Malaysian opposition leader 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:
“But I think they’re ill-advised if they proceed in this way…. 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.”
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 November 13. During her confinement, which spanned fifteen of the past twenty-one 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 U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annon 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 Ibrahim, 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 Aung San Suu Kyi. Indeed, his actions as the co-founder of a front organization for the Global Muslim Brotherhood indicate that he is in fact opposed to the democratic ideals she has sacrificed so much for.
In the 1970’s and 1980’s, 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 describes the Assembly as being so intertwined with the Muslim Brotherhood that it is 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 organizations 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 twenty-nine of “our organizations and the organizations 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.