„There is no easy walk to freedom anywhere, and many of us will have to pass through the valley of the shadow of death again and again before we reach the mountaintop of our desires.“
– Nelson Mandela
Who’s Adam Adli?
During my internship in Malaysia in 2014, I got to know a young man who shares Nelson Mandela’s vision on the quest for freedom. His name is Adam Adli Abd Halim, better known as Adam Adli.
Adam Adli is a former student activist currently engaged in human rights and politics in Malaysia. Adam made a speech in public in 2013 – after the General Election – because of which he was arrested and kept in solitary confinement for six days.
Under the Sedition Act he was sentenced to 12 months jail in September 2014.
Over Skype I had the pleasure to interview him in October.
Because of its length, I divided the interview in several part. Let´s start with the person Adam Adli and his view on politics in Malaysia.
Why did you decide to become politically active?
When I was student, I got involved in a number of student movements. These movements are quite small but sufficient for us to do something with impact, especially to expose the injustice which is caused by the government and also to raise awareness among the Malaysian people.
I finally decided to get involved in politics when I realized that I had to do something, so that Malaysia becomes a better place for everyone in the future. And I was guided by the following thoughts: if I’m unable to start now when am I going to start?; and I must do something if I have the opportunity. So I took the chance, seized the moment and got engaged. You can say it has become my passion.
How has your political career shaped up so far?
I’m not a party member and I’m not involved in any political party. The last time I checked I was still part of the student movement in the capital city, Kuala Lumpur.
I don´t do much compared to those involved in the electoral politics, but my activism has gone well for now. I’ve done a lot of impactful campaigns, e.g. against the Sedition Act and detention without trial and for academic freedom. We brought our campaign against detention without trial not only throughout the nation, but also to the UK. That’s how it has been like for the past two years since I’ve been involved in this field. I’m quite happy with the things I’ve already done, but I believe that there is more for me to explore in the future.
There are many Malaysians who fight for a better Malaysia. What makes you different?
What makes me different? I’m not sure if I’m really different but I have been quite involved on the ground. I’ve done this work since day one and I was given the chance to make big decisions in the political field. That makes me slightly different from my other friends, some of whom may have access to higher levels or are involved in political parties, but they don’t get to be with the people. Some may have access to the grass roots but they don’t have any access to higher political levels.
I somehow managed to operate in between. Another thing which makes me different is that I don’t do it to become a politician in the future. Some people get involved in politics, they make money and they manage to improve their lives. But I’m still the same person. I do it because I want to do it, not because I was asked.
I don’t campaign that much as well. If the media want to shed some light on my work, yeah carry on, but I won’t ask them to report or publicize what I do. I don’t do that kind of thing.
Linked to Malaysia? I don’t know, maybe I have more ideas, radical ideas. Some people, who have ideas, do not dare to take this kind of risk. If I was given the chance to do something for a better Malaysia, I’ll do it. Maybe in a totally different way than what politicians or leaders are doing today.
What’s another way for you to change Malaysia? In which ways would you like to change Malaysia?
Malaysia is a developing country and we tend to develop this country by building more modern buildings. What I’m looking at for a better Malaysia is that we stop this kind of development and rethink our visions. We should think about the direction our nation’s economic policies are taking.
We’re doing it wrong. We don’t actually know how to become a developed country. We might think that a developed country needs to have the highest buildings, biggest shopping malls, modern facilities or the longest roads in the world.
No, that shouldn’t be the case. What I’m looking at is how we’re going to redevelop, how we’re going to use education as part of our plan, how we’re going to bring about a mental shift in our people to change Malaysia. What we need is not only development, but also new ideas; we need to review our problems. We have so many problems. We’re looking at racial problems, intolerance between religions in this country. Our society is actually quite backward compared to our neighbors such as Singapore, Indonesia or even Thailand.
We should start by solving our problems before we can say that we’re actually working towards a truly developed country, not by simply assuming that we can always make a duplicate of Tokyo or New York.
We need to find our own identity, address our real problems and solve them. We have to solve them one by one.
We don’t have an concrete idea of Malaysia. We tend to say that we’re middle and east, that we’re a very cultured eastern country. We say that should become like Japan. When Mahathir became the leader of our nation, he wanted Malaysia to become like Japan and now Najib … I don’t know where he is going, whether he wants to be an ally of America or China. He’s has shaken everyone’s hand.
What do you think about the Malaysian government and its reign?
Malaysia has been ruled by the same party for the past 57 years. We hold the record for having the oldest government in the world, meaning that we’ve been ruled by the same party since 1957.
We have had a monarchy for centuries, but when the British came we assumed that we could have the same system as in the UK.
Great Britain has their monarchy, Prime Minister, and parliament to rule the people but it’s totally different here. In the UK they ensure that these institutions function as they should. They know the separation of power, they know the separate roles but here in Malaysia we’re quite confused because it has only been 57 years since we’ve got a democracy or a Prime Minister in this country. We don’t understand what we now have. We call it a parliamentary monarchy with a separation of sovereign power, but this is not the same monarchy nor the same system before the British came.
We have not identified their roles in this country. Hence if they really want to adopt the western system like in the UK, then it should be applied to the people and the kings and queens. If we’re adopting the system, we have to implement it on both sides, not only on one side.
Why is it important for you to change the political conditions in Malaysia?
Everything is determined by political conditions. If you have a good government and a good life, you have a better country. The problem is that we have a system, but we can’t really implement it because we have a corrupt government. We have corrupt politicians as our leaders. We have policies that affect the lives of the people here. Some people try very hard to change society from the bottom up, but it won’t work, because it remains the same at the state level. The problem are the leaders. If we have better leaders in this country, we shall also have a better society and a better country. It is important to have a non-discriminatory government in the future.
Do you think things would change if opposition took over?
Things will definitely change with a new government, not because the opposition is better than the current government, but because we would have made a bigger change. With that we would widen the democratic space. We would have better policies and a more democratic government which listens to the people, instead of only listening to themselves.
What were the reactions of your family and friends when you decided to become politically active?
During my time in university I got into trouble when I tried to contest in the student’s election. The problem was that the administration and the pro-government fraction thought that I was too difficult to handle, so I was banned from the election and had to attend a hearing in the university. They were considering expulsion from university but it didn’t come to that. This was in 2010.
My parents found out about it and asked me whether I would continue doing all these things – involvement in politics and activism – and I said, “Yeah and I’ll probably get into bigger trouble in future.” When they heard this, they said, “OK. You can do whatever you want, whatever is right for you. Do it, but make sure you take care of yourself and don’t get involved in unnecessary trouble.” My parents and my friends are very supportive.
My friends are engaging themselves in politics as well – just like me. They’re ready for it. Even my parents said that they were willing to share me with the rest of the people in this country. They understand my struggle and what I’m doing, they understand my passion and the political conditions in this country – they’re very supportive.
Thanks to Adam for all the information! 🙂
Follow this link to read the second part of the interview,