62 years and years well spent

Maybe this is a dream, and a dream that can never come true. However, as the late Tun Ghafar said, we all must have dreams. Only dead people no longer have dreams, said Tun Ghafar. As long as are still alive then we shall certainly have dreams, Tun Ghafar argued. Martin Luther King Jr. had a dream at a time when dogs had a higher status than African-Americans. And, today, that dream eventually saw a non-white become the President of the United States. Is it wrong, therefore, to dream of a Chinese Prime Minister of Malaysia?


Raja Petra Kamarudin

Another weekend will soon be upon us — a week gone and a week closer to our graves. Friends have told me that my articles of late have been very morbid. Actually, thinking about death remind us about the journey we have travelled and what awaits us at the end of that journey. It is good to reflect on whether we have achieved anything or whether we have wasted our entire life.

My first 21 years were wasted in trying to get an education. Yes, 21 good years wasted sitting in a boring classroom when I could have learned more on the streets of Kuala Lumpur. However, it was not a total loss. At age 11, I got caught up in the 1960s Revolution. Today, that era is known as The Sixties. It was the era when changes swept the world. I lived through that era. I was part of it. I experienced it. And that is probably why the spirit of change flows through my veins.

We had the Vietnam War. We had Woodstock. We had the Bay of Pigs invasion in Cuba. We had the Cuban Missile Crisis. We had Marilyn Monroe and President Kennedy who brought glamour to the White House. We had Muhammad Ali who brought glamour to boxing and Islam and who was arrested for refusing to fight in the Vietnam War. We had the anti-Vietnam War university student protests in the hundreds of thousands in the US, France, Germany and Italy. We had the India-Pakistan War. We had the Six Days War between the Arabs and Israel. We had the Cultural Revolution in China. We had the North Ireland conflict. We had Gay Rights Movements springing up all over the world, the result of the Stonewall riots in the Greenwich Village neighbourhood of New York City. We had Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech in Washington. We had the Civil Rights Act of 1964 signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson. We had the March on Washington. We had Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous “Letter from Birmingham Jail”. We had the construction of the Berlin Wall. We had British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan deliver his “Wind of Change” speech. We had the assassinations of President Kennedy, Robert Kennedy, Vietnam President Ngo Dinh Diem, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King Jr., and many more all over the world. We had the Hells Angels in the US. We had the Rockers in England. We had the Mersey side music revolution in Liverpool. We had Jane Fonda, Peter Fonda, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendix, Joe Cocker, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Jethro Tull, The Who, Jefferson Airplane, Uriah Heep, Grand Funk, Cream, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, Bob Dylan, Donovan, Led Zeppelin, The Byrds, The Moody Blues, Procol Harum, Bob Marley, Santana, Joan Baez, Ravi Shankar, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, Yoko Ono, and many, many more.

Phew, my brain is bursting just trying to remember every significant event and person of the 1960s. I think I just managed to scratch the surface with my list above. Closer to home, we had the Pudu Jail demonstration and the first time I ever experienced the pain of tear gas (yeap, I was there). We had the demonstration in front of the USIS where one chap was shot dead. We saw Umno almost brought down. And, of course, we had May 13.

The 1960s was also when I met the first love of my life. Actually, to be honest, I had four loves in my life. The first was my wife Marina, who I met when she was 14 and I 17, and the other three were my Honda 350, Honda 450 and Yamaha 650 — not necessarily in that order of priority.


The 1960s certainly moulded me into what I am today. Okay, I admit, I did not mould into a perfect human being. I mean, when I transferred my education from the classroom to the streets of Kuala Lumpur, I discovered that the Long Fu Tong was more exciting than the rugby team. I discovered that fistfights solved arguments better than debates and gang fights are more fun than track and field events. I discovered that if you can’t avoid a bike crash then smile as you go under and go out in style — I had 12 bike crashes in the 1960s and lost as many comrades due to bike crashes, all spectacular, I must add. Further to that, about ten or so comrades were murdered in gangland wars and ambushes.

I really don’t know how I survived the 1960s when, with my lifestyle, the odds of living past 21 were very slim. Anyway, enough talk about the events of the 1960s. Let’s move to the 1970s. That was when my father died and I was forced to wise up to the reality that life is not just about partying, fighting and racing at breakneck speed along Jalan Tuanku Abdul Rahman. With my father now gone I had to go out and earn a living and the following year Marina and I got married. Two years later, we moved to Kuala Terengganu to start our own business. And that was when my life changed — not sure whether for the better, though.

