Anwar Ibrahim: "Education and culture are the drivers of development"

July 2007 -

Anwar Ibrahim, former minister and deputy prime minister of Malaysia, has travelled the world in a mission to bring about a dialogue between different religions. He is convinced that development can come about only through human interaction: "Education and culture are the drivers of development. They create tolerance and understanding. People are rapidly adopting fundamentalist views, here in the west as well as in Muslim countries. That's why more of us need to stick our neck out; Christians and Muslims with the courage to convince people to open up to others."


Anwar Ibrahim

Ibrahim - a committed Muslim - has been striving since the 1970s for a better dialogue between people of different faiths. In 1998 he was arrested and sentenced to fifteen years in prison for "corruption and sodomy". His sentence was cut short in 2004 after pressure from, amongst others, Al Gore and Amnesty International. "People who say they haven't got time to read could always spend a few years in jail. When I was in solitary, I had time to reflect and time to read the Koran and the Complete Works of Shakespeare."

Anwar Ibrahim (Penang, 1947) said these words with tongue in cheek, sending a ripple of mirth through the audience, during a visit to the Netherlands in June 2007 at the invitation of the Society for International Development (SID). His optimism about the future is striking: "Just look at Indonesia and you'll see that it's possible: that different cultures can live together peacefully and democratically. Culture plays a crucial role in this process. Indonesia is overflowing with poetry and culture, it has a free press, it holds fair elections and you can openly criticise the government. Of course, it is still facing huge problems like poverty and corruption. But it is on the right course and can serve as a model for other Muslim countries.

"That applies equally to India and Turkey. Events in those countries are having a far deeper impact on Muslim countries than announcements from Washington. The EU and the US must not try to dictate what Muslim nations can and cannot do. Western countries have their own democracy. What we wear or whether we grow a beard has nothing to do with them. That's our own bloody business. Democracy is about live and let live, respect for each other's beliefs and culture, not picking on futilities but taking action against excesses only."