I have had to come all the way to Brussels and Berlin to discover a side of Anwar Ibrahim that I was wrong about.
Reading the Barisan Nasional-owned newspapers that consistently portrayed him as a “traitor to Malaysia” who exaggerated the situation obtaining in the country given half a chance, I have, I must admit, tended to view him as a self-serving political demagogue who could not care less about the fate of his country as long as he achieved his ambition of becoming prime minister.
Anwar spoke last Monday evening (September 28, 2010) on “Liberal Values in the Muslim World — Why Islam and Democracy are Destined to Coincide” to a packed hall of some of Europe’s powerful decision-makers. These were men and women with wide international experience and could not be easily hoodwinked even if he had tried.
It was vintage Anwar, perfect smooth-as-silk delivery of a complex, serious subject to a critical audience. He knew his stuff. His was more than a speech; it was an intellectual journey mapped out by someone who knew the area traversed like the back of his hand.
There he stood, under the spotlight, his charming and quietly confident self as always, speaking without a note for a full hour. Earlier in the day, when he said to me he had to go back to his hotel room to give his speech the once over, I told him half in jest that he could make his speech standing on his head. He did just that and more. He successfully won the audience over with his argument, supported by historical antecedents and more recent examples that completely demolished the conventional wisdom in non-Muslim circles that Islam and democracy were somehow incompatible bedfellows. He challenge the unfounded belief that it was against the order of nature for Islam to embrace democracy as seriously flawed because of the underlying assumption that Muslims, unlike others, were not born free to exercise their democratic rights.
As I sat listening to the prime minister Malaysia never had, thanks to Mahathir the Maverick, and who might yet take the country by storm, Anwar, I mean, not Mahathir, I could not help thinking how utterly sad and absurd for Najib, whose articulation of his 1 Malaysia slogan invariably finishes in a cul-de-sac, offering his services to Obama to help bring about greater understanding of Islam, the religion of peace, among the majority American non-Muslims. My dear fellow, charity begins at home.
The only Malaysian politician, who can, without making a fool of himself, stride the world stage with the right combination of strong intellectual credentials and honesty, is not to be found within the serried ranks of the BN, but in the person of Anwar Ibrahim, Malaysia’s iconic liberal democrat.
As I saw here in Brussels, he had the European parliamentary leadership, figuratively speaking, eating out of his hands. Many have already put the champagne on ice; they clearly see this victim of a rotten political system as the next man to lead the country.
For all our sakes, I hope they are right. Malaysia needs a thorough overhaul and Najib whom we need like we do a great big hole in our head is unlikely to understand the dynamics of change for the great leap forward. Even if he understands the urgent necessity for change, would he be allowed to by the reactionary forces with the party ever so gingerly as the prospect of a palace coup remains a distinct possibility? He is not only busy watching oversized baggage, but also his back with the sort of loyal friends he has had foisted on him. There simply isn’t much time for anything else while the ship of state springs more leaks by the day.
I was asked by a senior European Parliament bureaucrat over coffee what the Pakatan Rakyat coalition’s priorities would be on taking over the federal government? In brief, I said revamp institutions of state that have been virtually destroyed and have, in many cases, been rendered dysfunctional, overhaul policies, systems and procedures that have tended to divide rather than unite Malaysians, pay special attention to economic policies centred on orderly growth and sustainable development, and generally to put things right and undo the excesses and abuses of that began under Mahathir so that democratic principles and practices may have a real chance of taking root. A tall order but with fairness, and integrity grounded in the rule of law, God willing, we will get there.