Malaysia, Myanmar, and Hillary Clinton

EO has been quiet lately, but our editors surely haven’t.  Here’s one of my latest, from the New Ledger:

Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim is in Australia this week, speaking on social justice, democracy, and his own legal woes.  He has also addressed the recent release of Aung San Suu Kyi, the Burmese opposition politician, declaring that her release will mean nothing until she is permitted to take her place as the elected leader of Myanmar.  Anwar has used Suu Kyi’s release to attract attention to his own political problems, arguing that Australia ought to speak out in the face of atrocities in both Myanmar and Malaysia:

“But I think they’re ill-advised if they proceed in this way…. I’m not suggesting that [the Australian government] should interfere, but they should express their views, they should promote civil society, as a vibrant democracy they’ve a duty…. But I think the issue of democracy, human rights, rule of law, they’re not something that you can just ignore. But I’m of course appreciative of the fact that Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd took time, and we had very, very useful discussions, some issues affecting both countries, and of course my personal predicament. But I always make it a point that they should extend the issue, the issue of freedom, human rights. It goes beyond Anwar’s personal case.”

The problem here is that “Anwar’s personal case” is very different from Suu Kyi’s, and Malaysia’s political landscape has little in common with Myanmar’s.

Read the rest here.

And from the Daily Caller:

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton neatly sidestepped a messy diplomatic tangle Tuesday when she canceled her plans to meet with Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim.  Only time will tell whether her last-minute schedule change adequately conveyed her apparent reluctance to add status to a controversial figure, but one thing is certain — Anwar’s anti-Semitic rhetoric and ties to dangerous terrorist finance groups mean he deserves none of the status a visit would have afforded him.

Though Anwar has spent the past decade gathering respect in Washington, his ties to terrorist finance groups like the Muslim Brotherhood clearly falsify his claims to represent the sort of moderate Islam the United States has so eagerly courted.  Al Gore’s defenses notwithstanding, Anwar is exactly the sort of Islamist radical in moderate’s clothing the U.S. must denounce.

Far from being the Malaysian “Voice of Democracy” his website touts, Anwar is in fact the co-founder of, and a trustee at, the International Institute of Islamic Thought (IIIT), an American front organization for the Muslim Brotherhood.

The IIIT has a long history of proven and alleged terrorist finance ties.  Just two years ago, for example, Temple University refused funding from the IIIT, citing serious concerns about the organization’s terror-financing connections.

In 1991, the Muslim Brotherhood named the IIIT in a list of 29 likeminded “organizations of our friends” that aimed to destroy America and turn it into a Muslim nation.

In 2003, U.S. prosecutors submitted evidence that the IIIT had a hand in funding Sami al-Arian, the convicted Palestinian Islamic Jihad fundraiser.  The same document also stated that “IIIT president Taha Jaber al-Alwani once signed a copy of a fatwa declaring that jihad is the only way to liberate Palestine.”

And the United States isn’t the only nation that has noted the Virginia-based IIIT’s problematic ties; in 2007, Malaysian Muslim feminist Zainah Anwar alleged that the organization had indirectly endorsed Islamic polygamy by removing from new translations of the Quran some widely accepted notes on the supremacy of monogamous marriages.

Anwar has done little to disguise his association with the IIIT, even tweeting recently that he was visiting the organization during a trip to the United States.  Despite these and other problematic ties, Anwar continues to be a well-loved figure in Washington circles — a fact that Clinton did not hesitate to point out during her tour of Malaysia.

This is surprising, given President Obama’s praise for Anwar’s political enemies at the ASEAN summit in New York last week.  Obama’s enthusiastic endorsement of Prime Minister Najib’s call for a Global Movement of Moderates should leave no room for Anwar’s brand of Islamist extremism, but that hasn’t kept U.S. officials from voicing their support of Anwar’s cause.

Read the rest here.

Photo credit Image and Commonwealth Office

On Malaysia’s Moderate Muslims and why you should care

A few months ago I decided to take a break from regular blogging to work on finding  a more specialized niche in which to fit my naturally charming yet gruffly journalistic self.

It’s gone well, and I’m learning a lot.  A lot about Malaysia, where apparently I’m sort of famous, thanks to posts like this. And this.  That’s not what I expected–I had hoped an employer with scads of highly-paid job openings would notice my mad research skillz and beg for a piece of my brilliance (still hoping for that, by the way)–but hey. Beggars (and moms in need of the sort of serious intellectual fodder that life with a preschooler doesn’t normally include ) can’t always be choosers.

