From Malaysiakini : COMMENT I've just spent the last five
days staying with Haris Ibrahim in Melbourne and from the moment I met
him, I became aware of how dangerous he could become for the Malaysian
Yes, in the world of activism, I am the
greatest cynic. I don't trust anyone on face value. I don't believe most
of what I hear and even less of what I see.
with many activists both in Australia and overseas, and there are those
of which I am quickly dismissive. They are the ones who are just angry
with their lot in life and wave a banner for social reform irrespective
of the cause. I say that these people would even turn up for the opening
of a paper bag.
There are also those who are driven by ego. They
just love being in the spotlight and if offered a chance for change,
they won't accept it because it removes their platform. I am always
bemused by the altruism derived from an ulterior motive.
there are those whose motives are real, they have the backing of the
public and they have the composure, nous and the ability to convey the
social reforms to the people and consequently, see it happen. They are
always highly intelligent, extremely affable, have attained much in life
both professionally and personally, but have decided that the cause
isn't about them, it is about the people.
I asked Haris many, many questions, because I just didn't trust him. I
had no reason to. I didn't know him. Sure, I'd read his blog. I'd seen
his videos. I knew his ideology. But I wanted to test him. I wanted to
know why. I wanted to know why this man calls himself an activist, what
motivates him, if there was there a contributory factor that made him
choose this path, and I also wanted to know who he was. Haris, the
Thus, what did I deduce from our time spent together?
This man is dangerous for the Malaysian government and there isn't a
thing the government can do to stop him. Haris has them in a corner. If
they put him in jail or have him killed, ABU and the people now have
their martyr, further inciting anger; but if they don't stop him, they
now have a revolution.
Being Malay made him differentI
went in search for the very essence of why he is an activist. To me,
there is always one defining factor as to why people are activists and
in response to my question, Haris said there wasn't one. But in fact,
there is. It is the fact that he was born Malay of interracial parents
in Malaysia. Just by being born, Haris was already an outcast, and this
has defined him over the years.
Haris grew up in a government
house with a Malay father and Ceylonese mother. As a child, he would sit
on the steps listening to tales from family members about law and his
passion for social justice was fostered. He told me that although these
stories were possibly embellished, the seed had been planted.
first time Haris realised that being Malay made him different to his
friends was after an incident with his closest childhood friend. His
friend was Chinese and although he received a higher mark than Haris, he
was not eligible to further his education, whereas, Haris was. As a
consequence to this, his closest friend never spoke to him again,
leaving an indelible imprint on his psyche.
As such, the
inequalities within Malaysia led him to turn his back on his beloved
country to become educated in England. He hoped that his law degree
would now mean something to his fellow Malaysians. He told me about the
client who initially refused to see him as soon as he saw the Malay
surname. He also told me why he eventually walked away from his beloved
career as a lawyer.
Haris had a very successful career as a
lawyer, working many pro bono cases regarding religion, but eventually,
his conscience wouldn't allow him to continue.
"In 2010, there
was an increasing sense that the judiciary, which in every jurisdiction
is supposed to be final bastion that preserves the fundamental rights of
the citizenry, no longer served the purpose. I could no longer, in all
good conscience, bow and say, 'Oh, wise one'." He consequently deduced
that change had to be a political process.
Naturally, Haris is
angry. The government and their policies have encroached on every aspect
of his life. They have violated his dreams, his friendships, his
character and his career. He has the anger, but does he have the ability
to be powerful within Malaysia? Anger will only go so far to stir up
trouble, for someone to become really powerful, they must have the
ability to convey the message and more importantly, have that message
heard by the people.
Witty and intelligent Haris
does. I watched him interact with the people. He is affable, he is
witty, he is intelligent and people were drawn to him. As he spoke at
the forum in Melbourne, people were leaning forward in their seats,
hanging on to his every word and he left the people hungry for more.
Someone said the next day that they were yet to sleep, as they had spent
the night in deep thought.
Another quality of Haris is his
ability to listen. He wasn't constantly telling people his views, he
wanted to hear what other people thought and as he sat and listened, I
could see him thinking and digesting what they said. He was never
dismissive of a person, he made the people feel like they were heard and
it didn't matter what was said, they were made to feel important.
as I said, this man is dangerous. He is dangerous due to a myriad of
reasons. He won't stop until he sees the change he wants and the more
the government attempts to stop him, the more passionate he will become.
