21 March, 2010

Anwar in London

Anwar Ibrahim came to London and in two evenings he addressed over a thousand of his countrymen. That is nothing like the tens of thousands who attend opposition ceramahs back in Malaysia but at home the rain is never as dismal as it is in London at night as winter takes its time to fade.

They bothered to show up and so they were an easy and willing audience, applauding and laughing in all the right places. Some were more curious and motivated than others and even showed up both nights.

Over an hour at the LSE (London School of Economics), Anwar managed to quote TS Eliot, Winston Churchill, Alexis de Tocqueville and Islamic scholars. He also offered an explanation of the Ramayana, the famed Hindu epic. On Friday night, he referenced Samuel Johnson's condemnation of patriotism “as the last refuge of a scoundrel”, a remark made popular in the early 1980s by Bob Dylan.

He tossed these out with ease in a stark reminder of the years spent in solitary confinement with nothing but books to keep him company. Anwar's message was underlined by his past and his uncertain future.

On Friday night, he spoke of the deaths of Teoh Beng Hock and A Kugan before he said, “I understand what humility is all about. I understand what freedom is all about.”

And then he insisted that he would not be convicted this time.

Anwar spoke throughout the evening of change, that appealing concept sold so skillfully to the American public by Barack Obama that means different things to everyone.

He spoke of that inalienable right of freedom, he spoke of good governance, he spoke of justice and he spoke of equality. He was insistent that respect for individuals was paramount. Anwar was insistent that this applied to all as he argued that religion had to sit side by side with respect for the rights of others. He spoke of ideals and principles and all those soaring notions that skilled speakers can evoke so easily with language and are harder to transform into reality.

He proffered an image of a nation led by PKR that combined a more competitive economy with academic and media freedom and a “transparent” policy of affirmation action based on need......more

- Liz Chong

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