore their guaranteed vote-bank, especially if the latter do not constantly push for their agenda in between seasonal Facebook controversies.
But I was naïve in thinking that people actually wanted to change the system. I couldn’t understand how principles could so easily be swept aside for the sake of winning an election, even though I have been mixing with politicians from both sides and reporting on politics for seven years.
I was naïve in trying to promote a different kind of politics, where people would prioritise principles over power, policy over personality, and hope over hate.
But I digress. This isn’t about politics. This is about me coming to terms with human nature.
Winning is everything. People don’t actually want to give space to alternative opinions; they are as intolerant of dissent as their enemies.
They will accept small compromises at first, and then turn a blind eye to bigger injustices as long as their side keeps winning. And people wonder how a political party can win 13 consecutive terms.
If there is anything I’m guilty of, it’s my naïveté, inflexibility, and failure to see the bigger picture. People only hear what they want to hear.
But it’s a free country. People can do whatever they want. Democracy dies in darkness, but people don’t have to be apologetic about preferring the dark.
They should be brashly unapologetic, like what I espouse in my first non-fiction book, Unapologetic. Out now in bookstores.