The ASEAN leaders have instructed their ministers instead to study the Malaysian proposal for a regional seminar on terrorism as a prelude to an international conference.
The Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamad, who had made the proposal of a regional seminar on terrorism during one of his three interventios at the ASEAN Summit, said Malaysia was already taking steps through the Institute of Strategic and International Studies (ISIS) for a national-level seminar on terrorism.
I do not know whether all political parties, NGOs and a full cross-section of the civil society have been invited to the ISIS conference on November 16 and 17 in Kuala Lumpur to allow a national consensus on the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and the aftermath in all aspects to be reached, binding on all political parties and the civil society.
I have accepted the invitation to the ISIS Conference, but the Conference programme, which has eight themes, has no specific reference to the impact of September 11 aftermath on democracy and human rights.
The eight themes are:
Mahathir should ensure that the ISIS national-level seminar on terrorism should be all-party and include a specific theme on the impact of September 11 terrorists attacks on democracy and human rights in Malaysia, especially after the recent controversy over the statement by the Suhakam Chairman, Tan Sri Musa Hitam, on whether Suhakam should put democracy and human rights in the backseat after September 11.
In my two-hour frank and no-holds-barred meeting with Musa in Kuala Lumpur on Sunday, Musa clarified that he had stated that democracy and human rights had been forced to a backseat to security concerns about terrorism in the aftermath of the September 11 in the United States and in nations worldwide, and that he had never recommended that Suhakam should put democracy and human rights in the backseat as a consequence.
Let the ISIS Conference on Terrorism create a new national consensus that while there should be greater national vigilance against terrorism in Malaysia in the aftermath of September 11, it should not be used as a pretext for further abuses of human rights or the introduction of draconian new measures to push democracy and human rights to the bottom of the national agenda.
There should also be greater national consensus on Malaysia’s international response to the September 11 terrorist mass murders and the US airstrikes in Afghanistan, so that it will not become a source of national discord in multi-racial and multi-religious Malaysia.
In his article in yesterday’s International Herald Tribune, Dr. Chandra Muzaffar, President of the International Movement for a Just World (JUST), returning from a recent lecture tour in the United States, referred to the “dangerous idea” gaining currency in the US administration and among a significant segment of the American public that “If a person does not support the US-led bombing, it means that he or she backs Osama bin Laden and the al Qaeda network”.
Such a simplistic approach, which owes a great deal to the fallacy propounded by US President Bush after the September 11 tragedy that governments and peoples the world over have to choose between support for the US or Osama bin Laden, al Qaeda and the Taliban, is also prevalent among certain sections outside the United States.
There is a third road to be traversed - those who reject both the terrorism of Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda as well as the indiscriminate US bombings in Afghanistan.
The US administration should pay heed to the growing domestic and international concerns about the indiscriminate US bombings in Afghanistan, not only from the humanitarian considerations of the maiming and killing of innocent Afghan civilians and the looming winter catastrophe but also from the hard-headed argument that the continued current bombing campaign or even the deployment of American ground forces in Afghanistan is not the way to achieve the declared objectives of ending international terrorism by bringing Osama bin Laden to justice, closing down the al Qaeda network and toppling the Taliban regime.
As one recent writer has argued: “Americans must face a hard reality: massive military force is not a winning weapon against these enemies. It makes the problem worse. In contrast, strategy that emphasizes clever diplomacy, intelligence-gathering and carefully selected military strikes might produce success eventually if we pursue it with patience and tenacity.”
The recommended best available strategy for the US - use the month of Ramadan as an excuse to halt the bombing campaign and pursue a different strategy.