During the 1990s, Malaysian Deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim and a group of U.S. Senators organized a forum to exchange views among East Asians and Americans. Asked at one session about the role of Islam in politics, Anwar replied, "I have no use for governments which call themselves Islamic and then deny basic rights to half their population."
This devout Muslim leader was an impressive and eloquent advocate of tolerance, democracy and human rights. So we were shocked by his arrest and trial in 1998 on charges of corruption and sodomy. I felt his real "crime" had been to challenge Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, whose impressive record will be forever stained by his treatment of Anwar. I joined Senator Sam Nunn and others to speak out in Anwar's defense. When he was finally released from prison in 2004, U.S. policy on Iraq was unpopular in Malaysia, and Anwar was harshly critical. It would have been easy for him to disown our friendship, but he is not that kind of person. He kept the channels of dialogue open, even while making clear our disagreements.
Anwar, 60, is back in the center of Malaysian politics. The coalition led by his wife Wan Azizah has become the main opposition bloc. His future role can be determined only by Malaysians. One can hope that they will embrace his brand of tolerance, valuing dialogue across political differences, and that this courageous leader will continue to play a leading role on the world stage.
Wolfowitz is a former U.S. Deputy Secretary of Defense
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