27 July 2006

Former Malaysian Deputy Prime Minister, Anwar Ibrahim, dismantled the set theme of his University of Queensland public lecture when he spoke on Islam and Democracy.

Addressing a packed house in July, Professor Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim said the predetermined theme of his lecture stemmed from a flawed assumption that Islam and democracy were contradictory and incompatible.

He argued that Islam and democracy should be compatible, and decried the use of violence and crime in the name of Islam.

“It is a moral imperative for Muslims to be fully committed to democratic ideals,” Professor Ibrahim said.

The “gross misunderstanding” of the relationship between Islam and democracy was fed by corrupt and unaccountable governments in parts of the Muslim world, not by adherence to true Islamic values.

Professor Ibrahim offered Indonesia as an example of a predominantly Muslim nation in Australia’s region that began as a democracy.

The Indonesian election of 1955 was relatively free and fair, but “was hijacked by the secular nationalist Sukarno.

“People tend to forget this fact: it was not hijacked by the Muslim parties in Indonesia,” Professor Ibrahim said.

Professor Ibrahim has twice been imprisoned following political activism in Malaysia, most recently when he was jailed from 1998 until 2004 under the then Prime Minister Mahathir Mohammad, who had sacked him as his deputy.

A former student activist, he was Newsweek’s ‘Asian of the Year’ in 1998. He is a consultant to the World Bank on governance and accountability and is Honorary President of the London-based group AccountAbility.

He is widely recognised as an advocate for moderate Islam, cultural and religious tolerance, liberal democracy and international collaboration.

He came to Australia in July as a guest of the UQ-hosted VIII World Shakespeare Congress.

His Bard-focused address to the congress in Brisbane City Hall - on the eve of his lecture at UQ - was also an entreaty for global harmony.

“Whether it is Islam, Christianity, Judaism or other religions, faith reinvigorated could lead not just to bigotry, but may, when compounded with the elements of political and social discontent, cause us to express ourselves through violence and bloodshed,” Professor Ibrahim told the Shakespeare congress.

“But if molded under the hand of the universal wisdom it could be a force to free us from ignorance and intolerance, injustice and greed.

“To use the language of the Gospel of Saint John, this perennial wisdom is the light that ‘shines in darkness’, although ‘the darkness comprehends it not’. It is also alluded to in the Qur’an with striking imagery: the light of a lamp ‘lit like a blessed tree, an olive neither of the East nor of the West, whose oil is well-nigh luminous, though fire scarce touches it.’.”

“Shouldn’t this be the light to illuminate our path by imbuing us with ideals that are universal: a message of truth, justice and compassion, and above all, of the liberty and dignity of man?” Professor Ibrahim said.

To hear Professor Ibrahim’s speech to the World Shakespeare Congress: http://omc.uq.edu.au/audio/news/anwaribrahim.mp3

For an ABC TV 7.30 Report transcript about the congress: www.abc.net.au/7.30/content/2006/s1691293.htm

Professor Ibrahim’s UQ public lecture was organised by the School of History, Philosophy, Religion and the Classics in the Faculty of Arts, and The Australian Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies.

His academic appointments include being Distinguished Visiting Professor in the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University in the United States. Since 2004 he has held lecturing positions at St Anthony`s College at Oxford and at the School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University.

Media contact: Fiona Kennedy 07 3365 1088 / 0413 380 012.