Stratfor: Mahathir Makes Dangerous Appeal to Muslim Radicals

Ulhas Joglekar ulhasj at
Tue Nov 9 04:19:36 MST 1999

Mahathir Makes Dangerous Appeal to Muslim Radicals
02 November 1999
Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, in the November installment of
Dr. Mahathir’s World Analysis, excuses Islamic extremism and terrorism as
the only available responses to a "hegemonic world." He also suggests the
need for a powerful Muslim country to act as a guarantor of Islam, marking
Indonesia as a candidate. Mahathir’s comments are intended to further split
Malaysia’s opposition parties and regain the support of Muslims opposed to
Malaysia’s recent unofficial contact with Israel. Justifying and condoning
Muslim extremism takes Mahathir down a dangerous path, since fundamentalists
may capitalize on his statements and increase their activities.
In the latest edition of Dr. Mahathir’s World Analysis, published monthly by
the Japanese Mainichi Shimbun newspaper, Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir
Mohamad discussed Indonesia’s new Muslim-led government and addressed the
international fear of, and pressure against, Muslims. In this column,
entitled "Muslim Choices in a Hegemonic World," Mahathir justifies Muslim
terrorism as a reasonable reaction to being targeted and vilified by Western
governments and media.
Mahathir’s comments are largely directed toward Malaysian Muslims in
response to the flak his government has taken over an unofficial meeting
between Foreign Minister Syed Hamid Albar and Israeli Foreign Minister David
Levy at the United Nations in September. Mahathir is hoping to regain the
confidence of Malaysia’s Muslims in order to gain a two-thirds majority for
his National Front coalition in the forthcoming general elections. But in
appealing to the more radical Muslims, Mahathir plays a dangerous game.
In his article, Mahathir says Muslims have been unfairly singled out by
Western media, which often refer to Muslim terrorists, but rarely to
Christian or Buddhist terrorists. Mahathir said, "The Western media is
responsible for stereotyping Muslims as fanatical mindless killers." In
addition, Mahathir says that Muslims see themselves as "victims of worldwide
terrorism," and cites events in Palestine, Kashmir and Iraq as examples.
Mahathir emphasizes that "there is nothing they [Muslims] can do as not a
single Muslim country is strong enough to protect Muslims, or even protest
over the ill-treatment and constant terrorizing of the Muslims and their
countries." Mahathir adds that, "Terrorism offers them the only way that
they can hit back at even the greatest military powers." He concludes,
"Muslims cannot be blamed if they think everyone is against them and as a
result they harbor ill-feelings toward Westerners."
Mahathir’s excusing – and nearly condoning – Muslim terrorism or extremism
is a very dangerous move. Mahathir has long called for a bloc against U.S.
domination and he is using the Indonesian presidential election to urge
Indonesia to act as the leading Muslim nation in the world. Since Indonesia
is dominated by moderate Muslims, unlike more fundamentalist nations like
Iran, its role as worldwide protector of Islam would be more tolerable to
non-Muslim nations.
However, in justifying Muslim extremism and the formation of a nation as a
guarantor of Muslim rights worldwide, Mahathir risks inciting an increase in
extremist Muslim activities. Within Malaysia, one of the main opposition
parties, the Islamic Party of Malaysia (PAS), has begun pressing for a
national law restricting the teaching of religions other than Islam. While
Mahathir previously characterized PAS as a party "noted for misusing and
misinterpreting Islam to its political advantage," he is now trying to
appeal to the more extreme PAS supporters.
Mahathir may be simply trying to widen the rift forming among the opposition
alliance over the recent PAS actions. At the same time, he is trying to
regain support from Malaysia’s Muslims and convince them that his government
is not preparing to open diplomatic channels with Israel. However, in
justifying Muslim terrorism as the only solution in a "hegemonic world,"
Mahathir may be creating a new problem. As witnessed in Pakistan over the
past year, appealing to the more radical fringes of Islam for political
support can be hazardous to one’s political career.

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