Great Anniversary, Malaysiakini


December 1, 2016

Great Anniversary, Malaysiakini

Premesh Chandran, Steven Gan, Fathi Aris Omar and the great team of talented and brave journalists, you are very special Malaysians. My wife Dr. Kamsiah Haider and I admire your determination to bring to us in Malaysia and others around the world news and views on a timely basis. Please accept our sincere good wishes for many more years of exemplary journalism.

We  stand with you and, as loyal subscribers, we thank you for keeping us posted on developments about our country. You will remain our web-paper of first choice because you are the best in the business. 

To mark the occasion, your 17th Anniversary, Dr. Kamsiah Haider and I dedicate Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s “Ulysses”  Tennyson to you all, our fellow travelers in search of the truth. Yes, we are not faultless. But we are Malaysians who care for our country and are not afraid to speak the truth to power.  May Alfred  Lord Tennyson inspire you to continue on a journey to do your best for Malaysia, and never to yield.–Dr. Kamsiah Haider and Din Merican

 Seventeen years of Courageous Journalism

by http://www.malaysiakini.com

A long road traversed, dodging potholes, negotiating sharp bends as well as running into roadblocks and litigation hurdles.

Borne out of the intention to break the government’s monopoly on truth, Malaysiakini has helped provide a space for voices that are often unheard and ignored. Not surprisingly, the often-hurled allegation is that the news portal is pro-opposition. The answer is of course an emphatic ‘No!’

Image result for The Malaysiakini Team

The dedicated Malaysiakini Team

Such allegations stem from what is known as the law of the excluded middle, where what is not white must therefore be black – there is no third alternative. In other words, if you are not with us, you must be against us.

Detractors argue that since greater prominence is given to those critical of the government, as opposed to others, Malaysiakini must therefore be taking sides.

The first part of the argument is valid, but this does not lend credence to the notion that the editorial team therefore comprises opposition cheerleaders.

There are two reasons for this.

The first is that those in the opposition are more productive in generating media statements and more active in engaging with the media, compared to their ruling counterparts, where apart from a handful, the rest choose to remain silent or prefer to confide in acquiescing media organisations.

The second, and more important factor, is that the media, as the fourth estate, must help create a level-playing field in the information arena.

Image result for Najib Razak

The undeniable fact in Malaysia is that the ruling BN and its component parties still control the narrative in almost all major newspapers, radio and TV stations.

In addition, despite repeated denials, the actions of certain powerful individuals helming institutions of supreme importance in our country suggest clear bias in favour of the government.

When the chasm of disparity in influence is so wide, it would be a disservice to justice if Malaysiakini provided equal space to all.Indeed, when power is so lopsided, giving equal coverage to both sides only maintains injustice. To overcome this, media organisations must give a greater say to those without a voice, those without power, and those without influence.

We seek to challenge unequal power structures, not to reproduce them. However, if and when the scales are level, Malaysiakini too will provide a balanced space for both sides.That said, Malaysiakini is non-partisan. Our role is to tell truth to power and hold them to account, be they BN or opposition politicians.

But that doesn’t mean we are apolitical. We take strong editorial stance on many issues we hold dear – good governance, anti-corruption, independence of the judiciary, press freedom and the like.

However, this does not mean Malaysiakini provides the opposition with a carte blanche. The news portal recognises that the opposition is no longer a voice in the political wilderness but rather a government-in-waiting – it is already in power in some states – and therefore it too must be held accountable.

And while Malaysiakini supports freedom of expression, it must be stressed that such liberties come with responsibility – for both writers and readers.

Malaysiakini encourages the contestation of ideas, but it is just as important to ensure that this democratic process is carried out in a civil manner, without resorting to personal attacks, racist and sexist remarks or lewd comments.

One of the most common complaints against Malaysiakini is that the news portal spins articles, ostensibly to further a certain agenda.

More often than not, it is the politician who does a 180-degree turn after shooting his or her mouth off – and then blames the media when the heat is turned on.

But does this mean Malaysiakini is faultless?The answer is ‘No’. We do make mistakes. But unlike politicians, we admit and apologise instead of blaming others.

 

In Solidarity with Malaysiakini


November 6, 2016

In Solidarity with Malaysiakini

A few years ago, I had the privilege  as a Fellow of Seacem Center of working with both Premesh Chandran and Steven Gan and the group of outstanding journalists at Malaysiakini. I found them to be a group of thorough, brave, loyal and hardworking Malaysians who were bringing news and views about issues affecting our country.

