Kee Thuan Chye: The anti-bullshit crusader

By Stephanie Sta Maria

Very little is capable of startling a veteran journalist with over three decades of writing under his belt. Unless it is being recognised on the street by strangers by virtue only of his recently produced work.

These are almost regular occurrences for Kee Thuan Chye, 58, yet each one still floors him. Like a few weeks ago when yet another stranger footed his dinner bill as a token of appreciation and encouragement.

“I was a fulltime journalist in the mainstream media for 30 years and I was never as well-known then as I am now,” Kee marvelled during an exclusive interview with FMT.

“I now write for the online media which you would think lacks the penetration of the mainstream media but yet more people are reading my articles.”

So many more, in fact, that he was driven to compile selected pieces into a single volume in the hope of reaching out to more people with a starkly simple message – to stop taking Barisan Nasional’s (BN) bullshit.

“No More Bullshit, Please, We Are All Malaysians” is directed at the ruling party and dedicated to the younger generation. Kee explained that the title is a reflection of the times in which so much bullshit has been ladelled out that Malaysians should start putting their foot down.

“The title is targeted at both BN and the opposition because we don’t want any bullshit from the latter either,” he said. “But for now most of it has been spun by BN so it’s mainly directed at them.”

The book, of which 6,000 copies were published on Feb 27, showcases Kee’s commentaries, interviews and excerpts from his plays. According to Kee, the selections were based on their relevance, contentiousness and themes.

“I realised that I have written quite a lot about (prime minister) Najib (Tun Razak),” he grinned.

“So I thought that would come together quite nicely as one theme. And of course there are pieces on my old friend (former premier) Dr Mahathir (Mohamad).”

The grin widened. Anyone who has read Kee would be familiar with his disdain for Mahathir, a sentiment he has never bothered to disguise or downplay.

His brazenness of wearing his heart on his sleeve has alarmed both friends and fans who have repeatedly asked him if he isn’t afraid of the now abolished Internal Security Act (ISA).

“I was asked that again just a few nights ago!” Kee chuckled. “My answer has always been, what is there to be afraid of? If you speak what you think is the truth, then there is nothing to fear.”

“We need to speak up without fear or favour and hold the government accountable. This book is my way of showing a bit of example. Anyway, I’m just a small fry and no one’s going to take me in.”

A small fry he may be, but his words have big influence, especially in the run-up to the highly anticipated 13th general election.

“No More Bullshit” was pieced together with the same sense of urgency that surrounded the publication of his earlier book, “ March 8: The Day Malaysia Woke Up”.

But while the latter’s relevance was tied to the aftermath of the 2008 political upset, the former is aimed at rattling BN’s position even before Malaysians go to the polls.

“I’d been toying with the idea for a while and when I finally found the time to work on it I realised that the elections could be around the corner,” Kee said. “So I pushed my publisher to get it out quickly and I’m glad that I made it in time.”

“I hope that Malaysians especially the fence-sitters and those who only read the mainstream media, read this book before they cast their votes. It might give the latter group a different perspective.”

Kee’s dream for Malaysia

Most of the commentaries in “No More Bullshit Please” were penned after 2008 while the plays reach as far back as 1985. During his rereadings of them, Kee was able to call up the exact emotions that went into writing each one and dismally noted that nothing much had changed since then.

“Some of my plays were written over two decades ago and if you read ’1984 Here And Now’ you will see that it is still relevant today,” he said. “Not much has changed especially regarding the media so I made it point to include an excerpt on that.”

But if the situation in the country hasn’t changed then neither has Kee’s dream for it. Among the interviews in his book is one in June 2001 that quoted him as saying, “My dream for Malaysia is that one day it will be open and generous and big enough to embrace all its races, cultures, languages, religions and accord them due place and recognition.”

Kee insisted that the dream hasn’t wavered an inch and it is one that must persist throughout time. To back down on it, he warned, would throw the very core of the country’s makeup into question.

“We cannot continue politicising race, religion, culture and language,” he stressed. “There has to be an end point but I don’t see it coming for a long time.”

“And I can bet you that this politicising will continue for as long as BN is in government because they need to pander to their own races in order to hold on to their customers.”

In another interview in December 2010, Kee had dubbed Najib a “dream merchant” and has also stuck to his guns on this opinion.

He, however, noted that Najib hadn’t spun any bigger dreams of late and the existing ones appeared to be slowly fraying at the edges for lack of political will.

“If Najib wants to sell us a dream then he must walk the talk,” Kee stated. “The biggest irony in his administration is that whatever he says cannot be accepted as the truth.”

“There is always something lurking in the shadows as has been proven to be the case many times. Take 1Care, for example. Many people are very sceptical about it.”

“They believe that the government will amass a huge sum of money through the people’s contributions into which they will then dip their hands. That is the cynicism behind 1Care.”

However, Kee doubted that the cynicism would be enough to create another upheaval during the next general election. Despite the government-related rallies, gaffes and scandals, he believed that Pakatan Rakyat’s day in the sun has yet to come.

“I wish I could be more optimistic but I’m a pessimistic fella,” he began almost apologetically. “BN will win the next election.”

“I only fear their getting two-thirds majority because that would be the end for a lot of us. That’s my greatest fear because I wouldn’t know what to do or where to go.” – FMT

Kee Thuan Chye’s latest book ‘No More Bullshit, Please, We’re All Malaysians’ is available in all major bookstores. FMT will be reviewing the book tomorrow.

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