FACE OFF

A Reformasi Diary by Sabri Zain


Reluctant Scribe
by Ng Boon Yian



Publication: TODAY (Singapore)
Publication Date: 21st February, 2001


SINGAPORE, February 21st, 2001 - Writer Sabri Zain, whose satirical writings on local politics and 'eyewitness accounts' of the reformasi demonstrations on the Internet made him an icon among Reformasi activists, has compiled the popular articles he wrote into a book form.

Face Off: A Malaysian Reformasi Diary (1998-99) consists of Sabri's writings posted on the Internet in the year following the sacking, arrest and torture under police custody of former deputy prime minister Anwar Ibrahim.

Face Off "captures, in words, the spirit, moods, colour, excitement and hopes of ordinary Malaysians caught in the wave of Reformasi demanding true democracy, freedom and change," said the publisher in a statement.

Sabri's writings immediately gained wider audience when Harakah, whose circulation skyrocketed to more than 300,000 copies at the height of the Anwar saga, began publishing some of his eyewitness accounts of mass demonstrations in Kuala Lumpur.

There is also a reason why the book's cover is adorned with a photo of a demonstration at the National Mosque.

The book begins with accounts of Anwar's final speech at the mosque before his arrest on September 20, 1998, and ends at the same venue, when thousands of people joined for special prayers for Anwar on September 19 last year.

Sabri, who is now based in the United Kingdom, said the book re-lives the historic events away from the "heat" of the moment, "to think about why things happened, what did we do wrong, what did we do right," said Sabri to HarakahDaily.com.

Permanent record of shame

Sabri described Face Off as a "permanent record of shame".

"Websites come and websites go but I think the book can also serve as permanent record of shame, lest future generations forget the crimes and cruelty that took place," he said.

Sabri said meeting ordianary people on the streets and attending ceramahs gave him ideas to write the various eyewitness accounts compiled in the book.

"I'd be 'shopping' and then a demo would erupt around me and as soon as it was over or the police scattered it, I'd be off home to my computer, quickly write the report and shoot it into Cyberspace," he said.

But with satires, it was much easier.

"It really isn't difficult to make some of these UMNO politicians look like clowns," he quipped, quoting Lord Byron's words: "Fools are my theme, let satire be my song."

Sabri was trained as a civil engineer, but turned to writing when he joined the Star as a journalist. Since then, he has worked for a multinational computer company and an international nature conservation organisation.

More recently, Sabri has started on a new series of articles, writing as a "special correspondent" for his imaginary "Not The New Straits Times". For some time though, Sabri has not been writing. So has he stopped?

"Definitely not!" he said. "But I was too busy to write anything new since the UMNO elections last May ... A lot of people forget that I'm not a full-time writer - I have to work for a living like everyone else!" said Sabri, who works as a communication manager.

Asked whether there is any plan to translate his work into Bahasa Malaysia, Sabri said:

"My bahasa Melayu kasar sikitlah!" he warned. "So we will need to look for a good translator, who would also need to understand where I'm coming from intellectually, emotionally and politically."

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