I learned first hand what they had to go through to bring to us timely and accurate information about what is happening in, and to our country and elsewhere.  Everyday, when I arrived at my work place at Malaysiakini office then in Bangsar Baru, Kuala Lumpur I would pass the wall of their rented premises which was blemished by red paint marks sprayed by pro-UMNO lawbreakers. I would be reminded of the hazards these committed journalists face daily. Since that time, I came to admire and respect their courage for speaking the truth to power and their commitment to the highest standards of journalistic reporting.

Like them, I never shied away from speaking the politically inconvenient truth and like them I will through my blog, twitter and Facebook accounts and other peaceful means hold men and women in positions of power– be they in  politics, public administration,  and business–to account for their decisions and actions. Threats and intimidation would not work with us.

Today, Gan, Chandran and their team are facing existential threats from UMNO-sponsored and Najib-supported Red Shirts led by that despicable. irresponsible,  and racist Jamal Ikan Bakar Yunos.

By threatening the news portal, the Red Shirts are breaking the law. But as things stand today, the hooligans are above the law because they are connected to UMNO, which controls the levers of power in Malaysia. Even our Inspector-General Police has no guts to stand up to the Red Shirts.

Image result for Din Merican and Kamsiah Haider at Bersih

Together my wife Dr. Kamsiah. G. Haider, I stand in solidarity with Premesh Chandran and Steven Gan and the Malaysiakini team. They deserve our support for doing their job splendidly.

I hope you, my loyal readers and friends around the world, will also stand up for Malaysiakini and freedom of the press. We all face existential threats from forces more powerful than us, but let us be reminded by William Shakespeare that “cowards die a thousand times”. –Din Merican

Malaysiakini controlled by its journalists, not outsiders

by Zikri Kamarulzaman

 Malaysiakini is under the full control of its journalists and editors, not its investors or outsiders, said the independent news portal editor-in-chief Steven Gan.

“When it comes to outsiders or even Malaysiakini shareholders influencing our editorial, that is completely impossible,” Gan said at a press conference following the red-shirts rally outside the news portal’s office in Petaling Jaya today.

Gan said even the Media Development Investment Fund (MDIF), which owns 29 percent of Malaysiakini, had no say in the website’s editorial policy.

He explained that the two had signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) when the venture capital made the investment 10 years ago, agreeing that the latter would have “no editorial say” in Malaysiakini.

Gan was responding to red-shirts leader Jamal Md Yunos, who said Malaysiakini’s editorial was not independent and that it bowed to the will of American business magnate George Soros.

Soros’ Open Society Foundations (OSF) is one of 50 MDIF investors and funders, which include a number of European banks. Malaysiakini had also received funds from the OSF for two KiniTV news programmes in Sarawak.

Gan said the real influencers in Malaysiakini’s editorial policies are its journalists.

“We have daily meetings, and all Malaysiakini journalists and editors decide on what to report and follow up on,” he said.

Image result for Premesh Chandran

Elaborating on the company’s shareholders, Gan said that he and Malaysiakini CEO Premesh Chandran (above) were the majority shareholders, a total of 59 percent. Besides the 29 percent owned MDIF, 12 percent are owned by Malaysiakini staff.

Meanwhile, he said there was only one politician among the scores of shareholders in Malaysiakini.

Subang MP Sivarasa Rasiah, who is from the opposition PKR, has a very small stake after investing RM5,000 in the company 17 years ago when he was a human rights lawyer. “That was 10 years before he decided to run for Parliament. His share is 0.001 percent. It’s really minor,” Gan said.

Up to 700 red-shirts had turned up for the rally against Malaysiakini this afternoon, which lasted about two and a half hours.

The protest was spurred by leaked documents which allege that Malaysiakini, Bersih and Merdeka Centre were being funded by the OSF.

Jamal had originally wanted to hold a rally in Dataran Merdeka, but moved the location to Malaysiakini’s office after Kuala Lumpur City Hall denied both the red-shirts and Bersih permission to gather at the historic square.

Budgies, boobies and booty


October 8, 2016

Budgies, boobies and booty: Learn to respect cultural sensibilities

I do object to behaviour by fellow Australians that offends if not insults the cultural sensitivities of people in foreign countries of which they are guests… And I shudder at the sight and sound of bunches of oinks arrogantly shouting “Aussie, Aussie, Aussie, oi, oi, oi” anywhere, either at home or abroad… Especially when the offenders are not only of what should be mature age, but also of privileged family and educational backgrounds, as in the case of what the Australian media are calling either the ‘Budgy Nine’ or ‘Budgie Nine’–Dean Johns

by Dean Johns
http://www.malaysiakini.com

Image result for budgie nine

The Budgie Nine

The mind boggles at what a balls-up the boobies of the UMNO-BN regime are making of so-called ‘justice’ in Malaysia.

