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The Torchbearer of Reform

Who walks down the streets of Kuala Lumpur to the cheers and chants of support. Together with her children, they are given thunderous applause from an eager loving crowd. In front of the courts as if parading with her lawyers, even those serious lawyer types smile and wave back and by doing so even encouraging the eclectic crowd to elate further. So much so that the police has to enforce the barrier lines forcing the people further back until they are now over the river only to be pushed further so as to hide them away from their symbol of their champion of discontent. The husband has over the period been seen always waving his hand up high for the crowd who in turn cheer his name and shout his slogan. He has never once shown any sign of defeat ever strong spirited. They try to shield his person from being seen by the public, blocking the roads, circling with trucks so that they cut him off from the very people he struggles for. How tragic and how sad things have become. The way things are going they are even afraid of his shadow and looking at the way things are heading for it is as if they are going to crucify him.

They incarcerated her husband but not his spirit and not his ideals. And that spirit and image is in her and her children, family and friends. Truly the spark has been lit, as she said in a TIME interview and she is indeed the torch bearer. The symbol of what is badly wrong in the society and why the fight for truth and justice must go on. It is not a lonely struggle for the goals are shared by all wise minded people. But the suffering, the anxiety, the grief is solely borne by her and her children. Indeed, when a woman has to fight for the cause of righteousness, she has to summon great strength and courage to boldly face antagonists of overwhelming proportions. She has to find the time for her children, keep attending to her beloved husband never once being away from his side in court under much restrictions and to visit him in prison never leaving his side except to part because of forced circumstance. At the same time she has to spearhead and carry on the struggle for justice and carry on her husband's message for reform.

Being the wife of Anwar Ibrahim, Dr Wan Azizah can never be the same after that fateful month of September when everything was taken away from them, their honour, their happiness, their space. That such inhumanity and such cruelty could be perpetrated in full view and in full knowledge of all thinking people was an insult and an affront to dignity and common sense. It caused such a profound reaction and public anger and resentment never before towards an authority which sees itself as benevolent and an authority which seeks constantly gratefulness and homage from the very people they are supposed to serve.

Who says the Muslim woman can never rise above the situation for this is the clear living proof of a woman challenging the odds. Her children steadfastly beside her, her family and friends always being there for her.. But there are no easy ways. A lady welfare minister 'advised' her through the press to just stay home and look after the children and not concern herself. How pathetic can you get and how totally out of touch that veteran lady politician was compared to Wan Azizah. Other politicians were more harsh menacing her with their open and veiled threats. How could this lady overnight be a threat to seasoned and crisis hardened politicians and the vast administrative machinery, one would ask. Some others stayed away from her and but the people were with her, the ordinary public, the NGO's, the ordinary folk rather unlike those fair weather friends. This lady then became a celebrity by being called upon near and far. The Indonesians, Philippines and the Thais send messages of sympathy and personal support for a start. Corazon Aquino immediately identified herself by her. Wan Azizah's daughter Nurul Izzah created a coup by her ASEAN visits showing much the mantle of her father. Then the much vaunted Western sympathies and later the Americans strutted into the scene. They snubbed the already unpopular antagonists and accorded Wan Azizah the level of a dignitary by receiving and meeting with their top officials. This and among others a certain line of a speech provided ammunition for an anti-American backlash in the wake of APEC and was exploited to the hilt to once again slander Wan Azizah and her fledgling movement.

But she is undeterred, not apologetic and much more determined. As they, the well organised and entrenched forces try to put her down, her spirit soars as well as the masses realisation to be with her and to reject what Rehman Rashid calls the politics of contempt. Things will change and ultimately she will prevail, insyallah. As she said in an iftar-breaking of fast gathering in the northern town of Alor Star, quoting from the Qur'an: al-insyirrah - with hardship comes ease, and with hardship comes ease.

Hamdan Muhammad Hassan

24 January 1999.

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[Currently, he is a Senior Civil Engineer at the University Science of Malaysia. He is involved in youth activities with the Muslim Youth Movement in Malaysia. He is also the President for the Muslim Staff Association in his university.]

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