catallaxy files

catallaxy in technical exile

Anwar Ibrahim – democratic Islamist?

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Buried away in today’s SMH is a short item on Malaysian opposition figure Anwar Ibrahim which may surprise observers used to simple dichotomies like ‘Mahathir = anti-semite=all bad, Anwar =liberal” or “Islamist= anti-democratic”:

THE Malaysian opposition figure Anwar Ibrahim has burst back into the political fray after nearly six years in jail and the political wilderness, drawing a crowd of 10,000 supporters at an election rally.

Banned from standing for parliament, the former deputy premier took the boldest step in his cautious political comeback late on Sunday with a speech backing Malaysia’s fundamentalist Islamic party in a crucial state byelection.

Let’s be clear that we’re talking serious Islamic law here. Malaysia, like Australia, has a federal system. The Federal government is ruled by a mostly secularist though authoritarian coalition government with Mahathir’s UMNO as the head coalition partner. Some predominantly rural States like Trengganu are ruled by the Islamist PAS party and have actually introduced Sharia law.

The fact is that Anwar, who is seen by some foreign observers as the liberal political alternative in Malaysia, started his political life as a young Islamist activist who found UMNO too secular, and even when he ended up joining UMNO as Mahathir’s protégé, there was doubt among some insiders as to whether the leopard actually changed his spots.

Anwar’s biggest following was then and probably still is, despite his sodomy conviction, among the more religiously devout Malay Muslims. Mahathir, for all his vicous anti-semitic rhetoric is by and large a religious liberal and modernist unafraid to slay sacred cows (he made a plea that Malaysia abandon its pro-Bumiputera policies before he retired) though he obviously combines that with political authoritarianism. For example see this old article from when Mahathir was still PM:

The Malaysian prime minister has rejected Islamic criminal laws introduced by an opposition-ruled state because of their “cruel punishments”.
Mahathir Muhammad was quoted by The Star newspaper on Tuesday as saying he did not consider Terengganu’s Islamic criminal legislation as true Sharia laws.
His comments came after the state, controlled by the Islamic Party (PAS), announced a Sharia act to criminalise illicit sex, drinking alcohol and the renunciation of Islam.
Sharia punishments include stoning to death for adultery, amputation of limbs for theft, death for robbery, and 40 to 80 lashes of the whip for drinking alcohol.
For those renouncing Islam, offenders have three days to repent, failing which the punishment is death and confiscation of property.
“It is PAS’s law,” said the veteran premier, who retires on Friday after 22 years in office.
“They can implement it but if they do something which is inconsistent with the country’s laws, we will take legal action.”

Anwar seems to be more of a genuine democrat but it is unclear at this stage whether he would end up being more or less of a religious liberal if his forces got into power than the current leadership.


Written by Admin

November 29, 2005 at 12:29 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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