Nine Australians who made grand pricks of themselves at the Petronas F1 Grand Prix by stripping down to ‘budgie smugglers’ or in other words swimmers, cossies or Speedos emblazoned with the Malaysian flag escaped conviction for any offence, though in the meantime spent four days in jail.

But apparently the same people who objected to the sight of these skimpily-clad bodies didn’t have the same problem with the way the Petronas bimbos flaunted their boobies and booties.

Personally, of course, I take no offence whatever at the sight of beautiful, bootiful, boobiful or otherwise bountiful bodies of any sex or gender. But I do object to behaviour by fellow Australians that offends if not insults the cultural sensitivities of people in foreign countries of which they are guests.

And I shudder at the sight and sound of bunches of oinks arrogantly shouting “Aussie, Aussie, Aussie, oi, oi, oi” anywhere, either at home or abroad.

Especially when the offenders are not only of what should be mature age, but also of privileged family and educational backgrounds, as in the case of what the Australian media are calling either the ‘Budgy Nine’ or ‘Budgie Nine’

Image result for budgie nine

This is more any respecting Malaysian can take–It is provocative and uncalled for.

Alternative spellings that bring me to what no media in Australia or elsewhere appear to have noticed: an apparently commercial motivation for this group’s antics.

Swimsuits of the kind they flaunted in Malaysia, and reportedly previously in locations as diverse as Croatia, The Netherlands, Italy and Greece, and which are worn by male competitive swimmers virtually everywhere, have been traditionally known as Speedos.

Only comparatively recently have Speedo-brand and other Speedo-style swimsuits become known in Australian slang as ‘budgie smugglers’, a term defined by the online Urban Dictionary as ‘any item of male bathing costume that encloses the wearer’s genitalia in a manner that resembles the concealment of a budgerigar’.

In other words, ‘budgie smugglers’ is a generic slang term, but ‘Budgy smugglers’, as close scrutiny of the nine flaunters of this garment in Malaysia reveals, is a registered brand.

Marketing method in apparent madness

Thus there could clearly be a good deal of marketing method in these exhibitionists’ apparent madness, and presumably a great deal for some or all of them to gain from the glare of global exposure they are achieving for the Budgy smugglers brand through such stunts as they have pulled in Malaysia and elsewhere.

In short, I strongly suspect that the Budgy Nine are in it not just for laughs but for also for loot. Or, if you like, into semi-baring their booties for booty.

If this is the case, then it’s no wonder they were treated so leniently by the Malaysian court before which they appeared. Because apparently, as far as Malaysian ‘justice’ is concerned, the more privileged the suspect and the more booty involved, the better.

Petty offences by the poor and powerless are mercilessly punished, as in the case of illegal immigrant Abu Huraira Razak, who was recently sentenced to three years in jail, a RM5,000 fine or additional 12 months in jail and deportation after serving his sentence for breaking into a restaurant and stealing RM1.

Yet, to cite just a few of countless examples of cases of the connected getting away with the booty, the principals involved in the RM250-million National Feedlot Corporation (NFC) scandal were found to have no case to answer; as far as I know nobody has been penalised or repaid a penny for involvement in the RM12-billion Port Klang Free Zone (PKFZ) fraud; billionaire timber-stealing suspect Abdul Taib ‘The Termite’ Taib apparently remains untouchable; and of course Malaysian Official 1 and his accomplices in the RM42-billion 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) fiasco are at least so far still uncharged and at large.

Furthermore, in an outrageous instance of the pot’s calling the kettle black, the man most largely responsible for enabling if not engineering this bootyful but far from beautiful state of affairs, Mahathir Mohamad, despite his own wealth and that of his allegedly filthy-rich sons, remains free to criticise his successors for continuing his legacy.

In the face of such massive crime and corruption, not to mention politically-connected killings, it seems obscene to me that so many Malaysians can get their knickers in knots about such a minuscule matter as the sight of a bunch of beer-swilling mat sallehs in Budgy smugglers.

But I suppose that at least it serves to divert their attention for a moment from the fact that they’re forever the butts of a far more serious if not outright fatal joke: a ruling regime that sees them as nothing but a source of booty, and complete with institutions as the police, judiciary and media that allegedly utterly fail to perform their sworn duty.

NST Editor quits over truth and 1MDB


June 4, 2016

NST Editor quits over truth and 1MDB

by FMT Reporters

Mustapha Kamil’s explanation highlighted by Kit Siang with challenge to other journalists

Mustapha Kamil’s online posting of why he resigned as group editor of the UMNO-controlled New Straits Times newspaper last month was highlighted by DAP leader Lim Kit Siang today, with an accompanying challenge to other Malaysian journalists.

In the posting, Mustapha (pic above) said he had left after a struggle with his conscience and the journalists’ code to seek the truth.

