Anwar Ibrahim : Losing affection from USA

Posted on July 22, 2010

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These are excerpts of an article written by Joshua Trevino in the 20 Jul edition of the Washington Post. Trevino  is a longtime observer of Malaysian affairs and runs Trevino Strategies and Media. He served as a speechwriter in President George W. Bush’s Department of Health and Human Services from 2001-2004.
The full article is  here

America’s allies in the Islamic world are too few, and of those few, even fewer are anything like friends. So when one of them attacks America as part of a long-standing anti-Semitic campaign, it’s time to ask whether he was ever an ally – and still less a friend.

That’s the situation in which U.S. policymakers find themselves with the chief of Malaysia’s political opposition, Anwar Ibrahim. Once a favorite of American leaders of all ideological stripes, he earned plaudits over the past decade from eminences ranging from Al Gore to Condoleezza Rice to Amnesty International as an idealized democrat in the Islamic world. In this, his persecution at the hands of former Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad – a genuinely malign figure who saw Mr. Ibrahim as a political rival – and a gift for engaging Western media were of tremendous help.

In the past two years, though, another side of Mr. Ibrahim has come to the fore. His use of anti-Semitic rhetoric in Malaysian politics has earned him a censure from B’nai B’rith, which on May 25 urged U.S. officials to cease contact with him. He also is notably one of the few Muslim politicians of global stature to use Israel’s seizure of the Gaza-bound flotilla six weeks ago as a platform for attacking the United States.

Malaysia was no exception. Like every other majority-Islamic nation (though, unlike most, it boasts substantial and active religious minorities) it condemned Israel in resounding terms before the captured vessels made port in Ashdod, Israel. Prime Minister Najib Razak – the man whom Mr. Ibrahim hopes to overthrow and replace – even hosted a reception for the dozen Malaysians who took part in the flotilla, at which he denounced Israeli action as “an impudent act of aggression and terrorism … an act of cold-blooded murder committed by commandos on an order from the Tel Aviv regime.”

This is strong stuff, and not a credit to its speaker. But without excusing it in the slightest, Americans may well note that it places Mr. Razak alongside every other Islamic leader in the world. Furthermore, Mr. Razak has also come under fire domestically for his cooperative stance toward the United States, particularly in the war on terror.

The contrast with Mr. Ibrahim could not be greater. Where Mr. Razak denounced Israel, Mr. Ibrahim attacked Jews per se with all the tropes of classic anti-Semitism – and he attacked America as well.

Perhaps not coincidentally, Mr. Ibrahim’s major partner in Malaysia’s opposition coalition is an Islamist party best known in the West for soliciting volunteers to defend the Taliban from America after Sept. 11, 2001.
With this background, it’s no surprise that the likes of B’nai B’rith declared Mr. Ibrahim persona non grata for U.S. policymakers. It’s also no surprise that after the Gaza flotilla, Mr. Ibrahim was found leading a chanting mob of thousands before the U.S. Embassy in Kuala Lumpur on June 4.

The sad fact is that if Anwar Ibrahim once commanded the respect of Americans as a friend and potential ally, that day is gone. A decade ago, reasoned and informed Western opinion believed him a harbinger of enlightened and tolerant Muslim democracy. Now he is just another Islamic-world peddler of Jew-baiting and anti-Americanism. Both America and the Islamic world, and certainly Malaysia, deserve better.