Rebel with a cause

Rebel with a cause
File photo of Hishamuddin Rais

KUALA LUMPUR - He has never sought glory, monetary gain or revenge. Standing on the dais at the end of the massive Bersih 4.0 rally (bersih means clean in terms of elections and corruption), Hishamuddin Rais hardly looked like the chief organizer of this and many years of similar protests, a widely-published writer and inspiration to several generations of radical youth. With his trademark broad smile, black goatee, ponytail, crumpled cap and clam-digger pants barely hiding his knees, he could have been mistaken for an artist or street performer, rather than the oft-imprisoned dissident described at one ruling party summit as "public enemy No. 1."

Yet when former Prime Minister Mohamed Mahathir, now 90, showed up unexpectedly to wade through the crowds calling for the ouster of his scandal-tainted successor, Najib Razak, Rais had to admit, "For me, this was a moment of personal triumph."

He recalled the date -- Oct. 24, 1998 -- when Mahathir, at the height of his powers, branded the use of street protests to support his persecuted deputy Anwar Ibrahim as "a foreign concept" that was not suited to Malaysia and would never work. At the time, he ordered the arrest and imprisonment of Rais and other dissidents. Later, when he was arrested without charge under the former draconian Internal Security Act in 2001, Rais was repeatedly subjected to torture. Yet he has lived to see his former tormentor joining his cause.

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