I was thrilled when our Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak unexpectedly announced on Malaysia Day eve that they will repeal the Internal Security Act 1960, and repeal or review a host of other draconian laws. Some will no doubt say that he did not go far enough, or cast doubts on his intentions – but for me, I am simply thankful that our Prime Minister is making this brave first move towards a more open and inclusive society. More needs to be done, and its time will come. For now, let us celebrate the moment. Terima kasih Datuk Seri. It would also be remiss of me if I did not also thank all those civil society movements and individuals who fought for these changes to happen. Terima kasih to all you brave people.

I did not fully comprehend the importance of the freedom to express ourselves until recently. As the organizer of the Malaysiaku 2011 – Imagining Malaysia celebration on Malaysia Day, I decided to organise a candle lighting ceremony where participants lit a candle for the prosperity and well being of our country. I also invited Pak Samad to recite a poem and Dato’ Ambiga Sreenivasan, as a woman of great courage and inspiration to many of us, to light the first candle.

I must admit that until the Prime Minister’s announcement the night before, I was fearful that this innocent act of lighting a candle would be deemed “anti-government”. After all, the recitation of a poem was recently deemed seditious. It did not help that we were interviewed by a very nice lady at the Special Branch two days before the event, and there were six policemen on duty that day at our event (I hope they enjoyed the many performances and delicious Malaysian food on offer).

The point I am making is that we often do not realize how insidiously this fear of offending the government has crept into our consciousness. How it keeps us from expressing our differing views publicly. This is, I believe, partly due to the draconian laws which the Prime Minister has now promised to abolish or review.

For any country to progress, its people need the freedom to express their differing views in a civil manner. It is only with proper checks and balances that policies can be made for the good of the people and for the interests of all parties to be properly addressed.

It is therefore reassuring to hear our Prime Minister say in his Malaysia Day speech that: “…(we should) place our trust in the Malaysian people’s intelligence to make decisions that will shape the path of their own future.” and “…the steps I just announced are none other than early initiatives of an organised and graceful political transformation.”

I would like to emphasise that the freedom to express ourselves must be exercised responsibly. By way of example: a video of our Malaysiaku 2011 press conference was recently posted by a local online news agency, and someone commented online: “…just another scam for these chinkie assholes to make money off the silly 1Malaysia bullcrap.” Well I got news for them:- NOBODY’S BUYING, IDIOTS!”

This comment, of course, doesn’t merit a reply, as I am reminded of the words of George Bernard Shaw: “…never wrestle with a pig. You get dirty, and besides, the pig likes it.” Responsible websites need to moderate comments posted on its sites, and people need to learn that the right to express themselves does not include the right to unnecessarily offend others. Like all things in life, it is sometimes not easy to draw the line and find the right balance, as there will be some who are easily offended. But try we must, or we may lose this precious right.

Ed refuses to be defined by words. He is inspired by the words of Emerson in Representative Man: “We too must write Bibles, to unite again the heavens and the earthly world. The secret of genius is to...