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Script for a Better Future - Shanon Shah reviews Anwar Ibrahim's vision for a better Malaysia

‘I’m surprised you still want an iced black Americano,’ said the barista, not unkindly.

I was looking for a place to catch up with a friend who was visiting me in London from Malaysia and thought, why not meet at this delightful café near Borough Market? It’s a stone’s throw from the shared office space I had started working from, and was a recent discovery for me. Iced black coffee became my medicine of choice during the scorching summer months, and the barista knew it. But today was a rainy, grey autumn day, she said, a portent of winter – why was I not transitioning to hot coffee?

‘I’m in denial,’ I joked. ‘As far as I’m concerned, we’re still in British Summer Time, and in my mind it’s only early autumn. Possibly still late summer.’

She laughed and nodded. ‘I like how you think,’ she said. ‘And this weekend it’s going to be a wonderful sunny 20oC.’

‘That’s lovely, but also a little bit scary,’ I confessed. ‘The weather we’ve had this year is just not normal.’

I don’t know what I was expecting in response. But certainly not what she – a young, articulate, hipster Southern European (judging by her accent) – came up with: ‘Oh, well, I think all of this is just part of our natural planetary cycle – everything is OK.’

Probably what made matters worse was the woman who was eavesdropping and decided to interrupt us. Also Southern European, judging by her accent, and wearing an off-putting goofy smile, she said to me, ‘Don’t be such a doom-monger.’

I said, ‘We’ve had record-breaking temperatures and drought this summer in the UK, complete with wildfires and 3,000 excess deaths – how is this normal?’

‘Well, the summer wasn’t nearly as bad as you say, and every tiny bit we are doing makes a huge difference for the better,’ said European Pollyanna, the disturbing smile never leaving her lips.

I started shaking my head, maybe a bit too vehemently.

The barista said, in an effort at faltering diplomacy, ‘I’m not getting into this.’

The scene where Jennifer Lawrence berates the climate-sceptic newscasters in the black comedy Don’t Look Up flashed through my head. ‘Oh my God,’ I thought, ‘I need to pull myself together.’

‘I’m not getting into this either,’ I finally managed to reply, still a tad defensively.

‘Here’s your iced Americano,’ said the barista with a forced smile. ‘Thanks so very much,’ I said with an equally forced smile. Mad European Pollyanna then ambushed the barista and said ‘It’s so lovely to hear you speak so much sense!’

Perhaps if it was another day, I would have reacted differently. But this was the day that Liz Truss, the UK prime minister, resigned after only 44 days power, unable to outlast the shelf-life of a lettuce. It was also the day Malaysia’s Election Commission announced that polling day for the country’s snap elections would be held on 19 November 2022 – during flood season. I had spent the morning attending online meetings and briefings and reading about climate-related developments in the leadup to COP27, the upcoming UN climate talks in Egypt.

The West African country Chad had just declared a national emergency because of flooding affecting one million people. There was also a rising death toll in the southeast of Australia because of extreme flooding. Barely weeks before, Hurricanes Ian and Julia unleashed catastrophic damage in the Caribbean and Central and North America. And just weeks before that, a third of Pakistan was submerged underwater, with a fifth of its entire population displaced, due to record-breaking floods. Experts agreed that Pakistan’s floods were made much worse by climate change. And, even though it contributes less than one percent of global carbon emissions, Pakistan had to bear the burden of more than US$40 billion in damages, not to mention thousands of lives lost.

We hardly heard about the Pakistan floods in the UK because the news back in September was saturated with the national period of mourning following the death of Queen Elizabeth II. It seemed as the though the British public was more outraged by TV personalities jumping the queue for the lying-in-state than the colossal destruction of an impoverished member state of the Commonwealth – a grouping which the Queen, we were reminded repeatedly by the BBC, cared for deeply.

In late 2021 and early 2022 Malaysia, too, experienced catastrophic flooding. Not at the same scale as Pakistan, or the Caribbean, or Chad, but shocking enough by Malaysian standards. The floods affected eight out of Malaysia’s 13 states and three federal territories, and more than 70,000 people lost their homes. Damages amounted to more than 6.1 billion Ringgit, or US$1.3 billion. The floods were probably made worse by climate change, but political corruption, mismanagement and maladministration also contributed to the woefully inadequate prevention, warning and relief efforts.

