Can Anwar Ibrahim still speak of his affection for Syed Hussein Alatas’s ideas on corruption following Najib Razak’s commuted sentence?
In 2021, PKR president Anwar Ibrahim gave two keynote addresses at the Seminar Antarabangsa Pemikiran Syed Hussein Alatas. Both were to honour the scholarship and socio-political contributions of my father, the late Syed Hussein Alatas.
In his speeches, Anwar highlighted Alatas’s ideas on social justice and his consistent call for the nation’s leadership to fight corruption. Anwar agreed with Alatas’s call to uphold a moral approach to governance, and to fight corruption at all costs.
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Furthermore, Anwar claims to have read most of the scholarly works of both Syed Hussein Alatas and his younger brother, Syed Naquib al-Attas. Anwar has regularly remarked that, throughout his days as a student leader and young political activist, he spent endless hours in discussions with both intellectuals.
On the occasion of both keynote addresses in 2021, Anwar was not the prime minister. He was the opposition leader. However, considering former prime minister Najib Razak’s recent “partial pardon” or more accurately, the commutation of his 12-year prison sentence, would Anwar, now as prime minister, continue to speak openly of his deep affection for Syed Hussein Alatas’s ideas on corruption, good governance, ethics, and social justice?
Would he still be on the same page as Alatas, who walked the talk, and took a moral stand against leaders who oppressed the people due to their love for corruption, and their use of “feudal tools” to manipulate the rakyat?
Anwar may continue to honour the Alatas intellectuals, but at the risk of large segments of Malaysian society branding him a hypocrite. Sadly, many have already begun this branding exercise.
As opposition leader, Anwar published the SCRIPT for a Better Malaysia: An Empowering Vision and Policy Framework for Action. The main drivers of the “script” idea are Sustainability, Care and Compassion, Respect, Innovation, Prosperity and Trust. On page 15, Anwar writes:
“Our people are our primary resource; the seeds of our economic growth. That is why respect has to be high on our agenda. Respect requires that everyone in our society, whatever their background, is treated with dignity and is free from all types of harassment – not least the persecution of corrupt segments of society. As Professor Syed Hussein Alatas, a pioneering thinker of the sociology of corruption, has pointed out, corruption has entered the Malaysian society to such an extent that it has become ‘horridly oppressive’”.
On page 18, Anwar quotes from my father’s book, The Problem of Corruption:
“In a corrupt society, corruption enters into our lives at frequent intervals and at several intersections. The child is already exposed to its damaging effects while in primary school. Corruption becomes part of the visible scenery. An entire generation of children growing up in its shadow. What this would do to the personality of the individual is certainly something to worry about”.
In SCRIPT’s bibliography, Anwar lists four books by Syed Hussein Alatas, three of which are about corruption (i.e. The Problem of Corruption, Corruption and the Destiny of Asia and The Sociology of Corruption).
One assumes that most, if not all the sources listed in the bibliography would have been read and understood by Anwar, since he is the author of the SCRIPT. Also, to directly quote from Alatas’s works on corruption probably means Anwar is very conversant with the interpretations, case studies, historical continuities and philosophical themes represented in Alatas’s books.
Given Anwar’s claim of devotion to the ideas of both Alatas brothers, one can assume that he has been consistently sincere in his desire to fight corruption and bad governance. He is also probably knowledgeable about the history of Muslim-majority leadership around the world, which has often oppressed its own people. He himself has faced a lot of injustice in his past, due to such oppressive leaders.
As the daughter of Syed Hussein Alatas though, I am disappointed by the recent events to commute Najib’s sentence. It feels as if the long hours Anwar spent in discussions with his mentor Syed Hussein, were in vain. It feels insulting.
While I am always ready to praise Anwar and his Madani administration for its accomplishments, I cannot remain silent amidst the possibility of more controversial, and what seems to be politically-expedient decisions ahead. Such decisions will certainly be the ruin of the country.
The Madani government must explain to all Malaysians, how a recent decision to commute Najib’s 12-year sentence was even possible. Furthermore, this decision does not absolve him of guilt whatsoever. Even though there is no legal stipulation for the Pardons Board to explain its decision, Anwar should feel it in his bones that there is a moral obligation to respect the rakyat. My father would agree with me, but does Anwar no longer agree with Syed Hussein Alatas?
Also, the “partial pardon” fiasco makes a mockery of our judicial system. It has set a very dangerous precedent. How will future kleptocrats be dealt with? How will corrupt politicians be punished, if at all? What about cronyism and patronage in our higher education system which continues to ruin our public universities? The trickle-down effect of the Pardons Board decision might destroy the country, sooner rather than later.
Anwar, as our elected leader, must be transparent. Does he no longer believe corrupt people must pay for their actions? Or does he still believe that the ordinary Malaysian should be respected, treated with dignity, and not be oppressed? The Pardons Board decision feels like a horrible slap in the face of all Malaysians.
Furthermore, I am in total agreement with my father’s declaration that corruption at the elite level is the sardonic harassment of the people. Anwar has also declared on numerous occasions that corruption has entered Malaysian society to such an extent that it has become horridly oppressive.
Most of us believe that while the physical body may die, the soul of the human being lives on. I believe Syed Hussein Alatas must be in deep anguish over the latest events concerning 1MDB and the Pardons Board decision. It seems the price the Malaysian people will continue to pay for the actions of selfish leaders, is mounting to the detriment of the good life.
I fear that we Malaysians have officially become a cynical, desperate and depressed lot, having just transitioned into a post-hope era under the Madani administration.
The views expressed are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.