In all seriousness, as one of the world’s few truly moderate Muslim-majority nations, Malaysia is well worth a look.  While Democracy and Islam do not usually go hand in hand, in Malaysia they co-exist with a surprising degree of harmony.  Malaysia’s multi-ethnic, multi-religious society is remarkable in that it mostly works in a way that hardly any other nation has managed to emulate–and, as you’ll see below, both the democratic and the Islamic worlds can benefit from a lot of what Malaysia has to offer.  Here are a few excerpts from some of my most recent work:

From the Daily Caller, Sept. 24, 2010:

Out of Many, 1Malaysia

Today, President Barack Obama addresses the US-ASEAN summit taking place in New York City, concurrent with the United Nations General Assembly. Among the heads of state he will speak with is a familiar acquaintance — Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak, whom the president last saw at the Nuclear Security Summit in Washington, D.C., this past April. Though he’s not a flashy newsmaker on par with some of the other ASEAN figures, Najib is no less newsworthy — and in some ways, the country he represents is one of the most important to the United States in an era where the meeting of Islam and democracy seems less a union, and more a collision.

In Najib’s Malaysia, despite some real challenges, the future of majority-Muslim, multiethnic democracy is slowly taking shape.  This past Sunday Najib joined with his country’s minister for unity, minister for religious affairs, and others in endorsing the work of Malaysia’s Inter-faith Relations Working Committee.  The committee, which is composed of Christians, Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims, Taoists and Sikhs, was formed in February in response to the widely publicized racial and religious tensions that plagued Malaysia in early 2010.  In endorsing the committee, Najib is affirming his commitment to Malaysia’s unity and diversity, and he’s doing so at the expense of his own political standing.

If there’s one thing Najib wants, it’s national unity — and that’s not something he’s going to get easily, especially if his political opponents get their way.  Fifty-three years after declaring independence, Malaysians are still unsure of what it means to be Malaysian.  With countless political parties and coalitions, dozens of cultural barriers, and the geographical imposition that is the Java Sea, it’s difficult to discern what sort of unifier will serve to carry the country forward.  To further complicate matters, only the nation’s Muslims are subject to Sharia law; the 40% of citizens who hold different beliefs are all served by a separate court system.  Far from asking his countrymen to adopt a homogenous national identity, however, Najib has set for himself the harder task of fostering and encouraging Malaysia’s differing societies while simultaneously working toward a concrete sense of national unity.

It’s not an easy task.

Read more here.

On Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak’s call for a “global movement of moderation”, from the Daily Caller, October 1, 2010:

It’s Always the Quiet Ones: Malaysia’s Moderate Muslims

Last week’s US-ASEAN summit was significant in ways that much of the mainstream media failed to report — and that’s a shame, given that Southeast Asia is home to some of our most important global partners.  Though China and Indonesia dominated most of the summit’s news coverage, their relatively low profile at the actual event provided an opportunity for ASEAN’s quieter voices to prevail.

Malaysia’s overtures to the United States deserve particular illumination here.  You’re not likely to read much about them elsewhere, though they are no less important for not having been highlighted in western media outlets.  The relative media silence regarding Malaysia has nothing to do with lack of newsworthy content, but is rather owing to the nation’s peaceful national home life. While other nations are busy dominating the news with tales of violence, poverty, and aggression, Malaysia is taking advantage of its own stability to carefully and strategically set itself up as the United States’ next best Southeast Asian partner — and, given the difficulties the United States has had in combining Islam and democracy, we better pay attention.

When I interviewed Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak in New York on Sunday, he was careful to elucidate some specific areas in which Malaysia can benefit both the United States and the rest of the world.  He mentioned one especially unique commodity that not many other nations can match: progressive, well-educated, female Muslim professionals.  Women make up 62% of Malaysia’s undergraduate population, and that number will only grow as the nation aims to eventually staff at least 30% of its policy and decision-making positions with women.  In addition, Najib told the Council on Foreign Relations on Tuesday that Malaysia plans to assist in Afghanistan by sending female Muslim doctors to the region — a valuable offer, given that an overwhelming number of conservative Muslim women prefer to be treated by doctors of their own sex.

Though Malaysian democracy isn’t yet fully consonant with the U.S. model, it is making tremendous strides in the right direction at an astonishing pace — and it’s not about to slow down.  While it’s always good news when a democracy liberalizes, Malaysia’s efforts are especially relevant because it is one of the world’s few moderate Muslim-majority nations, and it has the potential to be a positive and effective example to other Muslim nations.

Najib is well aware of this potential, and he has good reason to take advantage of it for both political and religious reasons. At his inaugural address to the United Nations General Assembly, for example, he called for a “global movement of the moderates” among people of all faiths in an attempt to “reclaim the centre and moral high ground that has been usurped from us.”  In his meeting with President Obama on Friday he offered Malaysia’s help in combating the dangers of Islamophobia, stating that the US needed help in educating its people about the reality of Islam.  When 26% of America’s populace believes its own president is Muslim, he pointed out, it’s a sign that the people are woefully uneducated.

