Muslimedia: US's political and military build-up in South East Asia
By Abdar Rahman Koya
2/2/2002 11:30 am Sat
By Abdar Rahman Koya in Kuala Lumpur
US allies in South-East Asia have been quick to seize the
opportunity offered by the West's anti-terrorism campaign to act
against Islamic activism among the region's ocean of Muslims. Few
now bother to deny that the US is working towards a direct military
role in the region.
In early January the 'war on terrorism' officially arrived in the Far
East, with the deployment of more than 600 American troops in the
Philippines for combat against Moro Muslims in the south. Gloria
Macapagal Arroyo, president of the Philippines, has increased the
demonisation of the Moro Muslim fighters, who have been fighting
for their Bangsamoro Muslim homelands for decades, using the Abu
Sayyaf menace in much the same way as the US has used Usama
Bin Ladin to control Afghanistan.
Elsewhere, another sinister campaign to consolidate US interests in
the region is in full swing. Recent signs from Singapore (another of
the US's allies, which provides facilities for the US military machine
in the region) suggest a consolidation of what were long-term plans
by the US. The tiny Chinese-dominated regime has openly acted as
the American voice in regional forums, and informs the US about
potential 'hot spots' where it can play a role in the fight against
Singapore has also been arresting its Muslim citizens and shutting
down even the mildest criticism, with facist-style arrests of Muslims
without trial or access to legal counsel. The extent of its
Islamophobia can be seen in the way the regime reacted to
fateha.com, a little-known Muslim-run Singaporean website, that
showed rare courage by criticising 'Muslim' government leaders
for their silence over the demonisation of Islam and Muslims in the
media. When Zulfikar Mohamad Shariff, fateha's spokesman, said
that Usama bin Ladin was a better Muslim than any of the 'Muslim'
government leaders, the regime warned its citizens of 'poisonous'
materials on the internet.
Singapore is already established as a US naval base with all the
support facilities an invading army needs. Its militarism, its
economics and its pro-US stance in a Muslim region have led
commentators to compare it with Israel in the Middle East. Its
government has also openly opposed the Islamic party PAS in
Malaysia, saying that PAS's rise to power would be a 'security
The Malaysian regime, far from tackling such a security threat from
its neighbour, digs its own grave when it boasts of fighting local
'militants' with links to al-Qaeda, giving the US ample excuse to
intervene, should it wish to do so. "Singapore will have the right to
cross the border in hot pursuit of the 'terrorists'," warns the PAS
paper, Harakah in its February 1 edition. "An excuse to annex
Johore [in Malaysia] can be orchestrated with international
approval... in such a scenario, the Malaysian army will collapse
even faster than the Taliban's."
Eager not to be outdone by Manila and Singapore, Malaysia wants
to be seen as taking the necessary 'anti-terror' steps, worried that
its neighbouring US ally will capitalise on its inaction. And so for the
past two months Mahathir has been arresting everyone from
academics to businessmen. By January 21, 38 were in custody. As
we go to press, more people are being abducted from their homes
without any explanation except that they are 'militants'.
In the meantime, Jakarta is also under pressure to crack down on
'Islamists': but there appears to be a difference in the Indonesian
Muslim 'fundamentalism'. In fact, the 'extremists' with whom
Washington is unhappy are more interested in tidying up their own
backyard, ensuring that the hitherto 'de-Islamised' country will be
united under Islam, and challenging the lingering 'pancasila'
secularism. Megawati Sukarnoputri, caught between 'Islamist'
political allies and Christian advisers, is already finding it difficult to
link these homegrown Muslim groups with foreign 'terrorist' groups.
On January 21, moreover, the Indonesian Mujahidin Council,
accused of having terrorist links, warned that Megawati would be
"playing with fire" if she ordered police to move against Muslim
activists in the country.
Political observers no longer view with scepticism the 'far-fetched'
theory that the US is eyeing the region's vast oil reserves. With
their economies almost totally dependent on the US and its erstwhile
ally Japan, these can be secured with a few official trips and a little
The sending of troops to Mindanao is therefore merely the first step.
In the meantime, clearer signs are emerging: the Washington Post,
for example, quoted US officials on January 18 as saying that the
next face of 'terror' might not be Arab, "but an Indonesian, Filipino
or a Malaysian face". Slowly and steadily, a Vietnam-style
scaling-up of American involvement (this time directed at Muslims)
is on the cards.