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Anwar Ibrahim: The fundamentalist

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Anwar had planned to push for accountability and good governance from within Umno – but he was sacked from the party at lightning speed, recalls Hishamuddin Yahaya.


In February, a very influential Australian MP described Dato Seri Anwar Ibrahim as “intelligent and articulate and passionate democrat.  He is committed to a thorough reform of Malaysian Government, to rid it of cronyism, corruption and authoritarian tendencides that have gained ground since Mahathir Mohamad became Prime Minister in 1981.”

The reformist

Anwar is a reformist and reformists everywhere seem to share the same fate.  To give a few examples: Benigno Aquino (Ninoy) of the Philippines was shot on the tarmac of Manila Airport as soon as he embarked from self exile in the US.  The revered Indian leader, Mahatma Gandhi, was shot at point blank range.  Martin Luther King and Malcolm X of the United States were both shot in public.  Abdul Kadir Audah and Hassan Al Banna of Egypt were hanged and shot in the street respectively under Gamal Abdul Nasser’s regime.  Anwar was incarcerated in Kamunting in 1974 and later imprisoned in Sungai Buloh for more than six years.

Social and political reformers are never safe inside or outside the courthouse.  Outside, their lives hinge on the barrel of a gun.  Inside the courthouse, they are like slaves thrown into the lions’ arena of the ancient Roman Coliseum, with prosecutors enjoying control of the Court albeit using dubious charges.

Anwar’s arrest (1974)

I first met Anwar 40 years ago at Malaysia Hall in London.  Lean and with a gaunt face, the un-pretentious and affable celebrated student leader struck me as one humble and modest and down-to-earth individual – a portrait of one among equals.  I took to him immediately.

I next met him in 1974 as his friend and defence counsel when he was first arrested for unlawful assembly (the mammoth Baling Demonstration involving hundreds of university students) and later charged under the ISA.  For that, I was pulled up by the then Home Affairs Minister, Ghazali Shafie (later made a Tun), who was told by the then Prime Minister, the late Tun Abdul Razak, that I was defending this maverick Anwar, despite me being a government backbencher (I was the MP for Maran, Pahang.) Tun Ghazali was sombre and I was even more sombre.

I was restless for a few days, until I made an appointment to see Tun Razak at his official residence in Sri Taman.  As I entered the gate of Sri Taman, the young and handsome Najib was driving to go to work.  He lowered his window screen, smiled broadly and said, “Political problems?”  “Yes, “I replied, and he disappered.

Meeting the Tun

The late Tun gave me more than half an hour of his precious time to talk exclusively about Anwar.  As usual the late Tun never displayed his anger, no matter how angry he was, a very rare quality that even the late Tun Ghafar Baba confessed that he feared the Tun even more because of this trait.  What actually transpired in my meeting with the Tun is a secret best kept to myself.

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Three things emerged in my mind after that memorable meeting with the Tun.  First, I felt that I had lost favour with the Tun and my political future, then and there, was dashed!  Second, I learnt from the Tun that Anwar was a one hundred per cent purpose-driven  individual whom Tun described as “recalcitrant”.  Third, the mammoth demonstration had certainly left an impact and what’s even more far-reaching is something I will not divulge. Tun’s parting words to me: don’t leave Abim but stay and advise Anwar, which I never did.

Formation of Abim

Anwar was the doyen and icon of Islamic fundamentalism (a term not to be misunderstood and associated with extremism or terrorism).  Where Umno and Pas were equally myopic and lacked imagination, Anwar came to the fore to fill this gap.  Anwar and his colleagues formed the Malaysian Muslim Youth Movement (Abim) to unite all the Muslim youths under a single organisation.  Once united, they were trained and taught wholesome Islamic values: a sense of high self-esteem and taught to be reliable and independent, responsible to self and community and to develop in themselves the virtues of honesty and integrity, to live in peace and harmony, to be tolerant culturally and religiously and all the rest of it, which covers the entire gamut of life.

On careful analysis, one will realise that the larger political Islam harnessed through Abim was the result of the genius of Anwar.  It reflects his philosophical and intellectual  mindset which underpins his political convictions.  To testify the validity of his Islamic thought, Yusof Qurdhawi, the world renowned ulama, gave his full endorsement to what Anwar did, and the two even became close friends to this day.  The formation of Abim and what it aspires to is the embodiment of Anwar’s thought and emotions, the unfolding of his inner self that speaks of his emotional and psychological make up.  It is also the manifestation of his religion-oriented soul which cherishes the high moral values in life, a rare quality found in an individual of his generation.  To associate a man of his credentials with any contemptible act is like putting a square peg into a round hole.

