MUNICH (Germany) — During the six years he spent in jail, he had only limited access to news, but the out-of-date magazines and newspapers that Anwar Ibrahim (picture) did read convinced him that the world is succumbing to old prejudices and stereotypes.
"I'm having difficulty understanding. I thought with better access to information and better knowledge, people tend to be more reasonable. It doesn't seem so," he said, speaking to Today in Munich, where the Malaysian former deputy prime minister has undergone surgery for a back complaint.
Mr Anwar says he is inclined to spend some time beyond Malaysian politics.
"I have a bigger agenda in terms of working in the region and in dialogue with the West and particularly the United States," he said. "This is equally if not more important than being absorbed into the Malaysian political arena."
This was endorsed by US Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, who met with Mr Anwar at a hotel here.
Describing him as "a brave man and a wise man and a wonderful leader", Mr Wolfowitz said Mr Anwar should work on the world stage for tolerance and moderation.
"It's one of the things that has distinguished you," Mr Wolfowitz said to Mr Anwar.
Former Indonesian president Abdurrahman Wahid, who joined the meeting, said Mr Anwar should aspire to speak for Muslims around the world.
"I think he should become the leader of Muslims internationally. I'll support him in this endeavour," Mr Wahid said.
Mr Anwar insists he has no clear plans at this stage, joking that he is worried by what is being expected of him. Some analysts in Europe have said he is an ideal candidate for a position with an international organisation.
Jailed for corruption in 1999, Mr Anwar cannot run contest an election in Malaysia until 2009 unless he gets a royal pardon. But Mr Anwar disputes the conviction and will not seek a pardon if it means he is forced to recognise the conviction as just.
"No way would I accept the verdict," he said.
Following his operation, Mr Anwar's daily routine has involved physiotherapy and exercise. His 12-year-old daughter Hanna and a small coterie of aides have been on hand to help him recover.
Mr Anwar said he has been trying to catch up with contemporary culture, including watching movies such as Fahrenheit 9/11, which takes a sceptical look at policy decisions of the Bush administration.
Another pastime is listening to classical music, which he finds relaxing. But his children have forced him to take in their own tastes too.
"They are introducing me to Britney Spears and some others. I have to listen at least to get an idea what it's all about. They call it music, but I have my own views," he said, laughing.
After Munich, Mr Anwar said he hoped to take members of his family on a pilgrimage to Mecca for some weeks before returning to Malaysia.
He was still awed by the many messages he had received during his six years in prison from supporters around the world.
"I have to thank them. Many, many expressed so much concern," he said.
He estimated that while in jail he received hundreds of thousands of messages — many in the form of books, letters and cards.
A large number came from well-wishers outside his country.
"It's partly the role of the free media that is found wanting in Malaysia," he said. "It's a fact that more people in the region outside Malaysia know about my case than Malaysians (do)."
Parent site: "Focus on Malaysia"