He said his decision came after the Wall Street Journal was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize in April for its reporting on corruption allegations surrounding 1Malaysia Development Bhd – which he descibed indirectly as “an issue that happened right under my nose”.

Mustapha did not refer to the Journal by name, politely describing the financial daily as “an American newspaper, headquartered somewhere in Lower Manhattan in New York”.

His posting was highlighted by Kit Siang at his blog and in a press statement, Lim asked: “Are there no more journalists in the mainstream media in Malaysia to uphold the ‘truth discipline’ or who could search their conscience whether they are doing right by their nation, profession and future generations?”

Lim has been known to lambast Malaysian journalists, particularly editors, working in the politically-controlled press and often demanded that they leave the profession.

Picking up from Mustapha’s note, which has circulated on Facebook, Lim said the 1MDB affair had affected the reputation and standing of institutions such as the Attorney-General’s Chambers, Bank Negara, the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission, the police, Auditor-General’s Office, the Public Accounts Committee and even Parliament itself.

Mustapha’s resignation was reported in May. Although confirming that he was leaving, he would not speak about his reasons. He ended his 26-year career with NST at the end of May.

Lim reproduced Mustapha’s note verbatim. It said:

“On the morning of April 25th I walked into the CEO’s room with my resignation letter in hand. We sat and talked about my wish for a good one hour where naturally, the CEO enquired why I had wanted to do so.

“The CEO is a chartered accountant, a man who took his job very seriously, one who is adept with numbers and besides heading the company, someone whom I also considered a friend…

“There were two things I related to him that morning. First, just as he, a chartered accountant, would not hesitate to qualify a set of flawed accounts, signing each of them not only by his name, but also by the ethics enshrined within the professional body in which he was a member, I too take journalism ethics seriously.

“In my line of work, there is this element called the ‘truth discipline’. It is one that requires a journalist to be correct, right from the spelling of names of persons or places, to all the reports he must file. His responsibility is first to the truth, by which he must then guide society in navigating the path they had chosen.

“Second, I told him that I had weighed the situation for as long as I could but when an American newspaper, headquartered somewhere in Lower Manhattan in New York, wrote a story that got nominated for the coveted Pullitzer Prize, about an issue that happened right under my nose, I began to seriously search my conscience and asked myself why was I in journalism in the first place.

In my line of work, there is this element called the ‘truth discipline’. It is one that requires a journalist to be correct, right from the spelling of names of persons or places, to all the reports he must file. His responsibility is first to the truth, by which he must then guide society in navigating the path they had chosen.

“Second, I told him that I had weighed the situation for as long as I could but when an American newspaper, headquartered somewhere in Lower Manhattan in New York, wrote a story that got nominated for the coveted Pullitzer Prize, about an issue that happened right under my nose, I began to seriously search my conscience and asked myself why was I in journalism in the first place.

“We had a cordial discussion that morning and the CEO fully understood my predicament and the fact that there was little else that I could do. In my 27 years of being a journalist, I never once subscribed to the saying that if you can’t beat them, join them.

“In this line of work, there is no such thing as the path of least resistance. You have to stick to your principles. Around the world, an average of 110 like us, pay the ultimate price each year to get the true stories out. At the very least, I felt that as a journalist, I had to honour the sacrifices they had made in abiding by the discipline.

I hope that answers everything.”

The Wall Street Journal was nominated for international reporting. However the Pulitzer Prize – the highest annual journalism award in the United States – went to Alissa J Rubin of the New York Times for her moving accounts from Afghanistan about Afghan women “forced to endure unspeakable cruelties”.

The Journal wrote about 1MDB in a series of reports between July and August last year. The prime minister, Najib Razak, and his supporters have accused the Journal of making false accusations and of being used by the anti-Najib campaign to force him out of office.

SEE ALSO:

WSJ gets Pulitzer nomination for ‘masterful’ 1MDB reporting

1MDB: WSJ report on billions missing an outright lie

Bad Narratives


June 3, 2016

Bad Narratives

by Paul Krugman

Image result for clinton vs trump

Maybe the Trump phenomenon is about the rage of angry white Republican men, a rage not shared by voters at large. Maybe Clinton is a much better candidate than she’s given credit for — her main problem is not lack of “authenticity” or whatever, but the unremitting hostility of the media, which have given her far more negative coverage than they’re given anyone else.

…Maybe Clinton is a much better candidate than she’s given credit for — her main problem is not lack of “authenticity” or whatever, but the unremitting hostility of the media, which have given her far more negative coverage than they’re given anyone else.–Nobel Laureate Dr.Paul Krugman

Every time we have a presidential election, I (and many others) find ourselves marveling at the way much of the news media settles on a narrative, and holds to that narrative no matter how much evidence accumulates that it’s wrong. In this campaign so far, the settled narrative is (1) American public full of rage at established figures (2) Hillary in trouble. Initially, actually, this was “public fed up with Bush and Clinton dynasties”, but had to be modified once it turned out that younger, fresher GOP establishment faces were equally hapless.