Read more here.

Image credit Nazir Amin

Anwar Ibrahim: Not the Bright Spot We’d Hoped For

As Israel struggles to defend itself, Islamist voices around the world still stridently condemn the Jewish state for stopping the flotilla bringing aid to Hamas. Shockingly, one of those voices is Malaysia’s Anwar Ibrahim — the former media darling and favorite of the foreign-policy teams of both Bill Clinton and George W. Bush.

In a remarkable development, B’nai B’rith International has urged the U.S. to end its relationship with Anwar, citing his “…anti-Jewish and anti-Israel slanders, such as his April 30 assertion that Israeli spies are ‘directly involved in the running of the government,’” and his active role in sparking the recent resurgence of anti-Semitic sentiments in Malaysian politics.  In a letter addressed to the State Department, the Senate’s Committee on Foreign Relations, and the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, the venerable organization argued that “[a] purveyor of anti-Jewish hatred such as Ibrahim should not enjoy the measure of legitimacy that a positive relationship with the United States would confer upon him.”

Statements like these are symptomatic of a larger resurgence of anti-Semitism in Malaysian politics—a resurgence that Anwar himself has helped spark.  While the current Malaysian leadership is eager to be counted among our Muslim-majority allies, Anwar and his party are another story.  Anwar, who was long mentored by the publicly anti-American anti-Semite Mahathir Mohammed, has continued Mahathir’s legacy despite having been disowned by him in the late 1990’s.  Anwar’s conspiracy-theory laden charges of Israel’s secret takeover of the Malaysian Police IT unit bear all the marks of Mahathir’s influence—and he isn’t stopping there.

At the “Justice and Peace for Gaza” roundtable in Malaysia on June 4th, Anwar continued his anti-Semitic verbal assaults by attacking an American public relations firm, previously hired for minor work by the Malaysian Prime Minister, as an agent of Jewish influence: the firm, Anwar said, is “able to influence the oldest Jewish body to attack me personally… and to ask [other] countries, mainly the United States, to consider me an enemy because I’m seen as an enemy of Israel.”  Anwar declared that he was being subjected to retribution for his previous statements before the Malaysian Parliament, in which he claimed that Jews were working to manipulate Malaysian policy for America’s benefit.

Purveyors of anti-Semitism are often dealers in anti-Americanism, and Anwar Ibrahim is no exception.  He went on to attack President Obama, telling some one hundred Malaysians at the roundtable, “Obama is weak. He only said that he ‘regretted’ the attack [on the Gaza flotilla] when we actually need action.” This theme of weakness in the face of alleged Jewish interests was a continuation of one Anwar advanced several weeks back, when he accused the Malaysian government of bending to Jewish pressure in participating in sanctions against Iran’s nuclear program.

Statements like this make it clear that in asking the U.S. government and policymakers to end their erstwhile cordial relationships with the Malaysian opposition leader, B’nai B’rith is doing us a significant favor. There is simply no place for American engagement with traffickers in anti-Semitism, for both moral and pragmatic reasons.  Withdrawing support from Anwar will not solve the problem of world-wide anti-Semitism, but it will help put America on the right side of the issue.  If American policy makers choose to distance themselves from Anwar and his anti-Jewish hate speech, perhaps they will also distance themselves from others whose foul rhetoric we have wrongfully ignored.

While Anwar has spent years polishing a genteel Western image, his conduct and associations in Malaysia prove that he is every bit the sort of anti-American radical the U.S. must avoid.  Anti-Semitic statements like the ones B’nai B’rith has condemned show that Anwar’s public stances on major issues like race and foreign policy vary wildly depending on his own political needs.  And, despite his recent acceptance at places like Johns Hopkins University, where he was invited to teach for a year in their School for Advanced International Studies, he is quick to link his own anti-Semitism with anti-Americanism.

When asked about the Israeli/Palestinian conflict he told CNN, “Stoking the flames of anti-Americanism and anti-Semitism is a good distraction from the stench in their own backyard, namely rampant corruption, denial of basic human rights, abuse of power and the suppression of civil society.”

Most Americans failed to realize that he was describing this as a useful strategy, not condemning it.  We overlook it at our own peril, however, as our eager search for bright spots in a largely unwelcoming Islamic populace makes it all too easy for our policy makers to rest contented when they think they’ve found what they’re looking for.

The Obama administration will have to keep this in mind as it seeks to strengthen relations with the Islamic world in general and Malaysia in particular.  It’s not always easy to tell the difference between our friends and our enemies among the people of the Muslim faith, but in Anwar’s case the problems are clear to anyone willing to pay attention. ‘