|Laman Webantu KM2: 6123 File Size: 4.7 Kb *|
ATimes: Malaysia takes middle path
By Anil Netto
13/10/2001 4:32 pm Sat
October 13, 2001
Malaysia takes middle path
By Anil Netto
PENANG - Riot police dispersed a large crowd of Muslims gathered outside the
United States embassy in Kuala Lumpur on Friday afternoon with water cannon after
they had protested peacefully against military strikes on Afghanistan.
News reports have estimated the crowd at about 3,000, but Zulkifli Sulung, the editor
of Harakah, the newspaper of the opposition Pan Malaysian Islamic Party (PAS), told
Asia Times Online his reports indicated that the crowd was closer to 10,000.
Among the groups that had gathered outside the embassy were PAS members,
representatives from the Malaysian Muslim Youth Movement (ABIM), Jamaah Islah
Malaysia or JIM (an Islamic reform group), and the Malaysian Ulamak Association
A delegation comprising PAS president Fadzil Noor, PAS deputy president Hadi
Awang and PAS spiritual adviser Nik Aziz Nik Mat eventually submitted a
memorandum to an official from the US embassy.
"It was very successful," said Zulfkifli. "The demonstrators were satisfied that they
had succeeded in sending a message to the Americans that they are not happy with the
war against Afghanistan."
Friday's was the largest protest gathering so far. On Thursday about 80 demonstrators
from the youth wings of the ruling coalition handed over a memorandum to the US
embassy condemning the US-led retaliatory actions.
However, Zulkifli himself had reassuring words for Americans and other foreigners in
Malaysia. "I don't think there is any need for the American people in Malaysia to be
afraid. We will not attack them," he says. "I don't think Malaysians, at least those
from PAS, will attack anyone. Not in Malaysia. Humility and politeness are part of
Malay culture. There is no reason for them to feel afraid here."
The Malaysian government is in a slight predicament. It is treading a fine line between
cracking down too hard on alleged members of the so-called Malaysian Mujahidin
Group (KMM), while also reassuring Washington that it is not harboring terrorists.
Human rights groups have criticized the arrests of some KMM members under the
draconian Internal Security Act, which allows indefinite detention without trial. Six
more were detained on Wednesday, bringing the total to about 20 so far, apart from
another six reform activists accused of trying to "topple" the government. But the fact
that these 20-odd detainees have not been brought to trial has deprived analysts of the
opportunity to gauge the extent, if any, of the threat they pose.
With the Malaysian economy is heading for close to zero growth this year, or perhaps
even a recession, Malaysia can ill afford to scare off investors and tourists. The
occupancy rate at a leading hotel in Penang, for instance, is said to be less than 30
A radio news bulletin on Friday afternoon unusually stressed that the protest outside
the US embassy was peaceful. This is in stark contrast to the depiction in the past of
peaceful "reformasi"-chanting opposition demonstrators as "violent rioters".
PAS, which claims 800,000 members, itself has called for a jihad by its members. But
the party is treading a cautious if somewhat pragmatic line. It says its definition of
jihad covers a multitude of actions, including calls for peace, prayers and financial aid.
Fadzil also denied that PAS members had been directed to join the Taliban forces in
Afghanistan. But he said that the party could not stop any of its members who wanted
to go there. "Up till now, from the information that we have gathered, none of our
members has gone to Afghanistan," he was reported as saying.
The Malaysian government, for its part, says it does not recognize the call of PAS for a
jihad, arguing that a political party cannot make such a declaration. It said that PAS
members should work with the Malaysian government in enhancing the
socio-economic status of Muslims in Malaysia rather than going on a suicidal mission
Despite the demonstration on Friday, Mahathir's position looks secure for now as he treads a political tightrope as one of the few Asian leaders to have spoken out against indiscriminate strikes on Afghanistan leading to loss of civilian life, while also assuring Washington that Malaysia is firmly against terrorism.