But what if none of this is true?

If Americans in general are full of rage, why does President Obama have a better approval rating than Ronald Reagan at this stage? This is actually amazing given the “negative partisanship” that ensures that Republicans will never express approval for a Democratic president.

As for Clinton, if you read the papers or, worse yet, watch cable, you’ve seen her doomed at least three times — last fall, before the Benghazi hearings, after the NH primary, and during the Sanders string of caucus victories before the New York primary. Strange to say, however, she’s about to win the nomination — and if the demographics-based projections are right, which they have consistently been, she’ll end up with about four times the delegate lead Obama had in 2008 and with a 4 million popular vote lead (as compared with the 2008 tie).

Knremitting hostility of the media has given given her far more negative coverage than they’re given anyone else?” Donald J. Trump disagrees. Now who is right? The Political Phenomenon Donald Trump or The Not a Natural Politician Hillary Clinton? It is for the American Voter to decide come November, 2016. But it is well for him to remember that the next President’s decisions will affect the rest of the world. It is time for Hillary to be authentic and upfront with her politics and foreign policy. Apping Barack Obama can be a disadvantage for her since the American voter wants change in Washington D–Din Merican

So how about a “counterintuitive” take — we’re supposed to love those, right? (I know, but not if they favor a Clinton.) Maybe a majority of Americans, while not full of joy about the aftermath of financial crisis, think pretty well of Obama, and are reasonably willing to support a continuation of his policies. Maybe the Trump phenomenon is about the rage of angry white Republican men, a rage not shared by voters at large. Maybe Clinton is a much better candidate than she’s given credit for — her main problem is not lack of “authenticity” or whatever, but the unremitting hostility of the media, which have given her far more negative coverage than they’re given anyone else.

There’s still the question of what Bernie Sanders and his diehard supporters may do. But assuming that they don’t decide to go full Nader, this year is likely to be a big victory for continuation of Obama policies, in the person of Hillary Clinton. Of course, I look forward to a day or two after the election, when we begin reading stories about how the Clinton administration is in freefall.

http://krugman.blogs.nytimes.com/2016/05/31/bad-narratives/?_r=0

Hishamuddin Rais: Malaysia’s Che


sMay 16, 2016

BREAKING NEWS:

 Hishamuddin Rais fined RM5000

The Court of Appeal today overturned the nine-month jail sentence imposed on social activist Hishamuddin Rais for sedition.The three-member panel led by judge Tengku Maimun Tuan Mat accepted the appeal by Hishamuddin on his sentence.

“This is a unanimous decision; we find no reason to dismiss the appeal on the conviction.We find no compelling reason to disturb the decision of the Sessions Court,” Tengku Maimun said in her judgment.

The Sessions Court – which slapped Hishamuddin with a fine of RM5,000 – had applied the correct sentencing, she added.The judgment was received with applause by Hishamuddin’s many supporters who packed the courtroom today.

Apart from Tengku Maimun, Court of Appeal judges Ahmad Asnawi and Abdul Karim Abdul Jalil were in the panel for today’s decision.

Hishamuddin was sentenced to a nine-month jail term for sedition by the High Court in January after it allowed the prosecution’s appeal for a heavier sentence.The Sessions Court had previously sentenced him to a fine of RM5,000.

In 2013, Hishammuddin was, together with politicians Tian Chua, Tamrin Ghafar and activists Adam Adli Abdul Halim, Haris Ibrahim and Muhammad Safwan Anang, charged with sedition for their speeches at a forum made on May 13 that year. Hishamuddin and the others were accused of inciting the public to overthrow the government through street protests after the Barisan Nasional won the general election, although the popular vote was won by the opposition.–— Alyaa Azhar

Hishamuddin Rais: Malaysia’s Che

by Masjaliza Hamzah

http://www.malaysiakini.com

MALAYSIANS KINI If you ask the state who Hishamuddin Rais is, the answer is a laundry list of anti-government actions spanning five decades. The authorities can point to the student rallies he helped organise, aligning those attending lectures at universities with peasant uprisings of the 1970s.

During the Reformasi period in the late 1990s, former Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad pinned on the firebrand’s lapel the notorious label of “dalang reformasi” (mastermind of Reformasi, the period of political tumult), earning him stints at lock-ups in Dang Wangi, Pulapol and Jalan Stadium.

Today, the 65-year-old is a “seditionist” for calling for the toppling of the newly-elected government in 2013. If his final appeal in the court today fails, he will be spending nine months behind bars.