Public anger exploded and the hashtag #KerajaanPembunuh (Killer Government) went viral on Twitter. In fact, what would have been inspiring if the situation was not so mortifying was the civilian relief efforts that sprang up in the face of government incompetence. Against this backdrop, government spokespersons from the Malaysian Islamic Party, PAS, insisted that the floods were an ‘act of God’.

This, I wanted to tell the barista, is the day I am having. This is the context in which my motherland, Malaysia, is going to the polls just so that a corrupt regime can return to power. And this, I wanted to continue, is the kind of stuff the British political establishment consistently blocks in international climate negotiations – additional and adequate money to help the communities that have done the least to cause climate change but are suffering its worst impacts.

And, I wanted to carry on, even though I am livid about all the injustices that plague my two homelands now – Malaysia and Britain – I am actually not without hope. Which brings me to SCRIPT for a Better Malaysia – the latest policy framework by Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim.

It is not in my habit to read political manifestos. I’m part of a generation of Malaysians that grew up during the golden age of Southeast Asia’s dictators and charismatic authoritarian leaders. We had Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad in Malaysia, of course, but there was also Indonesia’s Suharto, Singapore’s Lee Kuan Yew, and Ferdinand Marcos of the Philippines. These strongmen claimed success for turning their young post-independent nation-states into economic powerhouses – even in primary school, I was flushed with pride when Malaysia, too, became an ‘Asian Tiger cub’. At the same time, they crushed all dissent and disagreement and – with the exception of Singapore’s Lee – created environments in which corruption could flourish.

Political and economic scandals proliferated when I was growing up in the 1980s and 1990s under Mahathir’s ruling coalition, Barisan Nasional (the National Front). But my own awakening was triggered in 1998 when, in the middle of the Asian political and economic crisis, Mahathir sacked and then jailed Anwar, his Deputy Prime Minister, for sham allegations of corruption and sodomy.

This was the crisis that birthed my real learning about human rights (and its violations), judicial independence (and its corruption), parliamentary democracy (and the myriad ways it can be undermined), and the politics of Islam (from its liberationist strands to its debased and draconian aspects). I went on to become deeply involved in movements for social change in Malaysia, especially in the leadup to the historic 2008 elections which severely undermined the Barisan Nasional’s decades-long dominance. Ten years later, when I had already relocated to the UK, Malaysian voters created history by booting out what had become a gargantuanly corrupt Barisan Nasional regime in what can only be described as a David-and-Goliath election. But the new coalition government, called Pakatan Harapan (the Alliance of Hope), only lasted 22 months. It was brought down through a series of backdoor defections on the eve of the Covid-19 lockdowns of 2020.

The years since then have become a political blur, not least because of pandemic-related complications. Mahathir and Anwar, who had a much-publicised rapprochement in the leadup to the 2018 polls, fell out yet again. Meanwhile, another despot, former Prime Minister Najib Razak and his wife, Rosmah Mansor, were finally sent to jail for the eyewatering amounts of money they stole from Malaysians during Najib’s administration.

The political scene is more fragmented than it has ever been and, by most predictions, Anwar leads an opposition bloc with only a slim chance of electoral success. Even with Najib in jail, it seems Malaysians are poised to see the return (and revenge) of Barisan Nasional. This is why I was exhausted before I even started Anwar’s new offering.

But something shifted when I started skimming its first few pages. (You can, too – anyone with internet access can download it from the Postnormal Times website, free of charge:

The volume opens with a heartfelt paragraph – Anwar addresses (Malaysian) readers directly, empathising with our ‘growing cynicism and loss of faith in politicians and, more tragically, in each other’. This is eloquent enough, but more jaded readers might say, ‘So show us what you got then?’

