100 Top Global Thinkers 2009

Foreign Policy

Anwar Ibrahim for challenging the Muslim world to embrace democracy.

Opposition leader | People’s Justice Party | Malaysia

Two decades ago, it would have been impossible to imagine Anwar pulling together rural Malays, ethnic Indians and Chinese, and Islamists into a coherent political bloc. Back then, Anwar was deputy prime minister in a de facto single-party state that espoused preferential treatment for ethnic Malays. It was a policy that Anwar had pushed from his days as a youth leader right up until 1997, when he denounced his patron, then-Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, for corruption.

He would spend the next six years in solitary confinement on trumped-up charges for that political betrayal. And he would leave jail in 2004 with a bold message for change in a country now at the forefront of the struggle for democracy in the Muslim world. Today, Anwar’s political career is blossoming, despite a new, politically motivated indictment. Abroad, he has become an outspoken advocate of religious tolerance.

He sat down with Foreign Policy to talk about his big ideas:

On Muslim countries and the West: You can’t just erase a period of imperialism and colonialism. You can’t erase the fault lines, the bad policies, the failed policies, the war in Iraq, and support for dictators.

That to me is the reality. But what is the problem? When you … apportion the blame only to the West or the United States. They want to deflect from the issue of repression, endemic corruption, and destruction of the institutions of governance.

On his time in prison: I spent a lot of time reading. I decided to focus on the great works and the classics. Friends from around the world were sending books, but it takes months for [the prison] to vet them. There came a book on the Green Revolution at that time.

The officer said, “Anything revolution — out!” even though it was about agriculture. But the books kept coming. The officers were not even graduates, and [the books] were in English. They would say, “Anwar, out of 10 books, can you send back one?” So I would select something I had already read or something I was not interested in and say, “We should reject this.”

On politics: Of course, you simplify the arguments [for politics], but the central thesis remains constant. People say, “Anwar, you are opportunistic. How can you talk about Islam and the Quran here, and then you talk about Shakespeare and quote Jefferson or Edmund Burke?” I say, it depends on the audience. You can’t talk about Edmund Burke in some remote village in Afghanistan. Then you go to Kuala Lumpur and you quote T.S. Eliot. If I quote the Quran all the time to a group of lawyers, [they will think] I am a mullah from somewhere!

8 Responses to 100 Top Global Thinkers 2009

  1. gedeAgowl says:

    Kick-ass article, great looking website, added it to my favorites!!

  2. anak malaysia says:

    anwar ibrahim should stop to disturb BN rule this country.only BN can make Malaysia and people success and grow up with proud and respected by another country.pakatan rakyat especialy only talk bla.bla.bla and critics BN.but pakatan rakyat cannot rule this country better then BN.LONGLIVE BN FOR MALAYSIA AND PEOPLE!!!

  3. So sad… desperado BN dogs.

  4. wan says:

    salam…anak malaysia…

    anwar ibrahim should stop to disturb BN rule this country.only BN can make Malaysia and people success and grow up with proud and respected by another country.pakatan rakyat especialy only talk bla.bla.bla and critics BN.but pakatan rakyat cannot rule this country better then BN.LONGLIVE BN FOR MALAYSIA AND PEOPLE!!!

    i need to clarify u in to this one. Let me make it clear..and of course i am not anonymous, u said before DSAI need to stop..?and only BN people can make malaysia ppl success…?

    Indeed, you are the one that need to be stop saying like that…like this lah…better you stop 1st commenting like this and do some revision 1st in to whats going on in Malaysia and after that u can email or comment me in here.

    1. I want to ask you if Anwar ever said that he dont want Malaysia (im sabahan so i’d better not use Malay) ppl to be success…

    2. Can you province me that ppl in malaysia nowadays are MAJU…?(omg ur still dreaming)

    3. Cases and cases, oil royalty, poor SUBURBAN, ET CETERA!!!… all that u called success,…?

    and now boy, can u tell me which knowledge you know about success and WE … (no² i better use US) us; our country being respected by other country…

    Our country nowadays (its been 52 years) are applying capitalisme (in malay kapitalis or bahasa org ta pandai paham bermaksud kemajuan bukan untuk kebajikan sebaliknya untuk keuntungan semata²) and u can say that success…but the positive effect only applied to certain ppl…this called cronism.
    It was all from Freemasonary politics strategy..

    uhh..i hate to type too much…im not a typist…

    p/s:do more research bah u moron…

  5. ideas to share to each reader. I hope to read more from you guys and continue that good work that

  6. aku yang selumber says:

    hmm…besala bah tu..
    kalo BN buat banyak salah,konspirasi la..apala itula inila..napa dak pandai jatuh2??heran kan??yang ni kunu ‘gabungan bikin panas’ yg juga sentiasa mengaku baik sgt ni langsung xpernah perintah negara.sanggup lagi tu tarik orang BN masuk tmpat dorang…tu ka skill dorang mau menang??hehehe..kolot.

  7. aku yang selumber says:

    c wan tu ok gak la dia komen bah tp fakta sikit sgt tp cakap mcm da study bnyk pasal sabah..heheheorg sabah ka dia tu?? 1 lg..wan..tatabahasa bahasa inggeris ko kasi btul ah..banyak salah tu..hehehe..jan mare…adios..

  8. aku yang selumber says:

    c wan tu ok gak la dia komen bah tp fakta sikit sgt tp cakap mcm da study bnyk pasal sabah..hehehe org sabah ka dia tu?? 1 lg..wan..tatabahasa bahasa inggeris ko kasi btul ah..banyak salah tu..hehehe..jan mare…adios..

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