Hishamuddin is no stranger to life in detention. He has been been detained eight times in Malaysia – the longest being a 26-month stay as a political prisoner at Kamunting Detention Centre, from 2001-2003, twice in India, once in Russia and once in Australia.

But who is Hishamuddin Rais?Ask those from Universiti Bangsar Utama (UBU), a collective he founded in the late 1990s to instigate youth to take up political action, and they will call him their own Che Guevara, a big brother figure for youths whose coming of age was during a volatile political period in Malaysia’s history.

Ask others still and they will speak of his food column, his excellent dishes and even his foray into food styling for a photo shoot for ‘The Last Supper’.Others will recall his television scripts – uncredited due to the controversy it could bring – for TV dramas and comedies. Among them was ‘Mencari Anak Wayang’, which ran for 123 episodes.

He has written songs and at least one play – ‘Bilik Sulit’ – which was first featured in Malaysia in 2005, then in 2008 and 2013 it and closed in London after a month-long tour in the UK in April 2014. More recently, Hishamuddin has also done stand-up comedy, all to spread the message that Malaysia needs democracy, plain and simple. But this message is not always well-received.

“(Even today) I can say that at certain venues, I can’t perform as a stand-up comedian. Apparently, Hishamuddin can’t be involved. My political comedy is seen as offensive, subversive and a danger to the club,” he said in an interview with Malaysiakini recently.

Having lived in self-imposed exile for 12 years, he has picked up some European habits – he wears cravats and an assortment of hats, appearing in a television show in 1994 in a beret, with fat prayer beads in his hands to make a political point.

He braves Malaysia’s blazing heat in a blazer, but his reasons are practical – he needs pockets for all the keys he carries around. The eccentricity and his court jester ways make the former Bersih steering committee member a crowd-puller at ceramah sessions, cracking jokes and making the makcik and pakcik giggle through his spot-on socio-political commentaries.

It is debatable whether he coined the term ‘NGI’ (non-governmental individual), as opposed to NGOs (non-governmental organisations) but among those critical of the government, he is a veritable institution. Of all the things he does well, there are many things he does not, or cannot do. This includes driving.

Despite lacking a driver’s licence, his feature film ‘Dari Jemapoh ke Manchestee’ is a coming of age road trip movie, featuring a classic white Volvo and features landscapes of his native Negri Sembilan. He has also acted twice in TV dramas, ironically, as taxi drivers – the car, dragged on the road by another vehicle to simulate driving.

An old school kind of guy, the Kuala Pilah-born and Jelebu-raised Hishamuddin does not know how to click ‘like’ on Facebook. Despite earning some income from his popular blog ‘Tukar Tiub’, with the 20,000-plus Twitter followers, he holds a critique of “technology” and social media and how humans use these communications platforms.

Just as well, as he does not keep to well-defined boundaries, often found politically incorrect and at times taken to task for sexist remarks.Ever reflective, he says that he recognises “traits of masculinity, sexism, and patriarchy” in him, and would not mind attending a gender awareness training session “after Kajang”, where he could be serving the sedition sentence, if the conviction is upheld.

But the occasional faux pas is not enough to turn off fellow activists who are lining up to care for his many pets if he is sent away. One would think a man with such a legion of fans would have, by now, put together an autobiography. In Hishamuddin’s head, the biography will be three-parts, but for now, it will remain in his mind.

“One doesn’t write a biography about oneself until you get a heart attack. My health is okay. When you write something, it’s almost as if you are coming to an end. I’m not. I am still at my prime. The nation will have to bear with me for a few more years.”

Here is his story, in his own words.

I WAS A PROBLEM CHILD for my parents. Once, before I was of schooling age, I went with my parents to visit a newborn. I looked at the head – the skull was still forming – and I could see the ubun (crown) moving and I touched it (and gave everyone a fright).

Every time before we visit anybody, my mum would say: “Jangan cakap ini, jangan buat tu” (Don’t say this, don’t do that).

IT WAS NOT A BAD CHILDHOOD. The whole ricefield was my playground, the river was my swimming pool, the jungle behind my house was my hunting ground. I had, as (English writer) EM Forster said, “a well-developed heart, a well-developed character”.

I DEVELOPED A REPUTATION. Some parents used me as a tauladan (an example), some as sempadan (a limit).

I remember being on the same panel as the now mufti of Perlis (Asri Zainul Abidin) in Shah Alam four or five years ago. (He said) when he was in UIA (International Islamic University), he was a rebel and the VC asked him, ‘You want to be Hishamuddin, ke?’. I have also met a Malaysian artist in Paris. She told me her father said, ‘Don’t be like Hishamuddin’.

