Have an opinion? Stuff it!

Fa Abdul | February 24, 2015
Free Malaysia Today

How come freedom of speech is limited to a select few who can say what they please while the majority spend a night in the lock-up for doing the same?


When I was growing up, reading the daily newspaper and watching the 8pm news was a must in my home. And every day during family time, my dad would open the floor for discussion. We used to discuss (and sometimes debate) various issues – politics, social, religion, entertainment, the works. Sometimes we got too excited over certain issues that we continued the same discussion for a few days.

Thanks to my dad, my brothers and I grew up having the ability to form our own opinions on matters that concerned us. And having strong opinions meant standing up to it as well.

But lately, I’ve begun to wonder if my dad made a big mistake having raised us the way he did. Because of my dad, I now have a tough time keeping my thoughts to myself and my mouth shut.

Like the other day, when I wrote about why I wasn’t offended by the Charlie Hebdo cartoons – I received piles of hate messages.

And then there was one time when I politely advised the security guards in my apartment that it was against the law for them to hold a visitor’s important documents – and the head of security raised his baton over my head.

Since when did freedom of speech and expressing oneself become an offence?

This reminds me of an acquaintance of mine who was arrested recently on a sedition charge for criticising the Federal Court judgement over the Anwar Ibrahim’s sodomy case.

All he did was to post his opinion of the case on Facebook. He had to spend one night in a lock-up filled with creepy crawlies simply because he had trouble zipping his mouth. I bet he too was raised to stand up for what he believed in.

Looks like we can no longer call a spade, a spade. Freedom of speech can get us into lots of trouble these days.

Freedom is becoming obsolete

I wonder if the right to freedom of speech and freedom of expression are becoming functionally obsolete these days. In fact, if you break it into its parts and examine it, there isn’t much to it anymore.

I mean if you cannot share your opinions, express your thoughts or even criticise in any public way, what is left of our rights to freedom?

The weird thing is, freedom of speech isn’t something that exists out of nowhere. All it does is reinforce our existing viewpoints. What is the point of stopping a person from having his/her voice heard if you cannot stop them from forming that opinion in the first place?

The law can only stop people from sharing their viewpoints but not forming them. And banning people from having opinions is like banning gravity.

Lessons I have learned

As ridiculous as I think limiting freedom is, I have no choice but to adapt myself to the system and change my thought processes according to the way our society works nowadays.

So far I have learned that having an opinion is okay but to let it be heard is wrong.

Like when a national bowler charged with raping a 12-year-old girl was let off the hook because he was deemed to have a bright future, many were pretty upset with the judgement. If I thought it was a ridiculous judgement – that’s fine. But if I were to update my Facebook status condemning the judgement, that would be unacceptable. Have I got it right?

Another example would be the case where a kindergarten teacher charged with raping a 4-year-old girl went unpunished because the judge thought “women have a tendency to exaggerate”. So it is okay for me to wonder how many 4-year-olds the judge knows of who have the tendency to exaggerate about having sex but questioning the decision in public would be a no-no. I think I am on the right track.

Ah, finally I get it now. I think.

But wait a second. Why then is it okay for certain people to exercise their freedom of speech and express themselves while it is unacceptable for the others to do so?

Like why is it okay for certain people to make racist statements on TV but it is not okay for me to make racist jokes on social media?

Why is it okay for certain people to rally around the country for what they believe to be the truth but it is not okay for me to rally on the streets of Kuala Lumpur for what I believe is the truth?

Why is it okay for certain people to make press statements condemning others but it is not okay for me to write an opinion piece which could offend part of society?

Clearly, my understanding of freedom of speech and freedom of expression is something that I’m still struggling with.

I used to think freedom of speech as the foundation of a functioning democracy. I guess I was wrong. Perhaps freedom of speech only applies to those in power to freely tell us (the people) to shut our pie holes and do as told.

But what would I know. I am pretty much still confused.

  1. #1 by boh-liao on Tuesday, 24 February 2015 - 6:10 pm

    Is dis a secular state? A polis state?
    B careful what 1 says, even when commenting on a RM1200 hair do, may b considered seditious

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