To understand what that could be, we need to return to the religious icon which is defined as a representation of Christ, the Virgin Mary, or a saint, especially one painted in oil on a wooden panel, depicted in a traditional Byzantine style and venerated in the Eastern Church.
From that, some modern use of the term embraces a person or thing regarded as a symbol of a belief, nation, community, or cultural movement, or even (degenerating further from a religious point of view) a sex symbol or as a symbol of the latest fashion trends.
Thus icons are adored, adulated and (not necessarily in a religious sense) revered.
Probably the western world's greatest icon at one time (I repeat, ‘at one time’) was Princess Diana. Since the so-called inquiry into her death, to confirm or reject allegations that her death was ordered by her father in law, her iconic status took a battering when her so-called secret lover, a Pakistani doctor in London by the name of Hasnat Khan, revealed very grubby salacious details of their sexual congress to the inquiry.
The private sex life of Diana was not crucial nor even relevant to the inquiry so the doctor’s revelation was a surprise and conducted for some inexplicable reason (but explained away as a chance to probe into Diana’s ‘state of mind’). Hasnat Khan is now ‘safely’ in Pakistan.
What it achieved was for Prince Charles and his new wife Camilla to be better accepted by the British public, once Diana had been presented as a slutty lover of a dark-skinned Pakistani, unworthy of British love or respect. It’s a remarkable achievement for Charles considering at one time the Queen was thinking of omitting (then unpopular and hated) him from the succession line and having instead his son William as the next British head of state. He and Camilla will now have no great objection from the British people when they ascend the throne of Britain as king and queen.
As in poor Diana’s case, icons besides being created could also be destroyed.
For me personally, my two icons worthy of respect and admiration are Nelson Mandala and Aung San Suu Kyi, both of whom I believe to be the world’s greatest symbols of heroic, dignified and tranquil resilience (without rancour) against oppressions.
Wakakaka, no no no, if I know what you’re thinking, definitely not the man man lai man ;-).
Before I come to our local boy, I may mention in passing other notable icons - I use the term ‘icon’ without necessarily agreeing to the personalities being deserving of respect, adulation or admiration.
Mao Ze Dong continues to be an icon for some Chinese, though he was one of the world’s worst leaders, being responsible for the deaths of millions of Chinese – for a brief description of his ‘sins’, please see my post Dreaming of Tiger Lily over at my other blog KTemoc Kongsamkok.
I suppose the present Chinese authority still has some use for him.
You’ve all read about the iconic Hang Tuah, the very epitome of Malay heroic loyalty ..... well, at least until the 1950’s when a man by the man of Kassim Ahmad wrote his doctoral thesis titled Perwatakan Hikayat Hang Tuah. Dr Bakri Musa commented on Kassim’s thesis as follows:
In it he challenged the traditional interpretation and made the hitherto hero Hang Tuah as nothing more than a palace hack, and elevated the anti-hero Hang Jebat as the true hero, willing to kill even the sultan in defence of honor and principles.
The destruction of Hang Tuah as a Malay iconic hero took a wee while longer, and only became more pronounced and accepted when Dr Mahathir ripped into Malaysian royalty and de-fanged them. Hang Jebat was then rehabilitated and hailed as the new Malay hero.
But now that the current government finds use again of royalty, Hang Tuah has slightly regained his original iconic status.
What about our dear reformasi icon then?
He became an icon only after he was first incarcerated in 1999, initially for corruption and then for what is known today as Sodomy 1 [because there is now a Sodomy 2].
Prior to his ‘beautification’ as an icon he was DPM of Malaysia from 1993 to 1999. In 1994, as has been traditional with all DPM, he was BN election campaign director in the Sabah state elections. The BN lost and PBS won.
When the head of PBS, Pairin, went to see the State Yang Di Pertua to claim he had the majority in the Sabah DUN and thus the constitutional right to form a cabinet to rule the state, he found he couldn’t meet the strangely missing Sabah head of state ….. but by the time he was able to, he found to his astonishment that he had become the opposition leader instead of the CM-elect of the winning PBS party.
The winning PBS party was no winner anymore because Anwar Ibrahim had engineered sufficient number of defections from PBS over to BN to make the latter the winning party. By a wave of his magic wand the Anwar
During his political career he had told Chinese Malaysians to ‘balik Tiong Sun’ and threatened Indians that he might stop their temple bells from ringing. Under him, the Education Ministry forced non-Muslim school children to compulsorily perform the doa a la Islamic style. His ministry’s appointment of non-Mandarin educated principals and headmasters to SRKJ(C) was the cause of the inter-ethnic brouhaha that led to Ops Lalang. And as acting PM (Dr M was away in Ghana) he boasted of UMNO Youth physically wrecking the APCET II forum in Kuala Lumpur like hoodlums, stating: “Our mission was to stop the conference and we did just that.”
Then when he was kicked out of UMNO, he claimed he had a falling out with Dr Mahathir because he refused to support the bailout of the latter’s son. What he didn’t tell was his UMNO faction in the person of Zahid Hamidi (yes, our current one & only ‘most patriotic’ Defence Minister) had impatiently attempted to nudge Dr M out of office by badmouthing the PM of his cronyism and corruption. The wily old fox turned the table on Anwar and Zahid by revealing publicly a list of shares and assets to show that the two were in fact the ones in UMNO practicing (no, not reformasi but) corrupt cronyism.
