The man who makes us laugh at our oppressors

Steven Gan

Modified 14 May 2019, 3:05 am

BOOK LAUNCH | This is the second time I have been asked to launch Zunar’s book. The first time was almost 10 years ago, for Cartoon-o-phobia, published by Malaysiakini.

Four hours before the first book was launched, Zunar was arrested, and all copies of Cartoon-o-phobia at his office were confiscated by the police. 

In an effort to perhaps stop Zunar’s supporters from protesting outside the police station, he was sent to one police station after another – seven in total – eventually ending in the KLIA police lock-up.

And there we were, at the KL-Selangor Chinese Assembly Hall for the launch. There was a very heavy police presence. 

We could not show the book because the moment we do, it would be seized. As Zunar says in his latest book, Fight Through Cartoons, it was probably the strangest book launch in history – with no book and no author.

So I am happy that at today’s (May 11) launch, we have the book and we have the author.

I mentioned that Zunar was held at the KLIA police lock-up. He spent one night there. The next morning, he was brought to court. The police wanted to detain him for a few more days for questioning. 

Zunar had to wait for his lawyer, Latheefa Koya, to argue that he should be released on bail. However, his lawyer was not able to find the court, which was in some quiet nook in Sepang. Those were the days before Waze and Google Maps.

What did Zunar do? He told the judge he would represent himself instead. It shouldn’t be that hard, right? Well, read this book if you want to find out what happened.

Systematic intimidation

Sheer determination, resilience and grit – those are the words that best describe the man behind Fight Through Cartoons.

Zunar has been harassed, had his books banned (just about all of them, and sometimes even before they were launched), his office raided (at least five times), arrested and detained (countless times), investigated under six different laws, slapped with nine sedition charges (amounting to over 40 years in prison if found guilty), and barred from going overseas.

I cannot think of anyone facing such systematic intimidation, other than perhaps then opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim.

As they say, the power of one can achieve the extraordinary. Zunar is proof that one person can do an incredible lot to help bring change. Imagine thousands of Zunars.

Granted, not all of us can be Zunar. But while we may not have his talent, the least we can do is to support him. 

There were many who did, and none more important than his wife, Fazlina Rosley. I’m sure at times she must have asked, “What’s wrong with this man I married?”

It is important that we stand with those who serve at the frontline in our fight for democracy, like Zunar. We should let them know that their sacrifices are worth it, their work valued, and their efforts not in vain.

A special book

So what’s next for Zunar? Well, if a comedian can be elected president in Ukraine, why not a cartoonist in Malaysia? Perhaps Zunar for prime minister?

But on a serious note, I’m sure he will continue to fight the good fight. And I’m sure this will not be his last book. There will be more to come.

Fight Through Cartoons is a very special book for Zunar. Despite already having 18 under his belt, this is the first time he has produced a book with more text than pictures. 

Still, Zunar being Zunar, he has included quite a number of his cartoons and photos in this book. So it’s an easy read.

Malaysiakini is truly honoured to have published his cartoons over the years, at a time when few media organisations dared to do so. My congratulations to Zunar for this latest book.

Thanks to him, we were able to laugh at our oppressors – a very powerful weapon – and for showing us that even in the darkest of times, one should not give up on hope.

Yes, we do have a new government. But reforming the country is a job not just for politicians, but for everybody. Zunar is doing his bit, and so should all of us.

The power of one can achieve the extraordinary. The power of many can achieve the impossible. And we may have done that on May 9 last year. 

But it is not the end. Indeed, it is just the beginning.

The above is part of a speech given at the launch of Zunar’s Fight Through Cartoons on May 11 at Borders in The Curve. The book is now available at all major bookstores.

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