This is where the second line of the second paragraph goes deeper: ‘From passively accepting the notion that “things change”, we now need to enthusiastically “change things”.’ This declaration of agency – of Anwar as a politician, of the reader as an individual or as a group, and of any and everyone who cares about Malaysia – frames the rest of the manuscript.

The Introduction straddles an acknowledgement of the many failures in recent Malaysian history whilst offering a big vision of a better future we can still build:

…SCRIPT is neither a philosophical dream nor an unrealistic ideal. It is a recognition that business-as-usual cannot continue. Moreover, it is a system of guidance, a torch in a dark place. And for us to take that first step – for these words to move from this page into the preferred futures we seek – one crucial element must ignite the touchpaper. That lynchpin is trust.

How does SCRIPT tackle this question of trust, among other elements? And why ‘SCRIPT’, anyway?

‘SCRIPT’ is simultaneously the manuscript’s structure and its purpose. Above the introduction, we are given some possible definitions of the word (bold in original):

Script /skrıpt/noun. 1. handwriting as distinct from print; written characters. 2. type imitating handwriting. 3. an alphabet or system of writing. 4. the test of a play, film or broadcast. 5. an examinee’s set of written answers. 6. Law. an original document as distinct from a copy. 7. Psychology. the social role or behaviour appropriate to particular situations that a person absorbs through cultural influences and association with others. 8. a holistic vision and policy framework for a viable, dynamic and inclusive Malaysian future.

Developing from this eighth definition, Anwar’s vision is to ‘build a sustainable and prosperous Malaysia based on care and compassion, mutual respect, innovation, and trust, where inclusiveness and equality is embraced by the whole nation – ultimately a just Malaysian society’. This is where SCRIPT as an acronym becomes a structuring device for the text’s narrative, standing for ‘Sustainability, Care and Compassion, Respect, Innovation, Prosperity, Trust – key terms for shaping and building a thriving, dynamic future for Malaysia’.

The bulk of the document consists of individual chapters dedicated to each term – or ‘driver’, as Anwar also refers to them – in the SCRIPT acronym. Each driver is assessed in relation to its conventional definition, which Anwar and his team transform into ‘our definition’, followed by a statement of vision, the driver’s target population/areas, and its policy imperatives.

What sets this framework apart from many similar-sounding approaches is the devotion that is then paid to analysing possible futures (in the plural), picking apart potential areas of ‘complexity’, ‘contradictions’, ‘chaos’, ‘simultaneity’ and ‘futures/change’. These headings draw upon the work of Ziauddin Sardar, the editor of Critical Muslim as well as Director of the Centre for Postnormal Policy and Futures Studies which, along with Institut Darul Ehsan, co-published SCRIPT. These futures-oriented insights then feed into a methodology for ‘monitoring’ and engaging with or creating ‘enabling institutions’.

The chapters on each SCRIPT driver are followed by two chapters that employ the same analytical framework – ‘SCRIPT for a Post-Covid Malaysia’ and ‘SCRIPT for Navigating Cost of Living’. Anwar ends by providing his priority policies ‘for a better Malaysia’ and closes with an Epilogue.

The forward-looking nature of Anwar’s thoughts do not negate or ignore the rich and complex history of Malaysia. Given his past experiences in Islamic social movements, there is explicit inspiration from the Qur’an and the hadith (traditions of the Prophet Muhammad). There are also framing quotes from Muslim scholars and activists, including the ninth century Persian scholar Ibn Majah, the fourteenth century Egyptian historian Shihāb al-Dīn al-Nuwayrī, and contemporary Malaysians such as Nik Abdul Aziz Nik Mat, the former PAS spiritual leader.

These Islamically inspired insights are complemented by quotations and observations from thinkers and activists of other backgrounds. I was particularly pleased to see references to the renowned sociologist Syed Hussein Alatas, and veteran social justice activists Anwar Fazal and Anne Munro-Kua. Anwar also pays tribute to his avowedly secular comrades in Malaysian politics, including Lim Kit Siang (former opposition leader from the Democratic Action Party), and shares other insights from Confucius, Virgil, and the Indian Dalit reformer Bhim Rao Ambedkar.

