Friday, 12 April 2002

Asia, Malaysia have right to do it our way as long as majority approved: Dr M

by Ramlan Said

Asia and Malaysia have a right to do things their own way as long as it is approved by the majority of the people, Datuk Seri Dr Mahathir Mohamad said tonight.
The Prime Minister said if proponents of democracy and human rights believed in what they preach, it would then be undemocratic to use force including economic pressures in order to gain acceptance of a system or policy they espoused.
Addressing a gathering of prominent American and Asian leaders from the business, government and other sectors at the 30th annual Williamsburg Conference, Dr Mahathir said while what was good from Europe and America could be emulated, countries in the East must be given the freedom to decide what they should copy.
Those who believed in freedom, human rights and democracy must allow us to manage the balance between peace and prosperity that we have achieved on our own, he said in a speech titled Malaysia and Asia: Seeking a Balance Between Peace and Prosperity.
Giving proponents of democracy and human rights a taste of their own medicine, Dr Mahathir said Asians wanted to be democratic, to be equal and fair but they did not see good examples of these among the democrats who preached them.
"In the pursuit of ideological concepts, the original reasons and intentions of the ideology was always forgotten. Now the world is seeing the same thing happening with liberal democracy and human rights," he said. "Be democratic and uphold human rights or else you will lose your rights. Is it democratic to go about promoting democracy this way?"
"It would seem that democracy is more important than human rights and the well being of the people. It does not seem democratic."
Taking Malaysia as an example, Dr Mahathir said the country wanted peace and the people freely supported the Governments ways of achieving this.
He asked: "Why should there be objections by others who are not really affected by our ways?
Although Malaysia is an Asian country, Dr Mahathir stressed it did not reject all western values.
"But where we think Asian values are better, we should be allowed to retain them...if the proponent of democracy believes in democracy and human rights."
The Prime Minister noted force was being used every time to gain Asian compliance, and many of the things they had to accept were actually detrimental to their interest.
Yet while force was being used to ensure human rights were upheld, Dr Mahathir said very very little was done to help reduce poverty, which was noted to accompany most social ills, including human rights abuses.
"It is not unreasonable to assume," he said, "that the reduction of poverty would contribute towards reducing human rights abuses."
Dr Mahathir said he could not understand the suspisions towards Asian countries like the reception given to Malaysias proposed link-up of the Northeast Asia economies a decade ago.
The idea, he said, was opposed due to the exclusion of non-Asian groups and that anything discussed not in their interest would be subjected to opposition or watered down so as to be less meaningful.
"But proposals for inclusion of members from competing groups inside any Asian grouping continues to be made and pushed," he said. "If Europeans can be exclusive and so can the Americans, why cannot Asians have their own group?"
Dismissing the objection that Asians were anti-West or anti-European, Dr Mahathir said this argument could not be valid as the Europeans and Americans never consider the non-admission of Asians into their groupings as being anti-Asians.
The Prime Minister said it was shameful that the countries of East Asia had to hide behind other names, like Asean plus three in order to them to get together. (Plus three refers to Japan, South Korea and China).
On an assuring note, Dr Mahathir said unlike the homogeneous Europeans, Asians were heterogeneous and deeply divided.
"There is no way they can conspire to confront the Europeans or the West," he said. "Asians know they need the rich countries of Europe and America in order to grow and prosper."
Touching on Malaysia's experience in seeking a balance between peace and prosperity, Dr Mahathir said the countrys greatest achievement was perhaps on the management of race relations.
Racial harmony, he said, was achieved in Malaysia because of Islam and the majority of the people were Muslims.
"This statement is perhaps a little bit hard to swallow," he said. "Islam and the Muslims are commonly associated with an inability to get along with peoples of other religions or races or even with Muslim peoples of different sects."
"They are said to be irrational, recalcitrant, and unable to govern and develop their countries and last but not least are given to violence and terrorism."
But Dr Mahathir said Malaysian Muslims were able to contribute to peace and harmony among peoples so racially and religiously incompatible because the majority adhered to the true and fundamental teachings of Islam rather than interpretations by Muslims with political agendas, both past and present.
"That is why we can claim that Islam is the reason for peace and harmony in Malaysia," he said. "Islam is also the reason for Malaysias rapid development."
Dr Mahathir said if Islam and the Muslims today seemed incapable of living at peace with others and to achieve progress, it was not due to the teachings of the religion but because many deviated from the true path.
Drawing parallel to that of Christendom in the 15th and 16th century A.D, Dr Mahathir said the behaviour of some Muslims today differred little from the Christians then who were very intolerant, carrying out pogroms against the Jews and inquisitions against suspected devioationist.
"Just as the behaviour of the Christian was not due to Christian teachings," he said, "the behaviour of these Muslims was also not due to the true and fundamental teachings of Islam."