Malaysia’s leading public intellectual Rustam Sani passes on


RustamThis morning, at around 2.30am, Rustam Sani, social critic, political analyst, author of books on Malay and Malaysian nationalism, former lecturer and politician, newspaper columnist and fellow blogger, passed away. He had been unwell for some time.

Rustam Sani, an Aliran member, was famously described by Jomo as “arguably Malaysia’s leading public intellectual”. It was only last night that Aliran posted his last commentary piece on its website – about Mahathir.

He was the son of one of the great tokohs of the independence era, Ahmad Boestaman of the Angkatan Pemuda Insaf. Boestaman would go on to become the first MP to be detained in independent Malaya.

More than that, I will miss Rustam because he was a good friend of mine. I would occasionally phone him when I was writing articles and he never failed to shed new insights into the local political situation.

These were the last two occasions I spoke to him when writing articles in December and March, after the general election:

‘Neo-liberal policies fuelling protests, not race’

Power shifts to the provinces

I am glad he lived to see the sweeping political changes in the country.

When he failed to update his blog, I would call up to find out what happened and he would tell me he was busy working on his books.

He had just completed two – “Failed nation: Concerns of a Malaysian nationalist” and “Social roots of the Malay left” – which all of us should get copies of, in recognition of this unsung hero. The book launch was actually scheduled for 26 April. (I hope it goes ahead as planned.) (Update: Just spoke to Rustam’s daughter Ariani: She confirms that the book launch will go ahead at the Selangor State Library in Shah Alam this Saturday at 3.00pm.) These should be collectors’ items for all concerned Malaysians.

I met him for the first time in 2000 in KL, when he was already not too well. Sharing a conversation over drinks, he struck me as a humble, open, friendly person with a sharp wit – a true Malaysian in his thinking. I feel privileged to have known him.

Later, he would tell me that blogging suited him as he was not as mobile as before.

Malaysia has lost one of her finest sons. May his soul rest in peace. And my deepest condolences to his family.

Farewell, brother Rustam.

If you know him or are familiar with his work, share your thoughts about him or pay your tribute to him in the comments below.

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1 Jul 2008 7.10pm

I knew his father Bung Boes we use to call him a fighter and I used to enjoy reading his artickles at that time in The Aliran it was very cheap at that time.Anyway the jewel will be lost and he has been vocal in his thought and like his father he has done something to this country.
My regards to the wife,daughters though I never met you on the contrary your grandfather is my father’s closed friends and I am proud to be of your group hidup MARHEAN.

Johan Abdullah
Johan Abdullah
23 Apr 2008 2.10pm

Dear Anil, Yes, shock is the word to describe Rustam’s passing. I had planned to email him today to enquire if he would be willing to speak at the Singapore National Library on Malaysia’s democracy in conjunction with the release of his two new books — both of fascinating titles and I’m sure of contents too. What a great loss to all of us and to Malaysia that Rustam’s words would no longer be around to provoke, cajole, inspire and move us to reflect and act. He is certainly one of the greats; I believe the epithet “brilliant and passionate… Read more »

23 Apr 2008 2.02pm

semuga ALLAH mencucuri ROH nya

Debbie Lim
Debbie Lim
23 Apr 2008 11.55am

Good people who truly cares for justice and humanity for all is rare. My condolences to his family.

23 Apr 2008 10.27am


I received the news of Rustam’s passing at 3am (April 23). I was with him in Lembah Pantai on nomination day and met with him again just 2 weeks ago at Anwar Ibrahim’s office.

I am saddened by this loss of a special friend, patriot and a first rate intellectual. Al-Fatihah. He was supposed to launch his two new books on April 26 with Anwar Ibrahim doing the honours. I hope the launch will continue in his memory.Regards, Din Merican

abd.naddin hj.shaiddin
23 Apr 2008 2.36pm

Dear sir,
Saya mengenali Sdr.Rustam A. Sani melalui tulisan-tulisannya yang tersiar di majalah Dewan Masyarakat, Dewan sastera, Siasah,Harakah dan banyak lagi penerbitan. Tulisan-tulisannya amat tajam dan menyengat. Analisisnya tepat.Saya menerima berita kematiannya ketika sedang membuat liputan kes mahkamah syariah di Kota Kinabalu. Untuk beberapa ketika, saya tidak dapat berkata-kata tetapi Tuhan lebih menyayanginya.Saya benar-benar rasa kehilangan. Saya peminatnya yang setia dan jarang terlepas membaca artikel-artikel yang ditulisnya.Malah saya juga peminat puisi-puisinya. Saya banyak belajar menganalisis daripada tulisan-tulisannya.
Abd.Naddin Shaiddin, wartawan Utusan Borneo Kota Kinabalu

Samuel Goh Kim Eng
Samuel Goh Kim Eng
23 Apr 2008 2.52pm

Though I don’t know him personally at all
Yet through his blog I can hear his call
With his sensible and balanced views he played ball
We pray that his blogging spirit continues to walk tall

(C) Samuel Goh Kim Eng – 230408
Wed. 23rd April 2008.

23 Apr 2008 6.14pm

I am a proud malaysian because of Pak Rustam.
I miss him very very much.
Di mana kan ku cari ganti?
Mungkinkah di shurga?

Bob K
Bob K
23 Apr 2008 3.19pm

Malaysia has lost another beloved son.

Rest in peace.

Kris Khaira
24 Apr 2008 12.22am

PSM has released a statement in memory of Rustam Sani here.


23 Apr 2008 11.57pm

‘ke mana arahnya nasionalisme malaysia?’

//Dr. Syed H Alatas
//Rustam A Sani

Selamat Pulang!

A true Malaysian
A true Malaysian
23 Apr 2008 10.58pm

It is a great loss to all of us, but his thoughts are still alive forever.

Just hope many of us can become ‘A true Malaysian’ through his writings. Malaysians should look beyond race, religion and politics to make Malaysia a great place on earth.

Deepest condolences to his family. Malaysia lost ‘A true Malaysian’.

John Keadilan Borneo
John Keadilan Borneo
23 Apr 2008 8.05pm


Mohamed Nasser Mohamed
24 Apr 2008 11.05am


May brother Rustam rest in peace and pray for him..Miss an itellectual malay for his thought beyond race, religion & political belief..may more rutam out there..Insyallah.

24 Apr 2008 10.35am

Al faatehah! May his soul rest in peace.
A true patriot, a great thinker and writer.

24 Apr 2008 2.13am

We will surely miss him heaps.What a lost to the nation.

Suffian Rahman
Suffian Rahman
24 Apr 2008 5.51pm

I first me Mr Rustam Sani when I was a cub reporter with Malaysiakini. It was at a Keadilan press conference at Phileo Damansara. I remember cowering in a corner and being completely terrified of the man, for some reason. But he made a lot of sense when he spoke and seemed to know how to handle the other reporters well enough, especially the ones from mainstream media. I’m afraid I can’t remember anything else from that day. But may peace be upon you, Mr Rustam. Al-Fatihah.