This intellectual and spiritual sophistication is matched by concrete and progressive calls under each SCRIPT driver. Under ‘Sustainability’, Anwar writes that we have to ‘abolish tax concessions and incentives that allow businesses and enterprises to pursue unsustainable goals and practices that show ill regard for human dignity or the natural world’. I fervently hope that this translates into urgent and ambitious steps to end deforestation and stop the extraction and burning of fossil fuels. ‘Care and Compassion’ calls for debt forgiveness (including for student loans), a living wage, and protections for refugees and migrants, including dedicated financial assistance and better legal safeguards. And under this driver, Anwar makes a simple yet remarkable pledge: ‘we will abolish capital punishment in Malaysia’. This is huge, especially when so many ultranationalists from the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO), the senior party in Barisan Nasional, and ideologues from PAS remain fans of the death penalty.

‘Respect’ calls for a ‘national human rights audit’ and ‘repealing of draconic and disrespectful laws and applications of laws with special regard to racial, religious, gender, and lifestyle inequalities’. ‘Innovation’ is not merely about creating fancy technologies and gadgets – it’s about harnessing technology and new thinking to forge better welfare and wellbeing infrastructures for urban and rural populations. ‘Prosperity’ insists that Malaysia needs to abandon a ‘model of justice as retribution’ and move towards a ‘model of justice as shared prosperity’. This may sound abstract but, again, it is notable, given that the idea of ‘justice’ held by ideologues from UMNO and PAS is largely based on violent and punitive interpretations of secular and Islamic legislation. Finally, ‘Trust’ reaffirms the need for independent institutions and oversight mechanisms that ensure ‘equality under the rule of law’.

Elsewhere, there’s a promise to launch a ‘Royal Commission of Inquiry into the Covid-19 Pandemic’. There’s recognition of a ‘mental health pandemic’, with the promise to secure separate funding for the establishment of a Malaysian Institute of Mental Health. In relation to the cost-of-living crisis, there is clear and explicit criticism of neoliberal capitalism as the main culprit and a promise to implement ‘humane economics’. Anwar even promises to initiate a Green New Deal. And he is already taking steps in this direction as current Opposition Leader. According to the independent environmental journalism outfit Macaranga, he has called for the formation of a Parliamentary Select Committee on the climate emergency.

As I read through SCRIPT, I anticipated some criticisms that could be made, especially from certain liberal and secularist perspectives. For example, secular-liberal Western commentators might demand more explicit positions on gender equality or lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and intersex (LGBTQI) inclusion. Or for an unequivocal condemnation of ‘Islamism’, ‘radicalism’ or ‘extremism’. In some ways, these are the easiest criticisms to deal with. Because from these perspectives, gender, sexuality and Islam(ism) are often weaponised to reproduce tired stereotypes about the ‘clash of civilisations’ between a supposedly monolithic Islam and a supposedly monolithic West. The vision of human rights, equality, justice, wellbeing, and sustainability that Anwar lays out is actually bigger and more nuanced. Besides, in several parts of SCRIPT, there are concrete calls to address certain gender-related policy areas, such as stronger laws against sexual harassment and better implementation.

Perhaps more serious might be questions from Orang Asli and Orang Asal (Indigenous) communities, especially from Sabah and Sarawak in Borneo, about where they fit in Anwar’s SCRIPT. These are, after all, communities that have been historically ignored, silenced and manipulated by Barisan Nasional- and PAS-controlled federal and state legislatures. Again, while this aspect of national self-determination is not systematically addressed, neither is it completely absent. SCRIPT does contain brief, open-ended mentions of how Peninsula Malaysia, Sabah and Sarawak might negotiate their relationship. There is also recognition of the historic ways in which Orang Asli and Orang Asal have been exploited and impoverished by successive political administrations.

In some ways, SCRIPT reminded me of the South American concept of Vivir Bien or Buen Vivir that inspired a new cohort of social movements at the turn of the twenty-first century. According to the Bolivian social and environmental justice advocate Pablo Solón, Vivir Bien emerged as a response to the ‘devastating impact of neoliberalism’ and US imperialism in South America as well as the ‘failure of Soviet socialism’. It draws from the wisdom and practices of the Indigenous communities of the Andes and their struggles for justice and self-determination. Solón proposes that Vivir Bien contains five interconnected elements.

