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Sunday November 21, 2010

Anwar is definitely no Aung San Suu Kyi

Malaysia’s political landscape has little in common with Myanmar’s and Anwar’s personal case is very different from Aung San Suu Kyi’s.

MALAYSIAN opposition leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim is in Australia this week, speaking on social justice, democracy and his own legal woes. He has also addressed the recent release of Aung San Suu Kyi, the Burmese opposition politician, declaring that her release will mean nothing until she is permitted to take her place as the elected leader of Myanmar.

Anwar has used Suu Kyi’s release to attract attention to his own political problems, arguing that Australia ought to speak out in the face of atrocities in both Myanmar and Malaysia

“I’m not suggesting that (the Australian government) should interfere, but they should express their views, they should promote civil society, as a vibrant democracy, they’ve a duty…. But I think the issue of democracy, human rights, rule of law, they’re not something that you can just ignore.

“But I’m of course appreciative of the fact that Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd took time, and we had very, very useful discussions, some issues affecting both countries, and of course my personal predicament. But I always make it a point that they should extend the issue, the issue of freedom, human rights. It goes beyond Anwar’s personal case,” he was quoted as saying.

The problem here is that “Anwar’s personal case” is very different from Suu Kyi’s, and Malaysia’s political landscape has little in common with Myanmar’s.

Aung San Suu Kyi was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991 for “her non-violent struggle for democracy and human rights”. Her father, Aung San, who negotiated Burma’s independence from the British Empire in 1947, was killed by his political rivals when Suu Kyi was only two years old. When her mother, a Burmese ambassador, died in 1989, Suu Kyi dedicated her life to fighting for democracy in Burma as her parents had done.

She was active in Burma’s pro-democracy movement, and as a result was placed under house arrest in 1989; no charges were brought against her, and no trial occurred. Despite her confinement, she won a landslide victory in the 1990 election, and would have become Prime Minister had the military not intervened.

Suu Kyi was released from house arrest just days ago, on Nov 13. During her confinement, which spanned 15 of the past 21 years, she was usually separated from her family. She saw her husband, Michael Aris, only five times during the decade that preceded his death; even the intervention of such figures as then United Nations secretary-general Kofi Annan and Pope John Paul II could not persuade her captors to allow Aris to join her. She was also separated from her two sons and lived in less than ideal physical conditions, sometimes without access to electricity.

Suu Kyi chose to live under these restraints rather than abandon her pro-democracy work; she was offered freedom in exchange for her leaving her country, but she refused.

If anyone has suffered for the cause of democracy, Suu Kyi has. Yet Anwar, who has enjoyed the benefits of a trial, a team of lawyers, access to local, national, and international media outlets, his own political party, and the freedom to travel the globe, told Australians this week that “Australia needs to be more pronounced in its support for democracy. Otherwise, you have a strong position on Burma, but not on the atrocities in Malaysia.”

Anwar is no Suu Kyi. Indeed, his actions as the co-founder of a front organisation for the Global Muslim Brotherhood indicate that he is in fact opposed to the democratic ideals she has sacrificed so much for.

In the 1970s and 1980s, while Suu Kyi busied herself with the work that would later imprison her, Anwar served as a trustee for the World Assembly of Asian Youth. The Pew Forum described the assembly as being so intertwined with the Muslim Brotherhood that it was difficult to tell them apart.

In 2002, Suu Kyi took advantage of a brief respite from imprisonment to continue her work on behalf of Burmese freedom. Meanwhile, Anwar’s International Institute of Islamic Thought (IIIT) was named in a class-action suit brought on behalf of 9/11 family and survivors against organisations that helped fund radical Islamism.

In 2007, when Suu Kyi made her first state media address in the four years since her then current confinement had begun, the Muslim Brotherhood named Anwar’s IIIT in a list of 29 of “our organisations and the organisations of our friends.”

Though Anwar clearly equates his own political and legal troubles in Malaysia to the human rights abuses Suu Kyi has worked to end in Myanmar, no one else should. Anwar and Suu Kyi may both be political opposition leaders in their respective nations, but their similarities end there.

Rachel Motte is a blogger, editor, and commentator on political and cultural issues. She has written for CNN.com and has been heard on multiple radio stations nationwide.

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