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A Dangerous Man called Haris

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 government.        

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.
I've interacted 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.

Then 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.

NONESo, 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 person.

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 different
I 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.

The 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.

And 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 the people."

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 stop now.

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.

Ironically, 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.

The 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.

I 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.

Malaysia, 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.

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