Thoughts about liberty on National Day

In the midst of the celebrations, let’s ponder what freedom means to all of us.

WHEN I was a little kid, Merdeka was always a holiday that I enjoyed. The most important thing, of course, was that there was no school. The second most important thing was that there was TV in the morning. A very rare thing indeed.

I would sit in front of the 12-inch black-and-white set that my family had, with some chocolates, and watch the parade.

Since I was a red-blooded boy, the sight of tanks and soldiers was most thrilling. Yes, it all sounds quite pathetic, but this was the 70s; we got our fun where we could find it.

Naturally, the entire concept of “Merdeka” was a vague thing for me. Of course, I understood that it meant we were once under the control of the British and now we are not. This was a good thing, because some white dude wasn’t in charge of us anymore. Very simplistic, I know, but then I was a simple little fellow.

Now that I am a little bit less simple, I am able to grasp the more subtle ideas of “Merdeka”. For example, if we are free from the Brits, then what is it that we are free to do?

Choose our leaders, certainly. And it seems that we have done just that. We have chosen the same people again and again and again for the past 60 years.

They are still our leaders, even though the popular vote went the other way in the last general election.

Is this freedom?

Another thing that we are free to do is to live our lives with dignity. This means to me that we have the right to speak and the right to express our thoughts freely. We should not be tied down by repressive laws. Neither should we be in a situation where national leaders can dictate who can or cannot discuss proposed laws based on their religion.

Alas, laws designed by the British to quell dissent are still with us and it would appear that the religious orthodox in the country would like nothing more than to be given free rein to do what they like on the basis that they are more religious than the rest of us.

Is this freedom?

There should not be the humiliation of people because of supposed crimes. But now we are on the verge of seeing public whippings.

Is this freedom?

There should be governance based on fairness. But our smartest young people are bound by rules which are so vague and open-ended that their universities are given the most absurd discretion to punish them for simply practising their civil liberties.

Is this freedom?

Needless to say, this Merdeka will be particularly gaudy and celebratory, what with the success of the SEA Games.

So there will be distractions aplenty. So many, indeed, that we won’t have time to ask: is this freedom?

Azmi Sharom ( is a law teacher. The views expressed here are entirely the writer’s own.

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Opinion , Azmi Sharom , columnist


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