10 things about: Syed Saddiq Abdul Rahman, Asia’s top debater

Picture by Yusof Mat Isa
Picture by Yusof Mat Isa

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KUALA LUMPUR, March 27 — Syed Saddiq Abdul Rahman is one Malaysian whose opinions we may not be familiar with but four universities have already barred him from sharing them on their campuses.

The 24-year-old debate trainer at the International Islamic University Malaysia came into the spotlight when he emceed the signing of the Citizens’ Declaration attended by Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad and a group of other politicians and NGOs.

Syed Saddiq, a three-time winner of the Asian British Parliamentary (ABP) Debating Championship’s Asia Best Speaker award, was barred from speaking at those universities after that. He has also received death threats for being part of the Save Malaysia movement.

The Royal Military College (RMC) alumnus, however, says he is a true nationalist at heart. He has big plans for himself and the country which he thinks should undergo a systemic reform in order to move forward.

In his own words:

If you met me five years ago, I’m like a totally different person. I could speak English but my English wasn’t good. I never got As for my English papers and English papers in Malaysia are not difficult. My knowledge was shit. I thought Africa was a country, Egypt was a continent. I still remember pronouncing recipe as “reh-sip.”

I’m not scared to say that I’m a mama’s boy. My mum is a teacher and I would attempt to help my mum teach tuition. At the same time, I would get tiger parenting from her. Do this, do this, do this now.

I am not proud of my past. I was a racist. I was an Islamic radical because I would actually say if you do not pray, you would go to hell and burn in hell. Like I’ll only mingle with Muslims. People always say oh no, this person is racist or a radical and cannot be changed. No, no, no, I was exactly that and I have changed.

I realised the epicentre of change in Malaysia is not through the military. It’s not through becoming a lawyer because I’m currently reading law. Unfortunately or fortunately it is through politics. Politics is the epicentre of change. If I’m interested to change my country, I must partake in politics. Doesn’t mean I have to be a politician but I can just be someone who pushes politicians from the outside or be an activist. The point is I must partake in that political discourse.

When you dominate 45 per cent of the total votes by the next elections... the youth are the power holders of the country. It’s like a very big chunk of the voter base. Ministers have told me, even if youths vote they will only vote in urban areas. Which is not true, we are not rich. We cannot own a house here. At the end, we will still vote back in our hometowns.

There are definitely youth who are vocal but we are still in the minority. I think that’s quite unfortunate when the future of country is on the line and we are leaving the battles in the hands of those above 50 years old. I think that’s quite disturbing.

They are scared to put their necks on the line. But in all struggles, there will definitely be sacrifices. Those struggles albeit can be exasperating, will be rewarded in the long run. Not only for you but for the country which you love... what is stopping them is the fear of repercussion but repercussion can be easily put to an end if the masses stand up.

I distinctively remember what my mum said to me... if anything happens to me, the first person who would be in the front line of any resistance would be my mum. And my mum told me, I do not need the backing of Tun Mahathir, I do not need the backing of Anwar Ibrahim, I do not need the backing of Lim Guan Eng or Rafizi Ramli. I just need the backing of my mum and I believe that. I’ve seen my mum do some amazing things.

What I’m hoping to do is to at least democratise the Save Malaysia movement. It’s not only about Mahathir, it’s not only about this or that but it’s about all Malaysians from all backgrounds regardless of their ideological beliefs or their religion. But the fact is that we all have a common goal, which is to save Malaysia through our sense of love and nationalism for our country.

For a moment, I nearly budged. Especially with the threats and I felt that what I was fighting for might be hopeless, the battle might end up with the destruction of my future career. But, beside the outcome being bad or good, one thing I would definitely lose if I stop speaking up is my moral conscience. I would never be able to look myself in the future, if I silence myself. Because my moral conscience will forever be corrupted due to whatever personal gains I might get if I keep quiet.

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