The first is that it is based on the vision of ‘the whole’, or the Pacha. The monotheistic Islamic wisdom that Anwar imbues SCRIPT with might at first appear at odds with First Nations wisdom. But, actually, the holistic worldview in SCRIPT resonates with the notion of the Pacha as including ‘humans, animals, and plants’ as well as ‘the world above…inhabited by the sun, the moon, and the stars, and the world below…where the dead and the spirits live’.

SCRIPT’s emphasis on care and concern, respect, and trust reminds me of Vivir Bien’s second principle, which Solón summarises as ‘coexisting in multipolarity’. This means that an ‘individual is a person only in as much as he or she works for the common good of his or her community’. And without community ‘there is no individual and without singular beings there is no community’.

The third element of Vivir Bien – ‘the pursuit of equilibrium’ – is the one that appears most explicitly in SCRIPT. Anwar even uses the word ‘equilibrium’ and its Malay translation, keseimbangan, similarly to Solón, for whom it represents ‘a harmony not only between human beings but also between humans and nature, between the material and the spiritual, between knowledge and wisdom, between diverse cultures and between different identities and realities’. This is connected to Vivir Bien’s fourth element which also animates SCRIPT – the ‘complementarity of diverse subjects’. By this, Solón means that we must embrace ‘differences as part of a whole’ as opposed to the neoliberal capitalist logic of competition, scarcity and exploitation in the pursuit of ‘growth’.

Finally, Vivir Bien’s fifth element, ‘decolonization’, calls for ‘rejecting an unjust status quo and recovering our capacity to look deeply so as not to be trapped by colonial categories that limit our imagination’. This aspect is present throughout SCRIPT, too, albeit more indirectly.

Solón does have a warning. Vivir Bien is not merely a democratic reform project for a self-contained nation-state. It will fail if applied only within the borders of a single country that is still enmeshed within ‘a global economy that is capitalist, productivist, extractivist, patriarchal, and anthropocentric’. Vivir Bien has also become appropriated by corporate giants who praise and promote it in ways that are very different from the way that Solón articulates it.

It bears reflecting on how to avoid SCRIPT from suffering the same fate. It is therefore apposite to revive the thinking of another decolonial scholar whose legacy is evident in SCRIPT – the Malaysian sociologist Syed Hussein Alatas (1928-2007). I have already written in Critical Muslim 41: Bodies about the relevance of Alatas’s legacy in efforts to address the climate crisis through his classic work, The Myth of the Lazy Native. It is therefore inspiring to see that Alatas’s scholarly work on corruption has also informed SCRIPT. Given the scale of the damage caused by the Najib administration’s corruption – as well as the political ecosystem that enabled it – it is worth revisiting the quote from Alatas highlighted by Anwar:

In a corrupt society, corruption enters into our lives at frequent intervals and at several intersections. The child is already exposed to its damaging effects while in primary school. Corruption becomes part of the visible scenery. An entire generation of children growing up in its shadow. What this would do to the personality of the individual is certainly something to worry about.

In other words, corruption is not merely about the moral failing of certain leaders and individuals. Alatas is referring here to a society-wide ‘tidal corruption’ that infects us all externally and internally. This is corruption that is normalised as a social practice which, in many formerly colonised nation-states, has grown to become an industry in its own right.

It is worth dwelling on some key aspects of Alatas’s thinking on corruption before returning to SCRIPT. First, there is the fairly straightforward definition of corruption – ‘the abuse of trust in the interest of personal and private gain’. Ironically, it is the very straightforwardness of this definition that causes complications. Its common-sense simplicity has enabled some heinously corrupt dictators – from Suharto in Indonesia and Zia-ul-Haq in Pakistan – to claim that they were anti-corruption crusaders. In fact, Malaysia’s Mahathir Mohamad was extremely popular in the early days of his premiership in the 1980s because he, too, promised to weed out corruption. 

