We feel safe: Australian Muslims fire back at Mahathir

By Jonathan Pearlman
November 7 2002

Australia's peak Muslim group has scoffed at Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad's statement that Australia is unsafe for Muslims, saying Dr Mahathir should worry about the safety of his own people.
"Muslims are very safe in this country," said The Australian Federation of Islamic Councils spokesman Kuranda Seyit. "Australia has been a very fair and tolerant society.
"I think Mahathir is inciting and provoking fear within the Muslim community. He doesn't live in Australia. Frankly I think he should worry about his own country and his own people. He's not the best example of having a tolerant view."
Mr Seyit said Australians had suffered far less harassment since September 11 than Muslims in the United States, but was concerned that raids against Muslims suspected of involvement with the Bali bombings had been excessive.
"I think the raids were a result of the government wanting to be seen to be doing something about the terrible Bali tragedy. I don't think the conduct of the raids has been fair. ASIO is using bully tactics. There is no substantial evidence these people are connected to terrorist activities overseas."
Faikah Behardien, a member of the Muslim Women's National Network of Australia, said Dr Mahathir's comments were an overreaction.
"The man is totally over-reacting, but it was an over-reaction to the over-reaction he had seen from the foreign minister about Australians not going to Asia," said Ms Behardien.
"The families affected by the ASIO raids would be justified in feeling that Australia wasn't safe. The reasons for the raids have not been disclosed so you wonder who it might happen to next. You don't know who is going to come and knock at your door at two in the morning."

Mahathir hits Australia on travel warnings

November 7 2002
By Mark Baker
Asia Editor
Phnom Penh

Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad has condemned the treatment of Australian Muslims in the aftermath of the Bali bombing in a renewed attack on the Federal Government's regional travel warnings.
Dr Mahathir said claims by Australia and the United States that many parts of South-East Asia were now unsafe for tourists could equally be applied to the two countries themselves.
"As far as the travel warning is concerned, I think Australia is unsafe as are the other ASEAN countries.
"In fact, at the moment Australia is particularly unsafe for Muslims," he said.
In an apparent reference to recent police raids against suspected extremists, Dr Mahathir said Australian Muslims were being endangered by indiscriminate raids on their homes.
"I see pictures of doors being broken, which I don't think is essential. So people today are exposed to danger wherever they may be," he said.
But Foreign Minister Alexander Downer rejected the criticism and defended both the methods used in hunting suspected members of the alleged terrorist group Jemaah Islamiah and his department's tough travel advisories.
"There's nothing more important than the security of the Australian people," he said.
"We also note that Dr Mahathir's government has not only interrogated but in many cases arrested members of Jemaah Islamiah under the Internal Security Act that operates in Malaysia.
"So I think the truth is when you put political rhetoric aside what the Australian and Malaysian governments are doing to address this issue is very similar."
He also said the government's warnings on the dangers of travel in Asia were justified: "If we took the view that we should downgrade travel advisories in the face of international pressure and then Australians were killed or injured because they didn't have information that we did have, then we would be grossly derelict in our duties."
Dr Mahathir made his comments at the end of the annual leaders' summit of the Association of South-East Asian Nations, which earlier this week denounced as exaggerated and unwarranted Western travel warnings issued after last month's attack in Bali.
He said agreement at the ASEAN summit on closer cooperation and intelligence sharing among regional governments would help to tackle the threat highlighted by the Bali attack.
"We now have a good network of countries that will provide each other with information . . . At the same time, we must have a common attitude towards terrorism.
"We all abhor terrorists, but we have to treat them as dangerous to all of us, not to any one particular country."
Dr Mahathir's latest broadside against Australia comes after he was instrumental in blocking Prime Minister John Howard's bid to be admitted as a dialogue partner at the annual ASEAN leaders' summits.
While not acknowledging his role in thwarting the Australian bid - backed strongly by Singapore and Cambodia - Dr Mahathir said the proposal needed further consideration.
"Some of the leaders of ASEAN feel that the ASEAN-plus-Australia proposal should be studied more closely, so we will not make any decision nor will we comment at this moment until we have studied it," he said.
Mr Downer yesterday issued a statement claiming that none of the ASEAN leaders had voiced opposition to the proposal, despite ASEAN officials confirming to The Age that both Dr Mahathir and Indonesian President Megawati Sukarnoputri had raised objections.
Mr Downer said the leaders' decision to refer the issue for further study meant the idea of Australian participation in the summit process was "now firmly on ASEAN's agenda".

Wed, Nov 6 2002

Travel warnings spark new row with Malaysia

The Foreign Minister, Alexander Downer, has defended Australia against Malaysia's claim that it is unsafe for Muslims.

The Malaysian Prime Minister, Mahathir Mohamad, has criticised Australian and United States travel warnings for south-east Asian nations in the wake of the Bali bombings.
Dr Mahathir says Australia and the United States are also exposed to terrorism.
And he says Australia is particularly unsafe for Muslims because they are likely to have their homes raided by security agencies.
But Mr Downer says Malaysian criticism of Australia is nothing new.
"We've certainly heard some negative sentiment from time to time from Dr Mahathir," he said.
"I'm not really going to respond to that except to say this: as you know these raids were conducted as a result of Jemaah Islamiah being proscribed and it was proscribed because it was listed as a terrorist organisation in the United Nations."