Rising from the Ashes by Dr Mohammad Manzoor Alam (June 28, 2018)


Dr Mohammad Manzoor Alam

The release of former Malaysian deputy prime minister Anwar Ibrahim from prison following a royal pardon from Sultan Muhammad V on May 16, 2018 is a milestone in the country’s politics. That democratic institutions in his country are not fully developed and leave much to be desired was often reiterated by Ibrahim in his lectures at different times and places. This point was emphasised by human rights groups in 2015 when he was convicted in a second sodomy case and sentenced to a new five year-term in jail.

From national and regional human rights groups to international organisations like London-based Amnesty International and New York-based Human Rights Watch said the conviction was politically motivated. His two subsequent convictions in two different sodomy cases also revealed the inadequacy of justice delivery system. That the system is not transparent and has insufficient accountability was widely known when Ibrahim was beaten up by the then inspector general of police, Rahim Noor, while Anwar was in police custody in 1998.

Later, Rahim was sentenced to two months’ imprisonment. He apologised publicly to Ibrahim and paid an undisclosed amount in compensation. Meanwhile, Ibrahim’s troubles had only begun. He had years of prison life ahead of him. In April 1999, he was sentenced to six years imprisonment on corruption charges. Two months later he was sentenced to nine years’ imprisonment which he would have to undergo after those six years.

Possibly, it was because of Ibrahim’s views expressed publicly about gay marriage and homosexualism that his enemies found it convenient to implicate him. He had often said that he believed marriages should be between men and women only (and not between men, or between women), but the Malaysian laws on homosexual relations were “archaic” and needed to be changed.


The best years of Ibrahim’s life have been wasted in jail. He is already 71. Prime Minister Mahathir Mohammad is rare in the sense that he is the only person in the world to hold that position at 92. After a cooling period of two years for Ibrahim, Mahathir Mohammad has offered the prime ministerial position to him. The realist that he is, Ibrahim has shown no keenness to be prime minister at 73. Meanwhile, Ibrahim’s wife, Wan Azizah is the deputy prime minister, and their daughter, Nurul Izzah Anwar, is a member of parliament.

Despite the limitations of age, Ibrahim would be a great prime minister and an exceptional leader. Already he is a statesman. He has a vision for Asian Renaissance (he has written an acclaimed eponymous book) and has a practical plan for achieving it by integrating Asia, culturally, economically and politically.

Malaysia likes to see itself as “truly Asia.” And if anyone ever had the potential and capability to be a pan-Asian leader it is Anwar Ibrahim. He has the magnamity, empathy and vision to be one. His heroes representing the Asian spirit are Jose Risal, Mohammad Iqbal and Rabindra Nath Tagore, among others. He quotes the following (in translation) from Iqbal:

That I may lead home the wanderer
And imbue the idle looker-on with restless impatience
And advance hotly on a new quest,
And become known as the champion of a new spirit.

He warns that “the fresh blossoms of the Asian Renaissance are only beginning to appear, it is crucial that the nurturing process be sustained if it is to be brought to fruition…. Not too long ago, the world bore witness to the destructive consequences of the revival of extreme ethnic and primitive passion in the Balkans, especially among the Serbs, and in Rwanda, between the Hutus and Tutsis. Asians in the new century must avoid this danger at all cost”.

Write as he did the book in 1994, he was aware of the massacres of Muslims in the run up to the destruction of Babri Masjid, a UNESCO world heritage site, in 1992 and more such massacres after the demolition. He notes that such mosque destruction is not conducive to the project of the Asian Renaissance.

As a friend of long standing I wish him well. In him I see the future of Asia.

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