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East-West Wire

 

“Democracy is more than “just having free and fair elections,” Anwar said, speaking at a public program co-sponsored by the Pacific and Asian Affairs Council, the East-West Center, and the University of Hawai‘i Center for Southeast Asian Studies. “Indonesia, in the midst of a democratic transition, has had to recover from three decades of dictatorial rule.” As a result, he added, it has had to create a democratic framework of “separation of powers; credible, well-qualified, well-trained judges and lawyers; a free media; and free and fair elections.”

Anwar made the comments Feb. 23 in a talk on “Human Rights and Politics: An Asian Perspective.” In 1998, Anwar was removed from his posts as Malaysia’s deputy prime minister and finance minister and imprisoned for political reasons. In 2004, after six years of solitary confinement, the Malaysian Federal Court acquitted him of all charges. He is currently a visiting professor at Georgetown University and a distinguished visiting senior fellow at Johns Hopkins University. He was in Honolulu as a distinguished visiting scholar at the University of Hawai‘i.

After six years in jail, Anwar said he emerged feeling “stronger and more passionate about freedom and human rights,” and he emphasized that these are universal—not purely American or Western—concepts.

“ In the media,” he said, “viewers see much rage against Americans and the West, but speak to individuals in the Middle East and you sense there is a difference in their position on American foreign policy and American Jeffersonian ideals or the spirit of the American Constitution.”

He also said that to understand Muslim society is to understand that it is not monolithic. If you “look at the (Muslim) experience in Asia, you cannot understand and appreciate the changes (in the region) from the prism of the Arab world,” he said. “The experience in Asia is something we need to observe and appreciate.”

Anwar also advocated engagement to minimize conflict and differences, but said that should not negate the push for human rights and freedom. “I am for engagement, for trade,” he said, with reference to China, “but we should not ... ignore that freedom and human rights remain paramount.”

“ Just because you have good relations with countries (such as China),” he said, “should not preclude the discussion or articulation of issues of human rights and freedom, because to do so . . . condemns the majority of the population who have been denied basic freedoms.”

For links to this and other East-West Center media programs, fellowships and services, visit www.eastwestcenter.org/journalists.

 

 

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