When the righteous are in authority, the people rejoice; but when a wicked man rules, the people groan.Proverbs 29:2
After dinner, I asked my wife, “Come, let’s go watch the Anwar movie. Immediately, she protested, politely telling me off: “My dear, don’t you know it too well that I never had any interest in politics, let alone to even watch a movie about a politician?
So I turned to my son, asking him to join me instead. Though it will likely turn out to be one boring show for him, I assured my son that after watching, he will gain much understanding, why Anwar is such a big deal, an important figure, and a significant milestone in Malaysian politics, that matter to folks in my generation, who grew up with him.
The hero is not Batman, Superman, or Iron Man. The script was set in the late 1990s, projecting a section of Malaysian history onto the silver screen. The hero was none other than the former Deputy Prime Minister of Malaysia, Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim. This is no Marvel action movie, except for the scene where balaclava-clad police personnel are seen tearing down a window to forcefully storm into Anwar’s home to arrest him while he was having dinner with his family. This part is no fiction; it was real, and as I recall, many local blogs have written with vivid detail, documenting events leading to that fateful night and how extreme highhandedness was used to bring in a sacked Deputy Prime Minister, despite him demonstrating no signs of retaliating or running away from the authorities.
Although the script and the direction of the screenplay could have been better, the history being narrated by the movie is almost 90% accurate. It was clearly about one man’s journey to remain steadfast in doing what is right and how he understood the values and benefits of righteousness.
But it will also likely remain as a movie not watched by the majority of Malaysians. And not even from among the Christian community, despite the fact that Anwar had gained significant popular votes from this segment of our society. The present generation of Christians grew up not knowing much about Anwar’s political struggle, although it is commonsense to all, that supporting Anwar is the most logical thing to do in present times due to his unfailing quest to combat corruption.
Kudos to the cast, producers, and directors of this movie. They did a good job bringing this piece of history to theatres, an uneasy feat that most other producers or directors would not wish to be seen doing.
Not Every Detail Is Accurate
Before I move on to the many great things about this man, Anwar, I would also like to highlight several things depicted in the movie that I believe are inaccuracies in the storytelling of Anwar’s past.
In the movie, there was a scene showing Anwar having a conversation with the late Fadzil Noor, the former President of the Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party (PAS) and a former Parliamentary Opposition leader.
The late Fadzil was seen giving his blessings to Anwar to join the ruling United Malays National Organization (UMNO) in order for Anwar to resume his journey in fighting corruption from within the government.
This piece of history that was being told is what I could not ascertain in terms of its accuracy or whether such a private conversation between Anwar and Fadzil Noor actually took place, as narrated in the movie.
And people in my generation can be excused for having doubts because we grew up knowing exactly who Anwar Ibrahim was, and before he was officially sacked and reprimanded from all government positions, Anwar was never known to be an anti-corruption champion of any sort, and often viewed with suspicion.
In fact, in my personal opinion, before his removal from power, Anwar was no better than his peers in UMNO, he was similarly a Malay ‘ultra’, and he was widely known for his racist and distorted right-wing beliefs.
During his time in UMNO, he even had motorcades of “Mat Rempits” following him all over the country whenever he traveled to attend political rallies. He never talked about people power or anti-corruption. His speeches then were often laced with Malay-centric, fascist-styled slogans against other races, especially the Chinese. That was the Anwar from UMNO that I knew and grew up knowing.
It was only after his wrongful removal from office, leading to his unlawful incarceration, that Anwar became a man desiring to be seen doing what is right.
He began to scream for justice and initiated calls for struggle against a corrupt regime. Thus, while Anwar was serving time in prison, his wife, Wan Azizah Ismail, founded the People’s Justice Party (PKR) during the height of their reformation movement that began in the late 1990s.
In my opinion, it would have been more accurate to describe Anwar as a not-so-good guy once upon a time, who eventually became a good guy, and the difficult circumstances he went through during the early days of his political career polished him into what he is today: a shining diamond and a worthy cornerstone.
