This column first appeared in The Malay Mail Online, on February 12, 2015.It is reproduced here.
I was the media go to guy at PKR between 2012-2013, working out of Anwar Ibrahim’s office and managing both social media and traditional media for the party for the duration leading to the 13th General Election.
FEBRUARY 12 — “Life had already given him sufficient reasons for knowing that no defeat was the final one.” (Gabriel García Márquez, from The General in His Labyrinth)
Have you seen Anwar Ibrahim walk into a room? It’s quite foreign in these parts — in Putrajaya certainly no less — to see a consummate public figure soak up the room and make it an occasion whether it is a large coalition meeting or just a small group of out of towners seeking his time.
It’s not aura exactly, it’s the immersion he has to his role. No one believes in Anwar Ibrahim more than Anwar Ibrahim.
It explains why all discussions about the Opposition leader assume a different feel than other politicians past and present. At the same time, his detractors will say verily that that is why he is always entangled in one surreal political subterfuge to the next.
While there are legions inside and outside Malaysia, and indeed inside and outside politics, ready or readying to fill column space with analysis of the trial, tribulations, our judiciary and the politicians which inundate the space in regards to Anwar, I can’t help feeling dejected that he’s in a prison cell.
This is not about the spectacle, but the man in the story. The man in solitary confinement tonight — and as many nights thereafter that is required as counting for our judiciary’s high priests to fall into slumber and escape their own conscience.
Despair is the health of the damned
When they brought him to prison two days ago, he would not forget he’s Anwar.
Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim’s supporters hold a candlelight vigil outside the Sungai Buloh Prison in Kuala Lumpur February 11, 2015. — Picture by Saw Siow FengDatuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim’s supporters hold a candlelight vigil outside the Sungai Buloh Prison in Kuala Lumpur February 11, 2015. — Picture by Saw Siow FengHe’ll say hello to the first prison guard he sees, and then the next.
Always before they are ready to overcome the awkwardness of the encounter and give their own opening salutations. Then, it would be about knowing more about the men in uniform, and sharing observations about where they come from. They’d be laughing soon.
It’s a huge burden lifted from the guards to know that they are not being blamed for the situation.
This week will be hard. No politician in Malaysia is more acquainted with the inside of an incarceration centre, but 11 years out and 67 years of age there are many re-entry challenges. I cannot begin to imagine. I can’t even if I started.
A day locked in seems like an eternity for those without a grasp of prison-life. I fear like the mortal I am, I may trade in all my possessions and maybe my integrity to stay out of jail.
Irresistible force of love
It’s quite normal in everyday parlance for PKR members to mention the Anwar family as a collective. That they come in a package, which is not altogether incorrect, however it does grate to assume that all that comes their way is from being in that family. And right now, they are feeling a galaxy more than the rest about the cost of business in Malaysian politics.
Every day is a personal reminder of a presumed lengthy absence. For Nurul Izzah Anwar, the knife cuts too close to the bone. To champion the cause as party vice-president, and to feel part of the cause’s collateral damage as the daughter must be overwhelming. Wan Azizah Wan Ismail, the wife, has armies of cynics snorting at her but can they deny her the fact she is absolutely in love with the man?
I’m deeply uncertain what to tell them. Can they find solace in the lesser hurt others share for their father and husband?
I’ve been quoting The General in his Labyrinth liberally here because it is that one book I know Anwar always talks about when literature is discussed. Marquez did quite the connect with him in it, it would seem. Perhaps he saw his own fate intertwine with the solitude of Simon Bolivar in his final days.
Perhaps it’s time Anwar writes his story, not just commentate about great ideas and men. A generation of Malaysians is removed from his personal story. There is way too much written in the abstract about him, like a bibliography of events that have shaken the country, but not how the man has been moved from his own journey.
He should listen to Marquez in the voice of Bolivar: “And there’s nothing more dangerous than a written memoir.”
I am sure naysayers would have a field day discounting an Anwar memoir, and they are welcome to their own version.
At the mercy of an uncertain destiny
I have disagreed with Anwar many times, and still of the opinion his fixed ways have stood in the way of Pakatan’s — and indeed PKR’s — ascension to the next level. This despite his outstanding work in forging the first long-standing and successful coalition to stand in the way of the Barisan Nasional juggernaut.
But whatever Anwar the political creature is there is no need for him to languish in a prison cell.
In that, the majority of Malaysians, irrespective of which way they vote would agree. I saw yesterday spray-painted on the wall of a Leyte state university in the suburbs of Tacloban, a Jason Donohue quote: “I see humans, but no humanity.”
My countrymen painfully sense that inside the decision to incarcerate Anwar, a gut level sentiment. But sentiments are just as powerful in a society, even more than the vagaries of the law.
I’ve asked friends on social media to ease up on the gags related to the conviction. Malaysians love to crack jokes about everything, nothing is really sacrosanct — it may just be our own way of dealing with an uncertain destiny for us all in this democracy. Of course they can say what they want to when they want to, but I remind their restraint for this present time can alleviate the grimness all those associated with Anwar are experiencing now. Jail is very real.
I hope the best for everyone in this quandary. There are no quick fixes, but a little understanding goes a long way. I rather open up Twitter tonight and see his two word responses to literally thousands of tweets daily. But I won’t.
And I am in earnest that Bolivar’s words through Marquez would not be repeated by Anwar alone in his cell: “I’m old, sick, tired, disillusioned, harassed, slandered, and unappreciated.”
I appreciate him a lot.