The paradox of corruption flourishing under these purported anti-corruption advocates is partly explicable through another key insight from Alatas. According to him, corruption has existed in all societies historically but all societies have always had people of conscience struggling against it – often risking their own lives and livelihoods. But corruption manifested in different ways in different contexts. For instance, corruption in the colonial era took particular forms in Dutch-controlled Indonesia compared to British-controlled Malaya, and so on. The events of the Second World War, however, catalysed corruption in most colonies in unprecedented ways. The swift wave of post-war decolonisation then created an ‘outburst’ of corruption in the newly independent regimes because of a variety of factors. These include the continuity and growth of wartime corrupt practices, the creation of new and independent state administrative systems that were easily hijacked by corrupt postcolonial elites, and the inexperience of newly independent leaders in democratic nation-building.

More perniciously, there was also the often invisible ‘manipulation and intrigues of foreign financial and business powers through means of corruption’. Nowhere do we see this more clearly now than the role of fossil fuel and agribusiness giants in blocking international negotiations to end the climate crisis. There is, on one hand, the brazen and shameless corruption typified by rampant deforestation, land grabs and wholesale murder of Indigenous and poorer communities in places such as the Amazon. But, on the other hand, there is the less visible role of the fossil fuel lobby in influencing the (lack of) decision-making on the environment and human rights by lawmakers in liberal democracies such as the US, the UK and the European Union.

Whilst Anwar’s SCRIPT does contain frank criticisms of corruption in Malaysia and proposes much-needed solutions, I wonder if it is fully realistic about the systemic origins, nature and scale of the problem. Could it be even bolder in addressing the concerns from Alatas and Solón about capitalism and colonialism? And, anticipating what will probably be a recurring question from Anwar’s critics, why should we trust his SCRIPT for a Better Malaysia?

These are questions to which Anwar does have an answer. He writes: ‘Trust being more than a one-way street, will require your participation and suggestions or ideas to take us from this starting line presented here towards the better Malaysian future we envision.’ Anwar reassures the reader: ‘The framework put forward here is not the final word; this document is an amalgam of living and ongoing policies, subject to revision and continual reiteration, as things change and as we change things.’

Reflecting on these passages, I understand the reasons for my near-tirade at the climate-denying Pollyannas in the café near Borough Market. Because I am not a doom-monger. I am actually a hopeful person. But my hope is not founded upon fantasies that allow us to surrender our agency and believe that everything will be just fine if we all ‘do our tiny bit’.

Perhaps the Brazilian educationalist Paolo Freire expresses it best in his Pedagogy of Hope, written amid the endemic corruption that stifled his country’s democratic transition in the 1980s and 1990s. It is not, he said, that he lacked empathy with feelings of hopelessness at the dire situation facing so many Brazilians at the time. But, to Freire (and it is worth quoting him at length):

Hope is an ontological need. Hopelessness is but hope that has lost its bearings, and becomes a distortion of that ontological need. When it becomes a program, hopelessness paralyzes us, immobilizes us. We succumb to fatalism, and then it becomes impossible to muster the strength we absolutely need for a fierce struggle that will re-create the world. I am hopeful, not out of mere stubbornness, but out of an existential, concrete imperative. I do not mean that, because I am hopeful, I attribute to this hope of mine the power to transform reality all by itself, so that I set out for the fray without taking account of concrete, material data, declaring, ‘My hope is enough!’ No, my hope is necessary, but it’s not enough. Alone, it does not win. But without it, my struggle will be weak and wobbly. We need critical hope the way a fish needs unpolluted water.

How profound that Freire should use the analogy of a fish in unpolluted water to explain his position on hope. And how significant that Anwar Ibrahim should try to transform the hopelessness of Malaysians into hope by starting off his vision with ‘Sustainability’. On some level, this is not exactly new for Malaysia. Like many other formerly colonised nations, Malaysia says and commits to all the right things on the global stage in regard to sustainable development and the environment. And, like so many of these nation-states, the actual implementation of sustainable policies is frequently wanting. Often, there is brazen hypocrisy. As we saw in the aftermath of the floods of 2021-22, citizens and residents are paying the price for the current Malaysian government’s systemic negligence and violation of social and environmental justice. But SCRIPT lays out the ways to correct this situation internally and nationally, whilst keeping an eye on the need for regional, international and global cooperation. It is a work in progress that provides a template for active, critical hope.

