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Book Review: Liberal, Malay and Malaysian by Zan Azlee

Admittedly, I cringe at the word liberal whenever it comes out of my peers’ mouths, mostly because of how it was perpetuated and how the term has been abused to no longer represent its actual definition. It seems that liberal has morphed into a religion and no longer a concept. But the truth of the matter is, any book or articles that have the word liberal in it will somehow intrigue me to pick it up.

You can only imagine the amount of internal struggle I have when reading Liberal, Malay and Malaysian by Zan Azlee and how the image of contradictory behaviors of those ‘liberals’ around me seemed to plague my memory. I picked up the book and didn’t stop till the captain announced a turbulent–plane ride has never been more exciting. I love the sub-title of the book, “Writings of a Walking Contradiction”, aren’t we all? I know I am. Being a Muslim and a Kadazan with a non-Malay name is as contradictory as it comes. We are all, in some way, a walking contradiction.

Liberal, Malay and Malaysian is an anthology and there are four parts to the book; Politics, Race, Religion and Protest. Azlee’s writings are a light take on the reality of our country and society, he has a way of writing about heavy topics in a personal and relatable manner, and it is an especially good remedy for the threatening disease known as ignorance. One of the chapters that illustrate Malaysians’ tilt towards conservativeness is “How to be Gay and Muslim at the Same Time”, that line alone is enough to send the conservatives into a fit! He managed to get insights on both ends of the spectrum on how it is to be Muslim and gay and the existence of enforcement to prohibit gay Muslims from living their lives as gay Muslims. I found myself giggling and nodding my head and a lot of time fuming, I looked slightly ridiculous while flipping through the pages, it was as if Zan Azlee was there and we were having this imaginary conversation, I almost said “Thank you!” outloud when Zan Azlee mentioned “…it shouldn’t be a crime to have different opinions, it shouldn’t be a crime to be offensive… because if everyone were to keep quiet, then there will be no discourse, no debate, and no sharing of ideas and knowledge.”

He’s bi-racial, with a Malay father and a Chinese mother. He talked about how it can come in many forms, regardless of the Bumiputera percentage running in your blood, you can experience racism and your experience is just as valid. Zan Azlee recalled his earlier memories from his childhood when one of his friends ‘accused’ him of being Chinese because he celebrated Chinese New Year. The funny thing about being bi-racial and being introduced to racism at such a young age was, you don’t really understand the concept of racism and why it was ‘wrong’, and thus Zan Azlee replied with “Aku bukan Cinalah, aku Melayu!” due to the ridicule and pressure, and that was his first racist experience, and I believe is relatable to others as well.

I wouldn’t go as far-fetched as to call this book an eye-opener because it is, after all, just a compilation of his opinions and thoughts on our political landscape in relation to race and religion. Although, it may be backed with excerpts and a solid research on certain concepts. It is still rather subjective as it relies heavily on one’s upbringing and personal prerogative. What I can tell you about Liberal, Malay and Malaysian is, that it’s great in-flight reading material and it will be one hell of a ride.


Cyceo Natallia is millennial in denial, easily bothered by wet tables and will say hello to random cats. Wrote her first poem at 7 about the melancholy feeling of being a dead flower.



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