Anwar Ibrahim’s Campaign for Liberty

by Leonard P. Liggio

On January 9, 2012 Anwar Ibrahim (64) was freed by the Malaysia High Court after an eleven month trial. The government has appealed the court’s decision. Meanwhile, the Financial Times (Weekend edition, January 28-29, 2012) interviewed him during a conference on democracy in Bombay, India. Anwar Ibrahim was the deputy prime minister of Malaysia in the 1990s and presumed heir of the long-serving prime minister. Ibrahim had gained international recognition as the finance minister (earlier he was education minister) who had steered a safe-landing during the Asian financial crisis of 1997. Newsweek International named Ibrahim “Asian of the Year” in 1998. The then prime minister blamed the Malaysia crisis on international Jewish finance. The prime minister turned on Ibrahim, had him charged and convicted of improbable crimes and imprisoned in solitary confinement for more than a half dozen years. The prime minister said Ibrahim should be the prime minister of Israel, not Malaysia.

Under a new prime minister he was released. He credits Turkey’s Prime Minister Erdogan with assisting his release, and reciprocates with praise of Erdogan’s Islamic democratic principles. Ibrahim led an election campaign which gained seats in the parliament for the opposition. The new trial followed the electoral success. Ibrahim formed a coalition of his own party’s liberal, middle class voters, entrepreneurial Chinese and Indians who are legally limited by quota laws favoring the majority Malays, and Moslem voters in rural, traditional provinces. These groups are united by opposition to the corrupt ruling party, and a new election is expected this year. Ibrahim quotes Western thinkers from Shakespeare to John Rawls, and the Koran. Ibrahim is vilified by the ruling party for his friendships with foreigners – “and in particular Jewish foreigners.” He says: “For the past 13 years they have accused me of being a Jewish agent or befriending Jews. In every village during elections these people put up photographs of me and Paul Wolfowitz.”

After his release from solitary confinement, Ibrahim taught abroad at St. Antony’s College, Oxford and Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service. At that time, he participated in an Atlas Foundation conference on “The Muslim World and the Challenge of Freedom” on June 6, 2005 held at the Foundation for Economic Education. He contributed his insights to “Islam and the Political Economy of Liberty” and to the development of future Atlas Foundation programs focused on Islamic societies. Participants in the conference included Alex Chafuen, Richard Ebeling, Antony Sullivan, Charles Butterworth, and Imad-al-Dean Ahmad among others. Ibrahim, along with John Stossel, toasted freedom at Atlas’ annual Freedom Dinner on November 9, 2005 at the Palace Hotel in New York City. On November 10, 2005 he spoke on “Human Rights: the Economic and Cultural Dimensions” at an Atlas conference at the Yale Club of NYC. Ibrahim was the speaker at the 2006 dinner of the Minaret of Freedom Institute.

On March 19, 2007 Ibrahim was a principal speaker at the Faith and Economics Study Group (Witherspoon Institute, Princeton) at the European University Institute, Florence, Italy. His co-speaker was Michel Camdessus, former executive director of the International Monetary Fund, who has praised Ibrahim for solving Malaysia’s 1997 financial crisis. On October 16, 20007 Ibrahim was the keynote speaker at the Symposium of the State of West-Islamic Dialogue sponsored by Georgetown University’s Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding. (It was held in Copley Lounge (in the dorm building in which I lived for two years) where I presided over lectures of the International Relations Club of which I was president and where I sat as a member of the GU Student Council.)

The above image is Ibrahim speaking at the Foundation for Economic Education event.

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