Friday, Nov 8, 2002

Malaysia flags extra conflict

Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad said the victory of President George W Bush's Republican Party in the US midterm elections had increased the risk of confrontation between the West and Islam.
Mahathir, one of Asia's longest serving leaders and a moderate voice in the Muslim world, also said the world's response to a climate of fear created by Osama bin Laden had fallen into a trap and handed bin Laden a victory.
"I suppose the election is a vote of confidence in the policies followed by President Bush," Mahathir told a news conference as the US administration tried once again to win UN support for an eventual attack on Iraq.
"In the Muslim world, the Islamic parties are also becoming popular, so there's going to be increasing confrontation," he said.
"Both sides are going to play up their anger and hatred to the maximum, so we are going to see a world which is not going to be very calm."
Mahathir, who rallied to the US-led war on terror but has ruffled feathers in the West with outspoken comments in the past, criticised the response to the suicide hijackings that killed around 3,000 people in the United States on September 11, 2001.
"Osama bin Laden, who is supposed to have engineered the attack on the World Trade Centre, I think he has succeeded beyond his dreams," Mahathir, who was thanked at the White House earlier this year for his support in the war on terror, said.
"He has made the whole world frightened. Now people are frightened to do anything, he has succeeded," he added.
"And why he has succeeded is because we are angry. We do not know how to manage these things and we fall into his trap."
Mahathir slated over terror response
Human rights groups claim that Mahathir is using the threat of terrorism to suppress political dissent and deny fundamental human rights.
Human Rights Watch in May urged the Bush administration to call for the repeal of Malaysia's Internal Security Act (ISA), which was adopted almost 40 years ago to combat Communist rebels and is frequently used by Mahathir to quash peaceful dissent.
Over 100 people are being detained under the ISA. Among those targeted under the ISA over the last year were minority Shi'a Muslims, supporters of jailed former Deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim, and youth leaders in the opposition Pan Malaysian Islamic Party.
Mahathir has appeared increasingly uncomfortable with US policies while remaining a committed advocate of tough measures to combat terrorism.
Just two months ago, Mahathir said Washington's failure to address the root causes of terrorism among Muslims, namely US support for Israel and concern that ordinary Iraqis will suffer in a campaign against President Saddam Hussein, had lit the fuse for a clash of civilisations.
He warned that Tuesday's Congressional elections, which handed the Republicans control of Congress, and the rise of Islamic political parties would polarise the world.
Mahathir's government is seeking to combat militancy at home while meeting the challenge from a conservative Islamic party, which wants to turn multi-cultural Malaysia into an Islamic state, starting with strict Muslim sharia laws.
In the last 18 months, Malaysian police have arrested around 70 alleged members of Jemaah Islamiah, a shadowy network suspected of being behind the bomb attack that killed more than 180 people on the Indonesian resort island of Bali.
Mahathir, attending a summit of southeast Asian leaders at the weekend, decried the US-led bombing of Afghanistan and the threat of an attack on Iraq. He said civilian deaths were too high a price to pay in the war on terror.