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Tuesday, January 6, 2009

How To Change The World

How To Change The World

I had heard of Haris Ibrahim even before I met him. Some acquaintances had told me of a lawyer who was seemingly singlehandedly taking on the world in his defence of principle. At the time he was involved in the case of the Besut Four, four individuals who had been convicted by a syariah court and sentenced to three years jail even though they had renounced Islam. His was the titanic struggle that pointing to an unpopular and inconvenient truth always is.

Reading of the case in the newspapers, it had struck me how frustrating it must have been for Haris to have to contend with a system that seemed more concerned with finding excuses than solutions. I wondered what it was that made him do what he did.

I came to see the sense of his choices when I met him for the first time at a Bar Council human rights training session a short while later. I saw a man who embraced the world and whose heart had enough space in it for everyone.

Over the years, we have collaborated on various initiatives, driven by a common belief in Malaysia’s need for an open and inclusive society in which all its children, irrespective of race, religion or culture, can have the freedom to pursue their dreams. It is this common belief that saw us developing a proposal for a commission that would be empowered to enquire into matters of religious harmony. It led us to engaging in a public awareness campaign aimed at creating awareness about worrying constitutional trends. It also prompted us to team up in a number cases that we believed had great bearing on the way things would be and which have ultimately left their marks on this nation.

Haris has become one of the most important civil society voices of this era. His highly influential blog, The People’s Parliament, and the range of civil society initiatives he gave life to over the last two years are breathtaking for their depth of reflection and breadth of reach. He was a prime mover of The Peoples’ Declaration, the Barisan Raykat and a host of other initiatives all of which were aimed at making the rest of us see that we had the power to effect change in our hands.

Before we began to believe in ourselves, Haris already did. March 8th proved his faith not to be misplaced. As much as this was about the soundness of his vision of what could be, it was equally about the correctness of his method. I have had the privilege of seeing some of his ideas come to life and I can say with conviction that nothing happened overnight. They developed one step at a time, from conceptualizing to planning to implementation, everything had its time and place.

The lesson I took from this is that to change the world, you must want it to and then take it one small step at a time.

Any effort aimed at improving our community, no matter how small, is a worthwhile one. Change is the by-product of an accumulation of worthwhile endeavours that may have as individual efforts escaped notice. We might think that one person’s choice not to engage in corrupt practices anymore would not bring endemic corruption to an end. If however there were sufficient numbers of such individuals, a tipping point could be reached and we might see a day when those who bribe stood out as the exception rather than the norm.

Understanding that our every action has a consequence is therefore the key that unlocks the door to change. Revolutions always start small. Consider the signals we send to people around us - family, friends or colleagues - and how those signals will be received. If you are a father and you bribe a police officer in front of your child, what you are in effect saying is that corruption is acceptable no matter how you might try to justify your behaviour. In the same way, if you are racist then those who you influence, even indirectly, will be influenced. It is the less obvious dimensions of what we do on a daily basis that trap us into vicious cycles of destructive conduct.

The change we effected last year was only skin deep. For us to transform ourselves we must confront the question of whether we really want change. We cannot run away from the fact that though the politicians are to blame for a good number of things, the ills that ravage our society stem from a value system that we have allowed to warp over time for our own convenience.

The question for us is what we propose to do about it.

(Malay Mail; 6th January 2009)



Anonymous said...

every right thinking malaysian should read this!

there is hope for this country then.

Anonymous said...


it should be, every wrong thingking malaysian should read this cause every right thinking know and understand this issue already. thank you

Anonymous said...

To blind oneself, literally and metaphorically, of the vagaries of prejudices in a land that seems to be impossibly caught up with burning desire to free itself from the yokes of racial and religious bondage, Haris shines as a beacon of hope and light. He had crossed the line of his own comfort to offer comfort to many who can rightly believe that there is yet hope to believe in humanity.

It has never (ever) been my belief or practise to jump to my feet to greet politicians or political leaders. I just pretend that they do not exist even if they are standing just beside me. But I would dearly like to meet the likes of Haris and Imtiaz - that would be an honour.

Unknown said...


haris is truly a towering malaysian. I have personally met him. i dont idolise him but i have my greatest respect for him.

Anonymous said...

Brilliant article..

How true about a man who really fights for justice and fairness for all Malaysians.
History will remember him forever.

