Michael Vakitiotis has an interesting take on the Anwar release in the current Far Eastern Economic Review. The way he (and Anwar) see it, Anwar and former Indonesian president Habibie represent a pan-South-East-Asian movement towards a more tolerant and pluralistic Islam. I'm sure many Malaysians might say that Anwar's Umno Youth days didn't reveal a particularly tolearant attitude, but still, I think it is an interesting argument. Whether Habibie and Anwar end up on the scrap-heap of busted 1990s leaders or do manage to lead their countries away from confrontation with the West remains to be seen. Anyway, here is the gist of the argument: "
Habibie's influence over Anwar isn't easily dismissed. The diminutive former president founded a reformist Islamic movement in Indonesia in 1990. Habibie worked closely with Anwar in the mid-1990s to promote a tolerant and constructive brand of Islam which they hoped would influence the religion worldwide and head off what they saw as a dangerous trend towards intolerance and confrontation with the West.
Together they gave speeches and formed think-tanks in which young Muslim scholars synthesized the best of Western social science and philosophy with Islamic thinking. They were both leaders in waiting, and they attracted young and ambitious thinkers who saw in them the way to an end to decades of religious conflict and authoritarianism.
What a difference a decade makes. The harsh realities of politics interrupted their intellectual discourse. Anwar was sacked as deputy prime minister in 1998 and soon after went to jail, while Habibie lost Indonesia's 1999 presidential election. Their push for Islamic pluralism crumbled along with the so-called Asian economic miracle. In its place an intolerant and radical brand of Islamic thinking took root in the Islamic schools that Anwar and Habibie had wanted to influence.
Now that Anwar is free, Habibie and other scholars and thinkers around the region are hoping the former Muslim radical will resume his quest for a tolerant, progressive Islam to counter the fundamentalism blamed for a surge in terrorism.