I DON’T HAVE A SMARTPHONE ‘COS I DON’T ALLOW ANYTHING I OWN TO BE SMARTER THAN ME. I don’t have WhatsApp. I have Facebook but I don’t even know how to click ‘like’. I have never clicked ‘like’.

In Europe, at least in Belgium, on the weekends, there are no newspapers. In London, the news is shorter on weekends; it’s as if nothing happened. After 7.30pm, the world slows down.

I don’t own a laptop. I have a tablet. When I go out of KL, I use it as my desktop. I read (about) a research (finding) recently that people who communicate using these things less are more sober, less assaulted by, the German word, angst.

THESE MODES OF COMMUNICATION ARE ALL OVER THE TOP. For example, you have dinner with two or three friends and they are constantly on their mobile phone. Come on. Pay full attention to the food on the table. This is my criticism and one of my obsessions.

TV IS BAD ENOUGH. (On TV), you go for soundbites. With Twitter, in these 140 characters, in that short form, you minimise spelling, minimise the idea. We communicate less and in a less human way.

I use Twitter and Facebook to publicise events; that’s all. I rarely, rarely respond. I don’t know if I have liked anything. I don’t follow anybody. I have about 20,000 followers, kot (maybe)? I put it (my post) there, I retweet public forums, events, some gigs, mostly political ceramah.I tweet from my desktop. After 7.30pm, I stop my tweets.The thing about humans is their ability to communicate in using language; it can be very beautiful.

I AM NOT AGAINST TECHNOLOGY. I am not raging against the machine, but I have more confidence in the ability of the human person to communicate using his oral ability, his brain, not (mediated) by technology. I object to WhatsApp (being used to discuss important decisions). it has created problems – people say something and it gets shared.

The difference (between communicating using these platforms and) talking with someone in front of you is that there is body movement; you can look at the face, gesture.

When in front of a machine, you can’t see what people on the other side are doing. If machines take over, humanity has diminished in its value.The best thing technology has offered me is the washing machine – I was liberated from washing my dirty clothes.

I DO stand-up comedy, theatre, my plays, my films, songs that I write – these are just mediums. People get confused.I am still sending the same message. The medium changes from time to time. Sometimes the medium overlaps with one another, but the text hasn’t changed. The text is that we still need to have plain democracy in Malaysia. That’s it.

MALAY IS NOT BIOLOGICAL; it’s a social construct. It’s also a sense of being. And there’s also another modern form – Melayu kad pengenalan (identity card Malay) – constitutional Malay. For me, being Malay is a sense of being, an attachment to a geographical area, to a culture, cultural norms and beliefs in the general sense.

It’s like in Britain, there’s King Arthur, Excalibur, Camelot – the myths. Same with my Melayu. I play Hang Tuah and Hang Jebat. Whether they exist or not, it doesn’t matter. I identify as a Malay in that sense, not above or below anybody; just my sense of being.

BEING MALAY IS ALSO IN THE FOOD. Malay food is excellent. The taste is there, well-developed, with spices. It’s peasant food.The presentation is a bit of a failure; it hasn’t come to the state of being a cuisine, it’s just dishes. In Malay you say, hanya makanan, belum jadi santapan. The ratio of kuah (gravy) and ikan (fish), for example. Those days, we were poor (and ate the sauce with a lot of rice). We must learn to make less sauce.

I HAVE NEVER IMAGINED MYSELF OWNING A CAR, never had the desire to own a car. If I were to own a car, it would be this French car called (Citroen) 2CV – like (Perodua) Kancil, it’s small; they don’t make them anymore. The Kancil or 2CV, they’re elegant because they are small. In a big city, it’s easy parking. I don’t know about the engine; I am looking only at the flexibility of the vehicle.

PEOPLE SAY I LIVE POORLY. I live better than the New Yorker yuppie. People have no base; I have a base. My base is the Indian jail (in 1982) – a crowded small place with a toilet with dry shit in it. It’s in the basement, with the suffocating smell of urine and shit.

Whenever I am done, I compare it to the Bombay Central lock-up and Arthur Road. (In recent times, Bollywood actor) Salman Khan was there too. I don’t know his block; I was in Block 3. Ya, that was where I was.

I shared the same lawyer as (‘Bandit Queen’) Phoolan Devi. Before Indarjit Singh defended Phoolan Devi, she defended me. She is a competent, female human rights lawyer appointed by the NGO which supported me (during my incarceration in India).

PEOPLE WHO SAY I AM SEXIST AND ‘MASCULINE’ are probably right. I have traits of masculinity, sexism, and patriarchy. I have not developed into a full-blown feminist. I’m also not into PC (political correctness).

In stereotyping, if you look carefully, there are certain truths. This is how message is relayed – simple version. I am up for criticism. For that matter, sometimes, in my comedies, some of my jokes are not PC.