In Kuala Terengganu, I ‘discovered’ Islam and almost immediately became a Muslim fundamentalist. I aspired to see Malaysia turned into an Islamic State. I became the chairman of our local mosque in Kuala Ibai (I brought Bernard Khoo, Haris Ibrahim and the rest of the gang to visit that mosque in 2008 during the Kuala Terengganu by-election). I participated in the anti-Saudi-anti-American demonstration in Mecca. And, for the first time, I met the late Ustaz Fadzil Noor, the President of PAS (this was in Mecca together with Ustaz Hadi Awang, Mustafa Ali and a couple of other PAS leaders).

My Mecca trip and the meeting with Ustaz Fadzil were not long after Anwar Ibrahim joined Umno in 1982. Ustaz Fadzil and I spent hours talking into the wee hours of the morning about politics, Islam, and the ‘betrayal’ by Anwar Ibrahim. Surprisingly, Ustaz Fadzil was more tolerant about what I viewed as Anwar’s betrayal. Ustaz Fadzil said that there are many ways to fight. Some have to fight from the outside and some from the inside. And while we may want to fight from the outside, Anwar has chosen to fight from the inside. So we must give him the benefit of the doubt that he sincerely joined Umno to change Umno from the inside.

Ustaz Hadi and Mustafa were not that convinced, though. You can’t jump into the tong taik to clean the shit from the inside, they argued. Instead of cleaning the shit, you will get shit on you. Anwar will never be able to change Umno, they said. Instead, Umno will change him. I could see why Ustaz Hadi and Mustafa were considered the ‘Young Turks’ while Ustaz Fadzil was perceived as the diplomat.

Nevertheless, I had tremendous respect for Ustaz Fadzil and listened to what he said. Hence, as Ustaz Fadzil suggested, I was prepared to give Anwar the benefit of the doubt, and although I was with PAS and he with Umno, I supported him and campaigned for him when he contested the Umno Youth leadership. Actually there were three contests in all — twice against Suhaimi Kamaruddin and once against Syed Hamid Albar. Then, in 1993, Anwar challenged Tun Ghafar Baba for the Umno Deputy Presidency. After ten years of supporting Anwar, I decided to walk away. I felt it was wrong for Anwar to oust Ghafar. Our struggle was not about power but to try to change Umno, from the inside as what we were told. Now it appeared like it was all about seeking power.

The rest of my story has been told many times before so maybe I do not need to repeat it. Suffice to say, I kept searching for the right platform to seek change. The 1960s was a different era for me. It was an era of challenging authority, of opposing the establishment, the age of protest. The 1970s was about Islam. The 1980s was about making money and to hell with the world. The 1990s was about reforms and about seeing change in Malaysia (yes, we started our fight even before Anwar was kicked out of Umno and jailed in 1998). The 2000s was about challenging Umno and Barisan Nasional and about seeing a strong opposition and the emergence of a two-party system.

So now we come to the 2010s. What is the struggle of the 2010s to me? The 2010s is about peoples’ power. It is about taking back the fight for change from the hands of the politicians and giving it back to the people. It is about bringing the 2010s back to the era of the 1960s when the people made a difference and the people were that platform for change.

Maybe this is a dream, and a dream that can never come true. However, as the late Tun Ghafar said, we all must have dreams. Only dead people no longer have dreams, said Tun Ghafar. As long as are still alive then we shall certainly have dreams, Tun Ghafar argued. Martin Luther King Jr. had a dream at a time when dogs had a higher status than African-Americans. And, today, that dream eventually saw a non-white become the President of the United States. Is it wrong, therefore, to dream of a Chinese Prime Minister of Malaysia?

I have reflected on the various stages of my journey in life — the 1960s, the 1970s, the 1980s, the 1990s, and now the 2010s. I have changed course many times, I admit. I have changed platforms more than once. But my destination has never changed. From the 1960s till now, for almost 50 years, it has always been about challenging authority, about fighting the establishment, and about daring to be different.

I was the only Malay amongst hordes of Chinese running down Jalan Pudu to protest the hanging of the Chinese prisoners who had killed a Malay warder in Pudu Jail. I was the only Malaysian amongst 100,000 Iranians protesting against Saudi Arabia and the US along the main street of Mecca. I was also in the demonstration that protested the relocation of the Damansara Chinese school.

I liked to do what others would not do. And I am still doing what others would not do, and would not approve to boot. That’s me. And nothing is going to change the way I think and the way I do things. I am a product of the 1960s. I was moulded in the 1960s. We may have left the 1960s, but the 1960s has not left me. You can take me out of the 1960s but you can’t take the 1960s out of me. That is my 62 years and years well spent as far as I am concerned.

Death will be upon us all in due time. It is only a matter of when that time would be. We must not regret our deaths. What we must regret is how we lived our lives. Have we lived the life we wanted to live or have we lived the life that others expected of us? I do not live up to other peoples’ expectations, I know. But that is only because I do not wish to do so. What I wish is to live the life that pleases me. And what pleases me may not please others. Tough!