Malaysia is on Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's agenda this week as she swings through Asia. When she visits with Malaysian leaders, she might meet with Anwar Ibrahim, a supposed democracy and reform leader who, it is said, has been unfairly maligned by an overbearing government. Clinton shouldn't, as Malaysia is no Myanmar and Ibrahim is no Aung San Suu Kyi.
Once a British colony, Malaysia has been independent since 1957. It has transformed itself from a raw materials exporter to a nation with a strong economy boasting a per capita income of $14,900, roughly quadruple that of its larger neighbors: the Philippines and Indonesia. Malaysia's 26 million people are 60 percent Muslim, 19 percent Buddhist, 9 percent Christian and 7 percent Hindu. The legal system is based on English common law with Islamic law (Sharia) applying to Muslims in the matters of family law and religion. Islam in Malaysia, as in much of the Asian Pacific region, has been less prone to violence as it came to the region more as a function of peaceful trade rather than bloody conquest. Malaysia's economy has steadily improved, and, under Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak, so too have press freedoms and application of rule of law. It has a distance yet to travel, but a victory by opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim in next year's elections would not advance the cause of democracy.
Serving as deputy to former long-time Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir bin Mohamad, Ibrahim helped steer Malaysia through the Asian financial crisis in 1997. But, when Ibrahim tried to leverage his success into the Prime Minister's office, Mahathir would have none of it, striking back with charges of corruption and sodomy. Ibrahim saw his political career sidetracked with his convictions on both charges (the sodomy charge was later reversed in 2004, but new sodomy charges were filed in 2008).
There's no denying that Anwar Ibrahim knows how to manipulate Western press and politicians. Ibrahim has fashioned himself a sympathetic profile in the West by leveraging the sodomy charges the nominally Muslim government has twice maladroitly leveled against him while claiming to be two things he isn't: a government reformer and a moderate Muslim.
Ibrahim's passion for government reform was suspect from the start. While riding the crest of his popularity in 1998, his allies called for a debate on "cronyism and nepotism" which Malaysia's former strongman Prime Minister Mahathir quickly turned on its head by producing lists of those who benefitted from by receiving shares from privatized government corporations. The lists showed Ibrahim, his allies, his brothers and his father owned million of shares in newly privatized companies. Ibrahim's corruption conviction was never overturned.
Selling Ibrahim as a moderate Muslim is altogether a different challenge. While Ibrahim enjoys the support of Al Gore and Paul Wolfowitz, the Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith calls him out as an anti-Semitic demagogue unworthy of meeting with the U.S. Secretary of State. Tellingly, when Ibrahim was recently in New York, shadowing a visit there by Prime Minister Najib Razak, he met with the International Institute of Islamic Thought (IIIT). Ibrahim was a co-founder of IIIT which listed the Malaysian politician as a trustee as recently as last year.
The problem is that IIIT is a Muslim Brotherhood front that has repeatedly been tied to terrorist network financing. In their 2001 book "Violence" IIIT called the state of Israel a "foreign usurper" that must be attacked with "fear, terror and lack of security." Only three years ago, Malaysian Muslim feminist Zainah Anwar called out IIIT for suppressing moderate Koranic teachings. Of direct concern to Americans should be that the Muslim Brotherhood's new "Supreme Guide" or leader, Muhammad Badi, called for violent jihad against both the U.S. and Israel in a September 30 sermon, saying it was a commandment of Allah that cannot be disregarded. Ibrahim met with IIIT leaders in New York only days after this sermon.
Anwar Ibrahim is simply one in a long line of Islamist leaders who know how to say one thing to a Western audience who longs to hear soothing words, while saying and acting differently when they think no one from the West is paying attention. If Ibrahim's People's Justice Party (run by his wife, Wan Azizah Wan Ismail) comes to power in 2011, it will likely mark another occurrence of democracy being used to destroy democracy. Secretary of State Clinton, if she meets with Ibrahim, will act to boost his destructive charade.
Chuck DeVore is a California State Assemblyman. He is a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army (retired) Reserve and served as a Reagan White House appointee in the Pentagon. He co-authored the novel China Attacks. He can be followed on Twitter @chuckdevore and his Facebook account is facebook.com/DeVoreForCalifornia.