When UMNO opened its headquarters in Penang, you should have read what the newspapers published, of Anwar’s effusive tribute of sycophantic adoration for Dr Mahathir who was the guest of honour opening the building. Alas, Dr M's hatred for his gross treachery was by then too great, and Anwar's attempt to angkat the old man was a case of too little too late. Anwar by then had no future in UMNO.
If UMNO was that bad as Anwar subsequently claimed, then he should have left long ago to conduct his reformasi. Did he? He was in fact asked this question on a western TV but he was embarrassingly silent, failing to answer why he didn't leave UMNO.
No, unlike Zaid Ibrahim, he did not resign from UMNO with dignity but rather clung on for dear life, screeching, screaming and shrieking as he was dragged away, virtually leaving claw marks at the UMNO door sill.
Yet, on the day he went to jail his so-called reformasi, created virtually overnight, caught the people’s imagination, despite the afore-going facts showing he was hardly the person to have intents of political reform.
Why then was he beautified as a refomasi icon?
Time, threads and opportunity!
At that time a confluence of several factors made that incongruity possible. People were by then well and truly fed up with Dr Mahathir and his brand of confrontational politics and profligate administration; their sense of fair play believed Anwar, notwithstanding his UMNO character, was hard done by, they were waiting for a leader, preferably a Malay one, to lead them out of the Mahathir wilderness, and Anwar of course had the oratory skill and prowess to present himself as the man of the moment, the reformasi messiah so to speak, the Moses who could split the roiling sea of Malaysian politics for his followers to walk through, etc.
As Chinese would say, ‘twas all gnam gnam for Anwar Ibrahim and his reformasi. The moment in time was ripe and receptive, just perfect for messianic promises, they wanted to believe, yes, they've waited for such a leader for a long long time. And Anwar so happened to be there at that point in time. They didn't double check the goods, nor the track record of the salesman, buying his reformasi promises on the basis of the glossy packaging.
He became a convenient rallying point for many, driven to his reformasi banner by their years of accrued frustration. He provided the avenue for them to vent their years of suppressed fury.
Even today, we have some of his adoring fans preposterously claiming he went to jail for us, in some ways similar to the reverence with which Christians would say Christ died on the cross for us. It’s sad they can’t see he went to jail because he was fixed by his former UMNO colleagues in a tussle for power (of greed versus greed) in which he lost. He basically fell on his UMNO keris in an UMNO factional stoush.
Of course it’s not right for him to be jailed for intra party factional fighting, but to claim or believe he was incarcerated for our political salvation would be the most preposterous outrageous nonsense.
OK, leave aside his pre-reformasi days. Let’s examine his post UMNO days.
Let me cut to the chase. Did his 916 reek of reformasi or deformasi? To boast of an invisible force of 30 BN MPs defecting to his side was not only an outrageous affront to the supremacy of the Malaysian voters' decision but a hideous insult to democracy, exposing his reformasi as nothing more than a lip service sham.
Did his frog hunting all the way to Taiwan signal his reformasi? I shudder at the embarrassment of such a shameless gambit.
Was his (initial) praising of a revolving door ADUN in Perak the stuff of reformasi? Much as I hate the BN's thieving manipulation, I have to say PKR sure as hell deserved that padan muka sneer.
Earlier in his party intra affairs, was his instruction to Nallakaruppan not to contest against Azmin Ali in a PKR VP post the soul of reformasi? So it was hardly surprising that Nalla left and, yes, he was verbally crucified, as was every person who left PKR out of disgust for Anwar automatically labeled a traitor, mole, Trojan horse or musuh dalam selimut. But Anwar on the other hand, regardless of his actions, was the pristine one, the teflonised leader, the impeccable icon, the one who's never ever wrong.
In those events of blind support of Anwar and his treatment of erstwhile members as if they were only provided the privilege of being in his personally owned party, PKR as a political party shows its inability to weigh issues democratically, fairly and rationally, proving it was just a cult movement, devoted to the worship of their icon, Anwar Ibrahim.
And currently on the PKR party polls, why should we be surprised by an outraged Zaid Ibrahim throwing in the towel in what has become a shameful PKR party election process. Of course the adoring anwaristas have condemned Zaid in every which way. But look, even the other DP contestant, Mustaffa Kamil Ayub had been similarly outraged as to publicly issue a 48-hour ultimatum for the party leadership to review the polling process, though he was subsequently persuaded to continue, only as he asserted, 'under protest', which means he's doing so just for the party’s face.
Then there's Jonson Chong, a leading light in PKR, who wrote a personal letter to the de jure party president, Dr Wan Azizah, to address the questionable party election process - see his letter at Malaysiakini titled PKR polls: Please audit Libaran results. Alas, his appeal, like the other 169 complaints against the PKR polling, has been ignored. Perhaps sensing this likelihood, Jonson made his letter to Dr Wan Azizah an open one, published in a number of places like Malaysiakini and the People's Parliament blog of Haris Ibrahim so that we all may be aware that not everyone in PKR is blind to what's going on.
After this PKR fiasco, will Anwar be like Mao Ze Dong, still revered as a reformasi icon even though his records show otherwise?
Why not, when some of his followers can even believe he went to jail for us, which I mentioned was in ways similar to the reverence with which Christians say Christ died on the cross for us.
Hear now this, O foolish people, and without understanding; which have eyes, and see not; which have ears, and hear not – Jeremiah 5:21 KJV