July 19, 2018
Anwar Ibrahim’s Presidency will give Parti KeADILan Rakyat a much needed booster
by Phar Kim Beng
COMMENT | May 9 was not so much about the fate of Malaysian democracy per se but the extent to which Malaysians were willing to go along with PKR de facto leader Anwar Ibrahim, who was then still in prison, though that seems so distant now, to collectively undergo the spiritual politics of rejuvenation.
Since 1998, Malaysians who dislike the polarisation of the country, invariably into one versus the other, has had to keep their mouths shut. Instead of wanting both Dr Mahathir Mohamad and Anwar to rekindle their dynamic economic partnership which saw the fastest GDP growth in the mid-1990s, at least prior to the dawn of the Asian financial crisis in 1998, Malaysians have had to go along with weaker successors of Mahathir.
The disastrous selection of Abdullah Ahmad Badawi and Najib Razak only goes to prove this point. Between 2004 and 2017, Malaysia has lost 13 precious years.
Indeed, Anwar’s comeback into the presidential politics of PKR has nothing to do with partisanship. Rather, this an opening to the return to a golden era, where the best of the Malaysian leaders can stand shoulder to shoulder with one another, preaching and practising progressive and inclusive politics.
If Amanah has Mohamad Sabu, Salahuddin Ayub, Khalid Samad, Hanipa Maidin, Mujahid Yusof Rawa and Mahfuz Omar, all superb parliamentarians, then it is about time Anwar step up to the podium to claim his rightful place – at the top – in PKR too.
Two Intellectual Giants of ASEAN–President B.J.Habibie and Former Malaysian Opposition Leader Anwar Ibrahim–enjoy strong bonds of friendship based on personal admiration, loyalty, and mutual respect.
One might recall that Anwar was among the first of the ministers of education to speak at the conference on “Islam and Confucianism” at the Crystal Crown Hotel in Petaling Jaya in 1996. One would vividly remember him taking down the notes when other speakers were speaking.
Professor Tu Wei Ming at Harvard University was there, as was the likes of Professor Osman Bakar, a top historian in Islamic science. The latter even claimed that it was impossible for the vast majority of Chinese not to have received at least some messengers from God. Thus, one should look carefully at the message of Taoism and even Confucianism. Perhaps, just perhaps, these two creeds contain some monotheistic codes that mirror that of Islam and other Abrahamic faiths. Osman’s edited book ‘Islam and Confucianism: A Civilizational Dialogue’ published by Universiti Malaya contained some of these reflections.
Interestingly, the experience in Malaysia must have had a deep and lasting impression on Tu from Harvard too. In 1998, when I was in his seminar on ‘Confucianism and the Chinese Classics’, Tu affirmed that “having travelled the world over, he has now come to the conclusion that there are people who saw themselves as Confucian Catholics, Confucian Jews, even Confucian Muslims.” Tu, then added his own criteria, on what made them Confucian.
One, such Confucians would have to have a love for humanistic ethics, invariably, the effort to refine the heart and mind without fail. Each and every word and action would be carefully measured and performed, in order not to offend anyone; as is demanded by the Confucian rites of “li” (polite decorum).
Two, concurrent to these efforts, the believer must also try to use the heightened spiritual and ethical awareness to help the reforms of their countries/communities, ultimately the world writ large. These are not easy duties to perform. But to be a Confucian, Tu argued, one has to be at the forefront of constant action, especially if the mind and spirit have been reconciled as one.
After 10 and a half years in prison, all of which have been pardoned on the ground of miscarriage of justice, it goes without saying that Anwar is ready to serve Malaysia and the world.
Lastly, all Confucians, must at all points ask themselves what make their similarities common across all religious and spiritual realms. In other words, a Confucian is one who seeks peace and truth, but is constantly pulled to the fore to ask ever deeper questions that can transcend all humanities. It is this spirit of perpetual curiosity, invariably, humility, that makes a Confucian Confucian. Not power over others. But power over oneself, what Islam may call “jihad al-akbar,” the greater conquest of the inner soul.
Since Tu was speaking in a combination of refined English and Chinese during the Harvard seminar, there was no way that he was taking this line of thought lightly. In fact, having attended the Confucian seminar in Malaysia, then in Harvard, both by Tu, I knew that his own intellectual crystallisation on Islam had been touched by his encounter with Anwar. During seminars, Tu would often ask if Anwar was well.
If Tu were to meet Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad in Putrajaya, Tu would have found equally good things to say about Mahathir as well. Rare is a man of 93 returning to politics to correct what had been done before. This, too, would fall under the Confucian concept of “self-rectification.”
As things are, Tu has become the director of Yenching Institute in Beijing University. There has been no recorded encounter between Tu, Mahathir and Anwar as yet. And, if Tu and Anwar were to meet again, one can certainly be sure that they will immediately send intellectual sparks flying.
In seeking to be PKR president, Anwar has positioned himself in a good Confucian and Islamic light – he is ready to serve. Besides, Wan Azizah Wan Ismail and Nurul Izzah have given Anwar much to be proud of. The focus is on getting to the policy and intellectual battlefront in Malaysia.
Thus, it makes perfect sense to see the return of the Confucian gentleman that is Anwar Ibrahim, whose famous words, “Wor men shi ii jia ren” (We are all one family) will always ring true, and never hollow.
PHAR KIM BENG is a Harvard/Cambridge Commonwealth Fellow, a former Monbusho scholar at the University of Tokyo and visiting scholar at Waseda University.
The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.