I went to a fully male boarding school (Malay College Kuala Kangsar); had little interaction with females. I think I don’t discriminate. I will not look at someone as male or female. This is my attitude; I need to be more sensitive.

UBU is a reflection of that. We failed in the gender balance; our female activists were not many. In UBU, they come and go. ‘Dapur Jalanan’ (a food project for urban poor) is less political, more social welfare, so a bit of safe ground (and has more women participation).

In UBU, we were not masculine in the sense of being men. We were unable to recruit women; it’s that, actually. You have raised a profound question: why didn’t evaluate or dissect (why women did not join the collective). We (UBU) did not intelligently debate the idea (of feminism and masculinity). I know there was no gender balance.

THE SEDITION JAIL SENTENCE IS NOT POLITICAL, IT’S CRIMINAL. It follows a criminal regime. There are rules and regulations.When I was a political prisoner before (under the Internal Security Act), I didn’t have to wear a uniform, I didn’t have to cut my hair. Now I have to cut my hair.

To be locked up is about breaching your routine – that is what will upset me most. You are not able to do things you usually do.I am zen about this (impending jail sentence). You receive it and you transform it into your body and soul. I tell people (who are going to be locked up), ‘Don’t look at the lock. It is small but you are unable to do anything with it. Just accept it.’

I AM A VERY ROUTINE-ORIENTED PERSON. People think I am chaotic. I have coffee with a biscuit at 12 noon. I have lunch at 12.30pm. I am predictable. I sit down at a coffeeshop in Brickfields till 1 or 2am – that is also my routine. My radicalism is in my ideas, in my writing, in the things I try to promote.

I am a rather open person. The Police know where I live and what I do. To have the notion that you are being followed, it’s a waste of time for the state to follow me.

The ‘deep state’, I can understand how it identifies me. In the last ‘Kita Lawan’ (protest), I had lunch with some people and when I came out of the restaurant (in the Jalan Tuanku Abdul Rahman area), they detained me and sent me to Jinjang.

In front of the magistrate, the arresting officer said we were having a press conference (PC). The anak muda (youths) had a programme but I was not at the PC.

It’s like the last segment in Casablanca (the movie), after Ilsa flew out of Morocco. Captain Renault spoke to Rick and asked them to ‘round up the usual suspects’. They always need to round up the usual suspects. I am always on of the usual suspects.

I AM UPSET THAT THE STATE HAS CREATED ME AS BIGGER THAN WHAT I AM. I am just a routine person. The state has created me; it’s unnecessary. It has created people it wants to identify as ‘enemies of the state’.

In the last (sedition) trial, the judge said: “The guy has given a speech in the hall, but no one followed what he said.” Yes, it is true I spoke at the May 13 meeting in 2013. They said it was seditious but nothing happened; everybody dispersed in peace.

IN 1998, I HAD NO CLUE WHO WAS BEHIND ‘REFORMASI’. I was there (at Jalan Tuanku Abdul Rahman, Kuala Lumpur) as an observer, on the way to Bagan Lalang to be a member of the jury for TV3 telemovie and film fest.

I was detained. Mahathir said “dalang reformasi telah ditangkap” (the mastermind of the reformasi movement has been detained).I had just come back from Europe. It was convenient to connect me back to the history of 1974 (university student protests) to Anwar Ibrahim.

There is some truth (to the idea of Hishamuddin Rais as not just a construction of the state). There are certain historical events – 74 protest in Tasik Utara, 74 protest in Baling, activities in Australia and Europe; yes, it’s true. But that is my responsibility as a citizen. It’s a way of saying thank you to Malaysia.

I WAS BORN IN THIS COUNTRY. MY LOYALTY IS TO THIS PIECE OF LAND. This is my thank you – to uphold what is just and speak the truth.If that is a crime, I suppose I am a criminal. If that is what the state construes me as criminal, then the state can identify me as a criminal.

I used to live in Baghdad in the late 70s. There’s a proverb – whoever drank water from the river Tigris – which separates old and new Baghdad – will always belong to Baghdad.

I LOOK FORWARD (to the nine months in jail), if they send me. I can have a break. I will stop writing, my column, my blog will be on hold. That’s it. I take a break.Let’s see what happens after nine months. Now is a bad time, but good times are coming.

You know the story of Nabi Yusuf, where there was (the dream of seven skinny cows devouring seven fat cows, interpreted to mean) seven dry seasons to be followed by seven prosperous years? Now we are in the bad season but the good season will come.

Not tomorrow. The future is not the day after tomorrow. Next change. Akan datang. Change could be a long time coming.


MALAYSIANS KINI is a series on Malaysians you should know.