Thursday, January 6, 2011

Anwar's Annus Horribilis

Anwar Ibrahim’s Annus Horribilis

The Decline of a False Martyr
 By Roy Thinnes

WikiLeaks has shown us many interesting things, though perhaps nothing as epochal as the silver-maned Julian Assange would have us think. The conduct of American foreign policy in private turns out to be remarkably like its conduct in public: the State Department is motivated by concepts of naked self-interest just like any national bureaucracy, but revelations of American hypocrisy are remarkably absent.

Revelations of foreign-power hypocrisy, by contrast, are rampant in the WikiLeaks cables, and none more stark than that of Malaysia’s own Anwar Ibrahim.

The perennial opposition leader and putative Islamic democrat is in an awkward position, as WikiLeaks has revealed a remarkably chatty Singaporean intelligence source opining on the nature of his present trial for sodomy. The trial, alert readers will recall, is Anwar’s second in about a decade. The first was widely seen as a nakedly political move by the authoritarian regime of Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad; and the second is frequently condemned as such despite the present Prime Minister Najib Razak’s considerably more liberal record. All this may have to reassessed if what WikiLeaks’s Singaporean asserts is true.

The basics of the contention are these: the sodomy charge was indeed a “setup,” in the Singaporean’s words, but Anwar is also guilty. Worse, Anwar knew it was likely a “setup,” and walked into it anyway. This raises some interesting questions, if true:

  • Is Anwar Ibrahim simply a prisoner of his passions, to the extent that they override his sense of self-preservation?

  • Or, more intriguingly, did Anwar Ibrahim calculate that a second trial would redound to his long-term political benefit, as the first one assuredly did?

  • Anwar’s reaction to all this has been interesting to watch. Initially, he derided the revelations on his Twitter account as merely the products of Malaysian Special Branch speculation — hardly an unbiased source, especially in Anwar’s mental universe, wherein they are penetrated by Israeli agents. But then the opposition leader appeared to think better of this, and began threatening legal actions against Malaysian press that reported on the allegations. This last action is, of course, inconsistent with the liberal, democratizing image he wishes to present to the West — and it is also suggestive of a bit of desperation, as if a well-laid plan has gone terribly awry.

    This concluding drama of 2010 closes Anwar Ibrahim’s own annus horribilis, which he began in a position of considerable political strength, and which ends now in mounting questions about his political viability and personal integrity.

    At the turn of the previous New Year, Anwar had come off some disappointing elections that did not, as he had predicted, result in his assumption of the Prime Ministerial office. He was therefore busy demagoguing, with some success, the Prime Minister’s engagement of a public-relations firm with past business in Israel. This led directly into his first major misstep, as he slid into outright anti-Semitic rhetoric in the early spring. As this attracted notice in an incredulous Western press — long used to the narrative of Anwar as a benevolent figure of tolerance — he compounded it by publicly blaming the United States for the Gaza-flotilla incident, and leading a crowd of thousands shouting anti-American slogans at the American Embassy in Kuala Lumpur. As a consequence, by mid-June there was substantive US press noting, with some shock, that Anwar Ibrahim appeared to be less of an appealing Islamic democrat, and more of an anti-American Jew-baiter.

    The direct result of this? A public letter from B’nai B’rith to the US Secretary of State and Congressional leaders, urging American policymakers to wholly shun Anwar — a stunning turnabout for an erstwhile darling of the US foreign-policy establishment.

    Stung by these admittedly rather justified charges, Anwar was forced to spend much of the summer touring Europe and North America, apologizing to his liberal (and Jewish) friends in both, and exhorting audiences to remember that he was himself a victim of persecution. This worked to some extent, but it’s fair to say that he returned to Malaysia with a battered image in the one constituency he counted on most: Western liberal sentiment.

    Incredible as it may seem, things got worse when Anwar returned to the United States in September, apparently in the wake of Prime Minister Najib’s trip to the UN General Assembly. Incautious as ever with social media, he Twittered that while in America, he visited the International Institute for Islamic Thought, prompting some curious observers to make inquiries into the nature of the IIIT. The past ninety days have therefore seen a series of articles in American media outlets, revealing much of Anwar Ibrahim’s past to the US audience. Key points include:

  • Anwar co-founded the IIIT nearly three decades ago as a Muslim-Brotherhood front organization in the United States.

  • Anwar’s IIIT has been named in Muslim Brotherhood documents seized by the FBI as a key Islamic-radical front organization in the United States.

  • Anwar’s IIIT is directly responsible for coining and promulgating the word “Islamophobia” as a tactic to discredit critics of radical Islam.

  • Anwar apparently remains on the board of the IIIT.

  • Anwar may have benefitted from Muslim-Brotherhood funding, possibly routed via Turkish sources. (This may, if confirmed, explain Anwar’s decision to flee to the Turkish Embassy in Kuala Lumpus when his most recent indictment was announced.)

  • Anwar may have benefitted from funding sources within Saudi Arabia, by way of his Muslim Brotherhood connections.

  • Note that there are many questions awaiting confirmation in this list. What Anwar has done, with his eager demagoguery, his Jew-baiting, and his general incaution, is make these questions rational and plausible. We may rest assured that intrepid journalists are even now seeking their answers.

    Meanwhile, in Malaysia itself, Anwar’s errors of 2010 haunt him on several fronts. His campaign against Jewish influence, which seemed so tactically promising at its inception, will now likely result in a punitive suspension from the Malaysian parliament at the hands of its Rules Committee. Within his own party, cracks are beginning to show: noted Malaysian liberal and reformer Zaid Ibrahim recently stormed out of Anwar’s Pakatan Rakyat party, charging corruption and a cult of personality about its leader. This is a loss of credibility the embattled leader can ill afford.

    As this year drew to a close, nearly every advantage that Anwar Ibrahim held at its beginning has been frittered away — except, perhaps, his rectitude vis a vis his sodomy trial.

    Now, with WikiLeaks, that may be gone too. If it is, all that will be left of the Anwar Ibrahim that once traveled the world as a champion of democracy, transparency, and liberalism will be a discredited husk of a decidely amoral political opportunist. And it all happened in just one year.