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A Pyrrhic ‘Victory’ for Anwar Ibrahim?

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Posted on March 25 2011 12:09 pm
Seth Mandel is the former managing editor of four New Jersey-based newspapers, where he won awards for his coverage of the Middle East and Russia. He has appeared on Shalom TV's current affairs roundtable. He is currently based in Washington, D.C. Twitter: @SethAMandel
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Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim is declaring victory. I’d say: not so fast.

The notorious anti-Semite, longtime Muslim Brotherhood official, and representative of Saudi Wahhabism is celebrating a court decision to disallow DNA evidence against him in his ongoing sodomy trial. The Asia Sentinel reports:

A Kuala Lumpur High Court Tuesday handed Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim a major victory in his long-running sodomy trial by throwing out purported DNA evidence supposedly proving he had sex with former aide Mohamad Saiful Bukhairy Azlan.

The DNA evidence is basically the only physical link between the 63-year-old Anwar and Saiful, who accused the former deputy prime minister of raping him in June 2008.

“I am grateful for the verdict and this just further supports what I have said, that I am being persecuted unfairly by the authorities in their bid to silence me,” Anwar told reporters.

On Tuesday, Malaysian Bar Council president Ragunath Kesavan was quoted by Agence-France Press as saying the High Court’s decision, which comes after a series of failed legal petitions lodged by Anwar, severely undermines the prosecution’s case.

“From what I’ve seen and heard I think the charge should fall. They should withdraw the proceedings because as it stands now there is nothing to link Anwar to the DNA evidence which has been produced,” Kesavan said.

Anwar has been a darling of the West for quite some time now—a status owed in part to this trial. He’s been on trial in the past as well, and usually becomes a cause célèbre because of his penchant for saying the right things to the right people. As we have explained here in the past in detail, Anwar has reinvented himself as the standard for moderate Islam, playing on the West’s desire to find and promote such moderates to ward off accusations of Islamophobia and McCarthyism.

He speaks about free markets and free elections, a combination that endears him to the West—thinkers like Paul Wolfowitz, politicians like Al Gore, journalists like Joe Klein. And that is understandable; if that were the sum total of Anwar’s ideology, there would be few objections, if any. But that’s not who Anwar is, as we know. Anwar is the co-founder of the International Institute of Islamic Thought, a Muslim Brotherhood think tank in Virginia that has been investigated for funding terrorist groups and supporters and which has called for terrorism against the West, primarily Israel. Our primer on the IIIT is here.

In that primer, we also mention Anwar’s friendship with Yusuf al-Qaradawi, the Brotherhood’s terror-supporting leading theologian, and his affinity for Sayyid Qutb, a leading light in the development of Islamist ideology.

Last weekend, I had a conversation with someone in which I offered some of these highlights of Anwar’s career. Once I mentioned to her Anwar’s role in the Saudi-funded World Assembly of Muslim Youth (WAMY) and his prominent work with the Brotherhood, she was aghast that any prominent official in the West would be willing to put their reputation on the line to support Anwar. She wanted to know why his record isn’t enough to make him politically radioactive. I had no answer.

But this recent court ruling may, ironically, help put Anwar in his appropriate place in public opinion. Once he is no longer a “persecuted” opposition figure, his celebrity appeal may nosedive. It already has in his own party. I quoted a writer for the Malaysian Sun with this analysis in November:

“Without holding any significant post in the party, the former Deputy Prime Minister is party adviser and leader of the opposition by virtue of his name only. However one cannot deny that it was his sacking and incarceration that plotted the current renaissance in Malaysian politics. Hence many supporters feel that it is their moral obligation to ensure that Anwar continues to spearhead the march to Putrajaya (the seat of government).”

What this writer is saying is that Anwar’s trial is what gave him the popularity he now enjoys, even though he’s essentially done nothing for his party except put family members in high positions in an attempt to cash in on his fame by co-opting the opposition party. Thanks to him, that party is now in disarray—because Anwar is not an intellectual or a political star, he is simply an opportunist enabled by good public relations.

So let Anwar celebrate this Pyrrhic victory, and then let him stand or fall on his own. He will almost certainly fall.

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