Confrontation with Mahathir’s Men
The year 1997 was the height of the Asia Financial Crisis, and Malaysia wasn’t spared from the tentacles of a massive currency dilemma that took down many nations in Southeast Asia.
We saw how our Ringgit was being attacked by currency speculators, deteriorating from 3.0 to a US dollar to 4.5, until the former Prime Minister, Dr. Mahathir Mohamad, made a decision to peg our exchange rate at 3.8 indefinitely.
It was during these difficult moments in our history that led to many unpopular bailouts, including Konsortium Perkapalan Berhad (KPB) and Perwaja Steel, headed by the late Tan Sri Eric Chia, both companies which were briefly mentioned in the movie. I reminded my son that these companies and scandals in Malaysian politics exist and are real.
In his book ‘Malaysian Maverick: Mahathir Mohamad in Turbulent Times’, the late Barry Wain wrote that Eric Chia was a close friend of Dr. Mahathir, who had personally recruited him in 1988 to run Perwaja Steel, which became Malaysia’s troubled venture into heavy industry (Page 312). He also wrote that the injustice suffered by Anwar was another troubling issue bequeathed by Dr. Mahathir himself (Page 316).
Whereas Anwar’s stint as acting Prime Minister while Mahathir was away for a brief holiday was believed to have been orchestrated by Mahathir, as a form of litmus test on Anwar and what he’ll be doing if given full power and authority to run the country. And the outcome did not go down well with Mahathir and many of his cronies.
And so, as they say, the rest is history.
Anwar: A Righteous Leader
24 years later, Anwar Ibrahim was sworn in as the 10th Prime Minister of Malaysia after his coalition won the most seats in Parliament and subsequently formed a unity government with several other political parties having substantial majority in the people’s house (Dewan Rakyat).
Thereafter, we began to see many prominent countrymen being arrested and prosecuted for corruption and abuse of power.
Continuing his anti-corruption policies, Prime Minister Anwar maintained that enforcement agencies are not under any influence from him. But these agency heads are expected to carry out their duties without fear or favor. Corrupt leaders and those involved in abuse of power are not and will not be spared, regardless of their rank and file, including those from his own government, Anwar assures.
In the movie, the young Anwar quipped that it is not difficult to steer the nation out of debt, but getting rid of corruption is the more difficult thing to do. Today, we have a leader who puts his own words into action. This is true wisdom, and real righteousness that can be seen to be done.
Anwar knew and understood the values of righteousness and the benefits of doing what is right. In his present form, his deeds as a righteous leader can be seen to be making many rejoice with hopes of living in a better Malaysia, tomorrow.
While the generation after me will not likely be able to immediately identify the struggles that Anwar and his family went through, they and future generations will most certainly benefit from the deeds of this “wise king”, who is obviously doing what is right and pleasing in the sight of God.
And Anwar’s righteousness will also become like a “rose amongst the thorns”, resulting in many Christian believers having no plans or intention to watch the untold story about Anwar. Add to the fact that the movie contains snippets of prayers seeking forgiveness of sins and the overwhelming tagline on the importance of doing what is right and staying away from what is wrong. A Muslim Anwar may be, but yet, these are essentially attributes of God and Christ-likeness.
To many church-going, self-professing believers, they will not likely have much desire to watch this movie because they themselves lack the understanding of what is true righteousness, despite God having selected, trained, and given us a righteous king to set clear examples for us to follow. Likewise, many will fail to understand the significance of the appointment of this wise king to the highest office in the land.
The perception ingrained in the minds of many church-going believers, is that the real deeds of righteousness that can be seen and done, are not from God but of this world. To them, heavenly righteousness is more akin to some form of spiritual vapor that their preachers can pass on to another person when they lay their hands over their heads. Such believers are not Christians but mere followers of these man-made, spiritual vapor religions.
By the way, when I was in the theater with my son yesterday, there were only four other people inside the large hall, watching the movie together with us. “Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way that leads to life, and there are few who find it.” (Matthew 7:14)
Anything that speaks the truth or bears the identity of real righteousness, is generally shunned, disassociated and ignored by mainstream churches, and their followers.