Kudos to the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) for having the courage to stand up for justice. Monday's announcement that ISNA was officially withdrawing its invitation to Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad was one anxiously awaited by many who felt anger by his most recent witch-hunt of Anwar Ibrahim. ISNA had originally invited the Malaysian Prime Minister to be a keynote speaker and award recipient at the annual convention's first ever Islamic Trade Fair. The invitation to the September 1 to 4 conference in Rosemont, Illinois would have certainly put a serious dent in ISNA's growing popularity.
Dr. Mahathir has gotten away with exploiting the Islamic image for too long. His repressive and divisive policies must be exposed, even as he hides under the label of Islam. It was sickening to hear him call for Muslim unity at the Organization of Islamic Conference Meetings while working to divide his own country using the most unimaginable tactics.
Whatever little credibility Dr. Mahathir had succeeded in preserving during his long and controversial tenure had dissipated quickly after he concocted allegations of sodomy and corruption against the ex-deputy premier. The Malaysian justice system was also proven to be no better than a kangaroo court after finding Anwar Ibrahim guilty of corruption and sodomy charges without any regard to procedural rules and rules of natural justice. The legal circus culminated on August 8th when Ibrahim was sentenced to nine years for his sodomy conviction.
The sentence effectively means he could be in jail until 2014, since the sodomy sentence is only set to start after he has completed his six-year sentence for corruption handed down by the court on April 1999.
In my naivete, I was once an admirer of the Prime Minister and thought of him highly as he spoke out against the Westernization and moral decay creeping into the Islamic and developing world. He not only spoke out against the vices but stood up against Western imperialism.
Dr. Mahathir became an even greater hero when he took Anwar Ibrahim under his wing. At the time, Ibrahim was a charismatic firebrand Islamic youth activist and government critic.
Born on Aug 10, 1947, Ibrahim graduated from the University of Malaya in 1971 and quickly set up a private education institution for poor Malay students. He also founded the Malaysian Muslim Youth Movement (ABIM) in 1971 and protested against government injustices.
His activism earned him twenty months in jail under the dreaded Internal Security Act. Upon his release in 1976, Ibrahim and the ABIM gained a huge following and he become the most outspoken government critic.
Some will argue that he went on the wrong path by giving up his opposition role by accepting an invitation from Dr. Mahathir to join Umno, the national ruling party, in 1982. In fact, when he joined the party, many considered him to be a sell-out and became disenchanted with him.
Ironically, Ibrahim had argued at the time that Umno was the only party capable of eradicating poverty, fighting corruption and promoting progressive Islamic values.
Ibrahim was a true visionary, but some would argue that he made the wrong calculation by joining Mahathir. But at the time, the arrangement seemed perfect as the former activist rose through the ranks of the mainstream political party.
In fact, he took to his political role quite easily and the good doctor appointed him to several senior cabinet posts, including the ministries of agriculture and education. Ibrahim reached his peak when he became Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister in 1991.
Fortunately, Ibrahim did not abandon his Islamic vision after gaining power. He was involved in numerous Islamic projects internationally as well as within Malaysia. He was instrumental in advancing interest-free banking and was a leading supporter of the International Islamic University of Malaysia.
Ibrahim was clearly being groomed to become Dr. Mahathir's successor. It was difficult to find fault with this man of principle, for he was not only a hero to Muslims, but was also admired by the West for his open economic policies. Indeed, In 1997 Time Magazine hailed him as a new breed of more liberal Asian leaders, while Euromoney ranked him as one of the top four finance Ministers in 1993. Asia Money gave him the distinction of being Finance Minister of the year for 1996.
Many who hated Dr. Mahathir loved Ibrahim. In fact, Dr. Judith Nagata, a distinguished expert on Malaysia, spoke highly of Ibrahim but detested Dr. Mahathir. Having researched the country for years, and having lived and taught there, she was confident that Ibrahim was the one who could truly lead the country.
In the end, it was Dr. Mahathir's greed for power, paranoia at Ibrahim's growing popularity, both within the party and internationally, and differences with his economic policies that destroyed the relationship, which the two had cultivated. This not only ruined Dr. Mahathir, but also has put a serious blight on the international image of Malaysia.
Fortunately, the opposition to the injustice is strong (see, for instance, www.freeanwar.com). The leader of the opposition political party, the Democratic Action Party, Lim Kit Siang, called the verdict "a cruel and unconscionable political persecution." He added, "...this corruption of the national soul must be purged."
A number of countries and international organizations also joined in the condemnation of Anwar's treatment, though they should do a lot more.
ISNA did well in distancing itself from this monster before Dr. Mahathir brought it down as well. Unfortunately, according to a well-placed source within ISNA, some Muslim lobby groups (which shall remain nameless for now) are still trying to extend a welcome to Dr. Mahathir.
They should also think deeply before giving any audience or legitimacy to this manipulator and political animal. One can only hope that the only reason for such an invitation would be to encourage him to undo his injustice to Ibrahim, the Malaysian populace and the numerous others who held out great hope for Malaysia to be a model of a modern Muslim society.
(Faisal Kutty is a Toronto-based lawyer and writer. He is also a columnist for the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs (http://washington-report.org), and a regular contributor to Iviews.com.)