Saturday, March 20, 2010

Anwar Ibrahim: A magnet for the youth

THE youth I talk to at home seem disinterested in politics so it came as a pleasant surprise when at Anwar Ibrahim's lecture at the London School of Economics on March 18, the majority of the people who attended his lecture were those in their early twenties and Chinese.

They started to assemble a few hours before the event, to be assured of a place. The last Anwar lecture at the Sheikh Zayed Theatre was oversubscribed. Then, just as on Thursday, several people were turned away. The hall holds 570 people.

They came from far and near. They weren't just students but also comprised Malaysians in self-proclaimed exile. There were Caucasians and some Singaporeans. All had specifically come to see him. One observer told me that a lecture by Chris Patten, the last Governor of Hong Kong did not manage to attract as many attendees. Anwar obviously is a crowd-puller.

anwar-ibrahim-5And he did not disappoint them either. When he appeared, the crowd broke into spontaneous hand-clapping. He acknowledged them, and if it is true he had been in the Dewan Rakyat, Kuala Lumpur, only the day before, he obviously travels well.

The chairman introduced Anwar and he in turn introduced members of his entourage which comprised his Chief Whip Azmin Ali (Gombak MP), Abdul Malik and former Senator David Yeoh. He told us of his meeting earlier that day with Al Gore and Mary Robinson. He then opened his lecture with a poem by TS Eliot.

This is my first talk by a political figure. But I was overwhelmed by how the crowd was in awe of him. They hung onto his every word and lapped every personal anecdote and joke. He clearly had them in the palm of his hands.

The talk – Religion and Pluralism in a Divided World – was delivered in about twenty minutes. It was easy to listen to, and he made lots of reference to various religious scholars, political figures from both the past and the present. He quoted from books, publications and religious texts. At times he had the crowds in fits of laughter.

His message, at least to me, was that double standards in syariah law were being practiced in Islam, in Malaysia. His contention was that we should not impose on non-Muslims and that it was the Umno leaders who had to be educated with regard to religion. He wondered why our leaders did not attempt to take the country to greater heights like how Indonesia and Turkey, two predominantly Muslim nations, have done.

And in the same manner as he had started, he ended his talk with another poem by TS Eliot. In my opinion, these revealed his softer, sensitive side. The question-and-answer session was what the crowd looked forward to, judging from their response. The questions were far-ranging.

Chatting to some of the London crowd, they told me that their expectations were more or less fulfilled, although they wanted more. Walking away from the venue, it was obvious that he had managed to engage the crowd, both young and old, for many were still conducting post-mortems on his talk.

If Anwar or any politician can effectively engage our youth to be as interested in politics and the future governance of our country, then there is hope yet for us. Young minds fertile with fresh ideas.

MM, Ipoh

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