Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Guan Eng and Mat Sabu - a friendship for our times

Friendships are mercurial in the political arena. They can be struck up easily, for reasons of convenience and expedience; and they can break off as easily, because of irruptions of differences - ideological or personal - changed allegiances, broken promises or even betrayals.

Only novices and knaves look for friendships to last in the political world. The rest enjoy the bond while it lasts and when it ends, carry one regardless, shrugging off the setback with the equivalent of what the French mean by their famously nonchalant saying, 'C'est la vie' (That's life).

guan eng meets pas representatives 240309 mat sabuThe friendship between DAP's Lim Guan Eng, the Penang chief minister, and Mohamad Sabu, the PAS orator, appears the sort that is not prey to the vicissitudes that would normally affect interpersonal relations among politicians.

The shared experience of detention in late 1987 under the Internal Security Act provided its formative beginnings and its persistence till today, serenely unaffected by the gyrations ties between their parties have undergone, suggest a determination by both not to reduce the individual in them to one aspect: the political.

Politicians are the least introspective of people: they can scarcely afford to be so, for constant contact with people demands a disposition that invites access. A ruminative mien is anything but inviting.

Sabu a 'talented' man

Thus when Lim was recently asked to suggest a reason for his durable ties to Mat Sabu, he offered an explanation at once concise and meaningful: “He's a talented man.”

You don't have to be a cognitive psychologist to know that the recognition of talent - across the divides of race, religion, and a host of other differences that distract from our common humanity - is a unifying impulse.

It tells us something of the character of the pleasure we derive from observing talent's display, something that suggests that it's one nature that performs and the same that appreciates.

mat sabu and lim guan eng pc on perak crisis 120509Lim and Sabu had casually known each other from interactions in the mid-1980s when DAP's socialist youth wing met up with their PAS' counterparts.

PAS were then tentatively reaching out, via their Chinese consultative committee initiative, to the community, trying to disseminate the message that the universalism of Islam transcended all divisions of nature.

But it was only when they found themselves in the same block during detention in Kamunting under Operation Lalang in late October 1987 that Lim and Sabu had the opportunity to get to really know each other.

A host of opposition politicians, Lim and Sabu among the younger set, earned their stripes during this period as fighters who have suffered for their beliefs, so that their present prominence in the movement for overall political reform in Malaysia is seen as reward for PAS privations.

A cook in Kamunting

Most accounts of the personal deportment of individual detainees during this period at Kamunting speak of Sabu as being remarkably good humoured and under a plebeian exterior, a man of philosophic depth and humanity.

psm dr nasir hashim uncensored 010808 04“He was our cook and a resourceful one,” said Mohd Nasir Hashim (left), the Parti Sosialis Malaysia (PSM) chairperson and Kota Damansara state assemblyperson, similarly detained and quartered in the same block.

Few among former ISA detainees are moved to talk about the stuff they had to eat behind the wire, but several who had helped themselves to Sabu's concoctions recall that he tried his best in straitened circumstances.

Anthony Rogers, a La Salle Brother who was one rare non-olitical inmate in the same block, recalled not only Sabu's culinary skills but also what he felt were intimations of a reformist bent towards Islamic religion.

“They, too, may yet have their reformation,” speculated Rogers about where Sabu's musings would ultimately lead, using the Christian rebellion against Catholic orthodoxy of the 15th century as template.

Like Rogers, Nasir felt that Sabu was a PAS purist, one who was keenly aware of the corruptive consequences of wielding power and therefore watchful of the enemy within more than without.

Ties between two families

To Lim, however, Sabu was a humane man, sporting more facets of character than most politicians tend to. Certainly, he was not among the 'one-eyed men', those politicians who pursue a single idea with ruthless exclusion and therefore end with a familiar tag dangling from their name.

“Our friendship from Kamunting days strengthened during the period in the early 1990s when I was jailed in Pudu for coming to the defence of a Malay girl against the Malacca chief minister,” said Lim,

petrol price hike protest 2 100306 mat sabuHe was referring to the one-and-half years he was goaled for criminal defamation for speaking out against the Umno politician, Rahim Thamby Chik.

“Mat kept in touch with me. I valued his moral support,” said Lim.

After Lim's release, Mat Sabu and wife would visit Lim and wife, Betty, at their home in Malacca so that the ties between the families grew even as their differing political ideologies kept them marooned in their ideologically disparate parties.

Lim had to serve out a five-year disqualification period that kept him out of Parliament for much of the 1990s while Mat had his own misfortune like a charge of close proximity in puritanical Kelantan from which he was exonerated.

Tomorrow: Part 2

courtesy of Malaysiakini

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