He is dangerous because this isn't a man aimlessly running
amok. This is a man whom I would consider to be a genius, carefully
strategising change. He has decided that Bersih is no longer conducive
to his cause. "What does one mean by being non-partisan? They say that
ABU is pro-opposition, this is not true. I am partisan, but I am pro
people and it is for that reason, when the need arises, to slam the
opposition if the position they take does not auger for the interest of
He is dangerous because he has a soul. He spoke to
me about walking from the law courts to lunch one day and seeing a woman
without any limbs, begging on the streets of Kuala Lumpur and as he sat
in the restaurant, he realised that the ringgit he had given her, were
useless. So, he bought her some food and sat beside her, feeding her. As
he spoke, his voice broke with emotion. He told me that she gave him
more than he had given her.
He is dangerous because he isn't ego
driven and he has the ability to articulate what people are thinking,
on a grand scale. He is giving the people a voice. People want change.
They are angry at the lack of democracy in Malaysia. They are angry with
the inequality found within the races. They are angry at the crime and
corruption which is rife within Malaysia. They are angry at so many
things, especially with the outcome of GE13.
Will he just walk
away disheartened? I have no doubt that his unwavering conviction won't
allow this. He has already given up his lucrative law degree and sold
his family farm to dedicate his life to change. He has already turned
down a copious amount of money to just go away. So, he isn't going to
He wants change implemented and he has the means to do
it. He has a lot of support and ironically, each time he was arrested,
the donations to ABU came flooding in. Unwittingly, each time the
government attempted to stop him, they have actually created a situation
far worse than imaginable.
Are his strategies plausible?
Definitely! He is working with a team who are doing their research and
they have realised the areas which need to be addressed and have started
to go out and educate these people about their rights. With every lie
proffered by the government, he counteracts them with an educated
response filled with facts and figures. He wants accountability.
the man is only dangerous to the government because the government has
created the need for change. If so many people weren't looking for
change, they wouldn't be looking for someone to lead them to the answers
and as I said, Haris has the intelligence, the passion, the unwavering
conviction and the strategies to do it.
Paradoxically, as the
government attempts to silence him, they are only creating a greater
platform for him to be heard, both in Malaysia and internationally. His
visit to Australia is proof of this. By charging him with sedition
resulting in his first visa to Australia being declined, they actually
created a greater platform for him to be heard internationally.
media in Australia wanted to know why he had been denied entry over
here and although there was nothing sinister about this, it gave him the
podium to speak about the corruption within the government, the
gerrymander which is in place, the 40 percent poverty that exists, the
indelible ink which wiped off within 10 minutes and the list continued,
and as he spoke, I'd glance across to the people listening to him and I
could see how much they liked him and the effect he had on them.
almost laughed when I saw Jim Middleton, a reporter for the esteemed
ABC, inadvertently smile as Haris spoke. I could see that even as a
seasoned reporter, Middleton liked what he was hearing. Haris is a
brilliant orator and people want to hear him speak.
Right man for the job Although
finding himself inadvertently at the forefront of the movement, to me,
he is the right man for the job. Malaysians want change, and with his
intelligence and his unwavering conviction, he has the passion and the
heart to get it done.
Upon telling him that many would see him as
some sort of idol, he dismissed this by saying that this isn't what he
desired; Malaysians need to believe that they themselves can do it. He
wants to empower the people, not lead them and I believe that change is
imminent and the only people who should be afraid is the government and
anyone else involved in the corruption within the Malaysian society.
Haris wants a revolution. "I don't want a Bersih rally with
grandparents and young children all going home at six, I want people who
are ready to never leave until we get what we want." Malaysians are
becoming increasingly frustrated. They have tried the court system to
initiate change, but to no avail. They have demanded through rallies a
democratic system and weren't heard.
As Haris said, "They won't
give us the demands, because if they do, the government will lose." The
people have finally had enough and through Haris and ABU, they won't
stop until they are heard.
Malaysia created Haris and now the government wants to silence what they created. It won't happen. MARY
O'DONOVAN is law graduate from Australia who is well versed in
Malaysian politics. She has recently completed an internship at the
Malaysian Centre for Constitutionalism and Human Rights. Her passion is