Anonymous said...

If only this country is being govern by minds like Harris Ibrahim, Raja Petra, Zaid Ibrahim, Malik Imtiaz etc..

Living in Malaysia is like Heaven on earth..

Unknown said...

A great piece.

Sadly most of our politicians from both sides of the coin tend to miss all these simple things in life.

They forgot that 'A Friend In Need Is A Friend Indeed'.

mei1 said...

I'd say both of you are part of the reasons that made me become a concerned citizen thru forums & the articles that both of you have written on the blogs. And here's my sincere thanks to you & Haris!

Anonymous said...

I first met both you and Haris at the Bangsa Malaysia forum in Penang more than a year ago. What both of you stand for, against all odds most of the times, have been inspirational to us all since then.

Thank you and God bless.

Tangerynne said...

We all live our lives in line with our own beliefs and assumptions, some more obvious than others. It struck me, when reading what you said about the less obvious dimensions of our daily actions, that whilst there are those of us who simply don't think of the consequences of our actions, there are some of us who uphold certain "truths" as beyond question, because its the only truth we have ever known. Nietzsche, in Beyond Good and Evil, writes that what is important is not the courage of our convictions but the courage to attack our own convictions. To see that what we have perceived as truth or the way to truth, is found in first questioning ourselves and from the answers we find, be able to effect and embrace change, as you say, within ourselves first,in the hopes of just being better human beings. I hope, this 2009, for myself and for the people around me, to continue asking myself the difficult questions, and to make the little differences that matter, as you and Haris have done.

Donplaypuks® said...

Rosemajibbed and BN have a peculiar (racist)idea of who some our our Towering Malaysians are. That is their loss!

But Haris and you belong to that class of Malaysians I truly admire and respect. You have my support in your struggle. Keep up the good work and the results you aim for and desire WILL be realised. Of this I have not the slightest doubt!!

zorro said...

Malik, soul-mates find each other, invariably and inevitably.

Whatif said...

Most people know what to do to fight for justice and help the oppressed but few people really go out of their way to make it happen. Haris, RPK, Zaid, Farish, Azly, your goodself and a few others are the few who are the beacons of light and in a way, the conscience of the people.

Keep up the good fight.

Anonymous said...

He is truly a Mahatma! People like him are in short supply in this world..

Unknown said...


very well said.

malik, God bless you mightily too.

Anonymous said...


You are wanted by Rakyat Malaysia to continue voicing your Impartial & Insightful legal understanding and also to uphold the Spirit Righteousness in ensuring that Justice is served to Liberate the oppressed. Hence, you should continue to remain FREE from any Political Party in order to maintain your Independent view !

WY said...

WoW! Very well written and said, MIS. :) A departed from your normal deep writing, but refreshing indeed.

As per Anon - January 6, 2009 8:58:00, I am honoured to be your countryman, both Haris Ibrahim and Malik Imtiaz.

Anonymous said...

..and yet, there is a constant fight in the two Malaysian states in Borneo where the many "Haris's" are marginalized at best, at worst forgotten. They seldom enter our mainstream media nor the alternative news in blogs. At times, they've never entered the minds of our fellow Malaysians. They do not have names nor do they see their names important. What is important is their struggle, which beyond the mere concept of rights that is celebrated by the middle class but suffered by those whose lives (and lands) have been brutalized. They are many of them and they are one. Yet, they are the forgotten ones.

ChengHo said...

Gaza atrocities and massacres require our attention why you still on trivial matters...

Whatif said...


Whatever issues brought up by Malik are anything but trivial. If we do not acknowledge the seriousness of our present situation and work towards a conciliatory permanent solution, Malaysia may end up like Gaza in the years to come.

We have to address and stay focused on the various political, racial, religious and economic problems we are facing now before they deteriorate any further. We have to create a strong foundation where every community would be adequately protected and be able to live freely under the Malaysian sun.

The heart-wrenching situations in Gaza and other places like Darfur are beyond our control. We could only register our utmost concern by blogging or even demo against it and perhaps donate to some relief fund. The direct players and the international bodies are the right ones to find an amicable and peaceful solution.

Perhaps, ChengHo should join Mercy Malaysia to help directly. I would not encourage him to take up arms with the Palestinians against the Israelis. That would be adding oil to fire.