WASHINGTON: Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim offered some insights on Tuesday for the United States on dealing with the Muslim world: highlight successes, fund education, and do not fear openly debating radicals.
But Anwar said that Muslim nations must also initiate reforms in response to US President Barack Obama's landmark June 4 speech in Cairo extending a hand to the Islamic world.
"Reform and democracy are critical to the Muslim world," Anwar, whose opposition alliance posted its best-ever performance last year, said at the Brookings Institution, a Washington think-tank.
US officials should highlight the positives in the Muslim world, Anwar said.
He pointed to progress in Muslim-majority democracies such as Indonesia and Turkey and said the West largely ignored the wide condemnation by even the most conservative Muslim clerics of July suicide bombings at Jakarta luxury hotels.
The West should also be careful with labelling Muslims, he said.
"I pray, I fast, I don't drink... am I a fundamentalist? I don't know," Anwar said.
He said that aspects of Islamic Sharia law can be tolerated as long as they do not curtail human rights or discriminate against women.
Anwar said media coverage that focused on radicals' actions only encouraged them. They should, instead, be allowed to speak.
"You deal with them through education and a free media," he said. "My honest view is that the fringe, fanatical elements cannot stand to reason."
As for the US role, Anwar said an investment in training math, English and computer science teachers could have tremendous influence in places like Pakistan in quieting the more radical voices.
The US Congress last week approved a five-year, 7.5 billion-dollar aid package for Pakistan, a frontline nation in Obama's campaign against Islamic extremism.
Anwar's three-party alliance, which brings aboard conservative Muslims and liberal Chinese, won a third of parliamentary seats last year and is vying to unseat the Barisan Nasional coalition that has ruled Malaysia for half a century.
Anwar was sacked as deputy premier in 1998 and jailed for six years on sodomy and corruption charges after he challenged veteran leader Mahathir Mohamad. The charges were overturned, but revived following the last election.
A 2008 survey found just 11 per cent of Malaysians believed the sodomy accusations.
source - channelnewsasia