Malaysia’s former Deputy PM, Anwar Ibrahim,
has just completed a tour of Australia. His tour included a
keynote address to the World Shakespeare Congress in Brisbane. Apart from
memorising the Arabic text of the Koran during his six years in prison, Anwar
(Malays prefer to call him by his given name) also read through the complete
works of Shakespeare some four times.

Anwar continued on his theme of “The
Great Wave of Democratic Islam”. But he said that some Muslims themselves
threaten to turn this wave into a tsunami of violence and extremism that would
hurt themselves and the rest of the planet.

During an address to the Canberra
Islamic Centre on 20 July, Anwar acknowledged
Israel’s need to feel safe within
secure borders. Although Israel had no right to destroy
Lebanon’s infrastructure and
collectively punish all Lebanese, Anwar also said that Hezbollah’s assault on
Israel’s borders hardly made
sense.

One member of the audience asked
Anwar what role he believed Islam could play in world peace. Anwar advised
Muslims to take three positive steps:

  1. Mainstream Muslims must
    be seen to be taking a more active role in marginalising the tiny pockets of
    their communities who promote violence and terror.
  2. Mainstream Muslims must
    take the lead in taking back Islam from radical voices who seek to hijack the
    faith.
  3. Mainstream Muslims
    should maintain dialogue with even the most hawkish elements of the
    West.

Anwar was also critical of our government’s response to the release of
Abubakar Bashir. “If Australia’s response is based on a perception that
Indonesia’s due legal processes are corrupt or deficient, they should
so it. Otherwise they should accept the decision instead of insisting
Indonesia find excuses to detain Bashir. It’s OK to insist on increased
surveillance. But you can’t preach democracy to Indonesia and then
expect them to undermine their own democratic institutions when it
suits you.”

One enthusiastic Canberran Malay
asked Anwar if he’d make a comeback to Malaysian politics. Anwar’s answer was
hardly a recipe for a triple bypass. “I can’t be coy about this. It is up to
Malaysians to decide whether or not they support our reform
agenda.”

In other words, watch this
space.

Peter Fray

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