There were lots of fascinating developments at the Brookings US-Islamic forum in Doha over the weekend, which I’ll be writing about in detail over the next few days–and one very depressing development. Anwar Ibrahim, the charismatic Malaysian reformer, came to Doha directly from a Kuala Lumpur courtroom, where he is being tried for sodomy; he returned to Malaysia Sunday night. The Malaysian government has been after Ibraham for the past decade now, jailing him, convicting him of sodomy (that is, of homosexuality) once–a verdict that was partially overturned–and is now trying him again.
Let’s leave aside the human rights outrage…well, maybe not–anti-sodomy laws are barbaric. Period. In any case, using claims of homosexual activity to discredit a political opponent is disgraceful. Ibrahim is married; his wife insists these charges are trumped up. There is, however, a young man, a former aide, who has made the accusation. No doubt, these charges would never have been brought if Ibrahim weren’t such a well-known and outspoken voice for freedom.
I’ve met Anwar several times and had memorable conversations with him. He is a wise, decent and courageous man. Last year, at the Doha Forum, Anwar took the opportunity of Barack Obama’s Inauguration to chide his fellow Muslims: the question is no longer what the Americans should do, he said (I’m paraphrasing here), but what we Muslims can do to get our act together, to establish just and democratic governments in our own countries.
On Sunday in Doha, Anwar met Hillary Clinton…and Clinton agreed to have her picture taken with him, which is a significant public sign of support that I hope the Secretary will follow up with a phone call to her Malaysian counterpart. Anwar’s trial will be finished in the next week or so; he told me he fully expects to go back to prison. The thought of staying in Doha, or emigrating to the United States hasn’t crossed his mind. He’s a Malaysian patriot and a fighter for democracy of international significance. He deserves all our support.