Now confronted with a  multifarious accusations by ruling members of Parliament in its present sitting, the steel in the man is clearly displayed.  He is still standing tall above others, unwavering with a clear message “My voice is loud and clear, and I have nothing to fear.” It’s a David and Goliath situation – Anwar, a man who moves the nation to its knees.

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Yayasan Anda

The establishment of a private school, Yayasan Anda in Kg Baru, Kuala Lumpur, spoke volumes of this man.  It was a school set up solely to cater for school dropouts, giving them a second chance to achieve academic success.  Yayasan Anda is testimony to Anwar’s selflessness.  When almost all of his fellow graduates joined the civil service with the rank of “officers”, Anwar, chose a different path, regarded puerile by many, as the pay was pittance compared to the officers in the civil service.

Nevertheless, Anwar chose to teach there, with neither prospect for promotion nor bonuses or other perks enjoyed by his colleagues in the civil service – an unusual undertaking by today’s standards, which others may find difficult to understand. But Anwar lived to be dictated by his inner conscience and the knowledge that “knowledge” is not a tool for self-enrichment but when acquired must be dessiminated for the well-being of others.

Such  passionate compassion could not have emanated from a factory churned-out graduates, but from one with firm religious conviction, who would not compromise principles with material gains.  It was for this reason too that a certain influential Pas leader referred to Anwar insan kamil (infallible human being) in terms of religious transgression.

Anwar’s court conviction

A Muslim will not fall into the same pit twice.  Anwar never fell once, although he was previously convicted, imprisoned and sealed with a blue eye.  The conviction did not tell all, although it was proved “beyond reasonable doubt”.  In our system of justice, what’s reasonable or unreasonable doubt is the judge’s exclusive propriety.  His findings based on the evidence adduced before him are very much subject to his acumen, which in turn is very much subject to his innate intelligence.  Judges too are seldom free of political leanings and often, their judgements are also influenced by their emotional state.

We have heard cases in the United States where a man was imprisoned for twenty years, only to be freed when the real culprit (who was nearing death) gave himself up and confessed to the crime.  The innocent man was totally disoriented and with most of his productive life wasted, no amount of government compensation could make up for his suffering.

Recently, a man from Texas, USA, Timothy Cole, who died nine years ago in prison, was given a posthumous pardon after he was found not guilty of  rape.  He spent 13 years in prison for nothing.

The truth about Dato Taha’s death (remember the Negeri Exco member?) was never known, although Dato Mokhtar Hashim was sentenced to prison for the alleged crime.  The judgment of Hashim Yeop Sani sent shock-waves in the legal profession, including in the AG’s chambers.  The fact that Mokhtar was given a royal pardon showed that the evidence in the case was somewhat hazy and its veracity questionable.

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It is worthwhile to remember what the Holy Prophet , peace be upon him, said, “Out of three judges, two are dwellers of hell.” And again the Holy Prophet, peace be upon him, said, “A person may have won the case, because he is a better speaker than the other.” Even the Prophet himself asked forgiveness from Allah, in case he judged wrongly. It is for this reason, that Muslim judges are taught that it is better to make a wrong decision and not punish the guilty than to make a wrong decision and punish the innocent.

Anwar and Umno

Anwar did not anticipate that he would one day join Umno because of its secular policy and practices.  But he joined Umno in the 1982 by invitation, because it was feared that unless Umno took him in, Pas would grab him.  Anwar’s credentials led Umno to raise its hopes in him and his meteoric rise proved this.  At the same time Anwar was forewarned by his close associates that should he join Umno, he would one day find himself a victim of  conspiracy by a rogue group within Umno who would want to maintain the status quo.  But Anwar took a different view.  He planned to position himself so that he could establish accountability and good governance from within.  True, as predicted, his effort was met by a hatched plan against him; he was sacked from Umno at lightning speed and left high and dry.

But Anwar is a survivor.  He holds on fast to the old Malay proverb that a warrior’s death is in the arena of combat.  Anwar will survive or at the very least it may be a precursor to a long-awaited reformasi.

Dato Hishamuddin Yahaya is a lawyer and former MP for Maran.

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