Julian Assange, “The World Tomorrow (Episode 11: Anwar Ibrahim)” (Russia Today, 3 July 2012)
In this final installment in his interview series, Assange goes over to Malaysia by video link-up to speak to Anwar Ibrahim, the major personality and leader of the political opposition in Malaysia. A former student activist and member of Prime Minister Mahathir bin Mohammed’s government in the 1990s, Ibrahim fell out of favour and was thrown out of political life on corruption and sodomy charges, and spent several years in prison. Returning to politics in 2008, he was hit with fresh sodomy and pedophilia charges which he fought through the courts for four years until January 2012, when all charges against him were dropped.
The interview starts with a discussion of Ibrahim’s imprisonment, how he came to be jailed and the reasons for that, and how he coped with the confinement and being separated from his wife and young children. Reading famous Russian writers like Boris Pasternak and Alexander Solzhenitsyn and Shakespeare’s plays helped him to construct an inner life otherwise devoid of social contact and external stimulation. Ibrahim was acquitted of charges in 2004 and released from jail; he then lived in the US and the UK for a time. The interview segues into a comparison of Malaysian-style democracy (or whatever passes as such) with regional countries such as Burma / Myanmar, the security situation in Southeast Asia and whether Malaysia and Indonesia should form a security pact with Australia, and the history of ethnic relations among the Malays, the Chinese and the Indians in Malaysia and how inter-ethnic frictions among these groups and others are exploited by the Malaysian government, political elites and their lackeys.
There’s a sidestep into discussing the application of Islamic Shari’a law in Malaysia and Ibrahim makes the point that his concern is about corruption in the country’s law courts regardless of whether they apply Western laws or Shari’a laws. He also makes a plea for religious tolerance and points out that most people in Malaysia, and in Penang in particular where he hails from, practise such tolerance in their daily lives and during public holidays or important social events such as weddings.
The formal interview concludes with a talk on what the future holds for Malaysia and what Ibrahim plans to do should his opposition party win power in the mid-year 2012 general elections. At the point when Assange would normally say his goodbyes, Ibrahim drags him back for a few minutes to talk about Saudi Arabian investment in Malaysia and Assange’s own unhappy circumstances in which the US has filed a secret indictment against him which it intends to use to pressure Sweden to extradite him to US shores after the UK has dumped him with the Swedes to answer allegations of having raped two women, one of whom (Anna Ardin) apparently has ties to anti-Castro Cuban charity funded by the CIA and supported by Luis Posada Carriles who is wanted by both Cuba and Venezuela for having blown up an airliner in 1976. Ibrahim brings up the interesting point that because the US, the UK and Sweden are now seen to be acting as the bullies they have always been, other countries now feel entitled to act the same way; Assange agrees and cites the case of two Swedish journalists detained by the Zenawi government in Ethiopia which felt justified in doing so since it had noted Sweden’s earlier detention of Assange.
Of all Assange’s interview subjects in the series, Ibrahim is one of the more articulate ones though the majority of interviewees have been very impressive in this respect with Noam Chomsky and David Horowitz the big surprise losers. I’d have preferred Assange to have interviewed people with more radical ideas – the kind of interviewee whom Robert Stark in his weekly “The Stark Report” radio interview series takes on – as the choice of people he has had on “The World Tomorrow” was predictable to say the least. Assange himself has improved as an interviewer as the series progressed and shows himself to be well informed about the politics and history of many different countries. He is passionate about particular issues such as democracy and equality and at the same time is respectful of his interviewees’ opinions.
If more journalists were like Assange in their conduct and in the questions they ask of their subjects, journalism would be much improved in reputation across the world and in English-speaking countries especially. As the situation presently stands, Assange is getting no support from the very people in his profession who should be helping him; this is deplorable and we should hang our heads in shame that we are not holding our media to task over its betrayal of its supposed ethics for allowing him to be thrown by politicians to the wolves in the US government.
This review is based mostly on the transcript of the interview which can be found at this link.