Video | Malaysian reformist leader Anwar Ibrahim delivers lecture at the International Institute of Islamic Thought on Conscientious Governance
November 3, 2019| Arlaadi Online
[This is a summary of Anwar Ibrahim’s remarks on Conscientious Governance at the International Institute of Islamic Thought. It is not a transcript, but a summary of my impressions of his presentation and the discussion.]
Hisham Altalib (Introduction). Anwar Ibrahim was chairman of ABIM when UNMO asked him to join in 1982. He rose to be deputy prime minister of Malaysia. Politically he is pro democracy, rule of law, anti-corruption, and for the eradication of poverty. Margaret Thatcher said if she had to appoint a team of finance ministers she would appoint Anwar as the captain of that team. When urged to lie low in the 1980s he said, “Silence mow is a betrayal.” Later urged to leave the country, he refused to let down his supporters.
He is a man to forgive and forget and when Muhatir invited him to join the coalition he said I forgive and forget. He said his country cannot spend its tax money on defense and military because it could never compete with his neighbors, but instead put 25% of the budget into education saying it is in trade and technology that Malaysia could compete.
When Anwar was pardoned he was to be moved, like Prophet Yusuf, from prison to power. Somebody had a theory that the enemies of truth slander the good people with fake news. Yusuf of scripture was accused of adultery. The modern charge was sodomy. Like Yusuf, Anwar is honest and professional. Bad governance is easy. Conscientious government is hard.
Anwar Ibrahim. We have united Muslims, Christians, Hindus, and Buddhists in Malaysia behind the call for change going against a time in which the appeal of racism around the world is pronounced. We are making change in a majority Muslim country without the loss of a single life.
Academics and elites think they have all the answers, but their ideas do not connect with the aspirations of the masses. It is not enough to understand liberty and equality and democracy unless we understand the atrocities committed against certain groups.
Not just democracy, but accountability, is required. It is a strong part of our religious tradition even if not observed in practice. I am less concerned with the designs of the West than with the dynamics within our own societies.
We were raised to admire Salahuddin because he defeated the Westerners, but he also created a new level of conscientious governance. For the first ten years his concern was not expanding territory, but strengthening society by enhancing trade relations and promoting education. It is important for our intellectual leaders to reintroduce these great leaders, not just as military heroes, but also as pioneers of good governance.
Without good governance who will provide an environment of free flow of ideas necessary for education and creative thought? Who decides whether creative thinking will be allowed in educational institutions? Who disburses money to the educational institutions? Ali ibn Abu Talib’s letter to the governor of Egypt deserves republication with fresh notes. I encouraged Muhathir to use this letter to emphasize the importance of ethics to governance.
Soon after the elections Yusuf Qaradawi called me and said the last few years have been news of despair, gloom, and destruction, until this news of change in Malaysia. People expect you to immediately rid the county of corruption and bring in economic reform and growth.
Beyond the problem of high expectations, the environment has changed: some people are not ready to see the prime minister criticized. The problem of freedom of speech has been replaced by the problem of freedom after speech. Muslims, Christians, Buddhists and Hindus all believe that marriage must be between a man and a woman, but one must allow those who disagree to express their views. There are different views of economic policies and their cost, but the problem of grinding poverty must be addressed.
The needs of every citizen must be addressed, and Umar ibn Abdul Aziz is the best example of caring about this. We have reduced poverty from 40% to 15% but if you are in the 15%, it is still a problem for you. The same for those without access to medical care, etc. As long as there is injustice to one person I think it is the duty of government to deal with it. In my mind that is economic and social stability.
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