Maybe one way to approach SCRIPT for a Better Malaysia is through the analogy of theatre. To produce a play, one often needs a script. That script could be the work of an individual playwright or it could be devised by a team of performers through improvisation. But the written text of the script is not the play. The beginnings of the play emerge when it finds a director and actors who can breathe life into the written text. The play also needs stage managers, lighting, costume and sound designers and, most importantly, an audience to experience it and respond to it when it is performed. Without these constituent elements, we do not have a play, we only have a text that has the potential to become a play.

The play simply cannot exist without constructive criticism and collaboration. And it certainly cannot exist if its creators do not release it and offer it to an audience who can engage with it and shape it for their own purposes. The best plays enable both makers and audiences not only to enjoy themselves, but to transform their hearts, minds, relationships and worlds.

SCRIPT is a play waiting to be produced and performed. And eagerly awaits an audience to appreciate it, implement it, and transform it for present and future generations to enjoy.

Shanon Shah is the Director of Faith for the Climate in the UK and was a multiple award-winning journalist, activist, playwright and singer-songwriter in Malaysia.


Disclosure: I am a registered Malaysian voter. I am not a member of the People’s Justice Party (PKR), led by Anwar Ibrahim, or any other political party in Malaysia or the UK. Neither have I ever nor do I currently receive any financial payment or salary from Anwar or PKR or any other political party.

Anwar Ibrahim’s SCRIPT for a Better Malaysia: An Empowering Vision and Policy Framework for Action was published in 2022 in Kuala Lumpur by Institut Darul Ehsan and The Centre for Postnormal Policy and Futures Studies. It can be downloaded at

The information on the major floods discussed in this article are from Munir Ahmed, ‘Pakistan: World Bank Estimates Floods Caused $40B in Damages’, AP News, 19 October 2022., BBC News, ‘Malaysia: Death Toll Rises after Massive Floods’, 21 December 2021,, Rashvinjeet S. Bedi, ‘Malaysia Massive Floods Result in RM6.1 Billion Losses, Selangor Worst Hit’, Channel News Asia, 28 January 2022,, Mei Mei Chow, ‘What It Takes to Manage Landslides’. Macaranga (blog), 24 December 2021,, Agence France-Presse, ‘Malaysia’s Worst Flooding in Years Leaves 30,000 People Displaced’, The Guardian, 19 December 2021,, Ida Lim, ‘Experts: Selangor Floods Show Failure to Prevent a Repeat of Kelantan in 2014; Malaysia Needs Better Warning Systems’, Malay Mail, 22 December 2021,, Reuters, ‘Chad Declares State of Emergency as Floods Affect 1 Million People’, 19 October 2022,, Amir Yusof, ‘Malaysia’s “Once in 100 Years” Flood Exposes Reality of Climate Change, Better Disaster Planning Needed: Experts’, Channel News Asia, 21 December 2021,

My discussion on Vivir Bien draws upon Pablo Solón’s chapter ‘Is Vivir Bien Possible? Candid Thoughts about Systemic Alternatives’, in Climate Futures: Reimagining Global Climate Justice, edited by Kum-Kum Bhavnani, John Foran, Priya A. Kurian, and Debashish Munshi, 253–62. London: Zed Books, 2019.

The quotes from Syed Hussein Alatas are from his work, The Problem of Corruption, Kuala Lumpur: The Other Press, 2015. The extended quote from Paulo Freire is from Pedagogy of Hope, London: Bloomsbury, 2015.

Examples of the connection between corruption and climate change were taken from Hugh McFaul, ‘What’s Corruption Got to Do with Climate Change, and Why Should We Care?’,

Macaranga has compiled a list of citizen-led demands for environmental justice from the candidates in Malaysia's fifteenth general election:


This review is published in the upcoming Critical Muslim 44: History , Hurst, London, 2022