US visa curb on Malaysian Muslim men both baseless and unfair and can only strengthen international opinion that the US is conducting  a war between the West and Islam in its response to the September 11 terrorist attacks

Media Statement
by Lim Kit Siang

(Petaling Jaya, Sunday): The US State Department’s visa restrictions  on Muslim men from Malaysia are both baseless and unfair and can only strengthen international opinion that the US is conducting  a war between the West and Islam in its response to the September 11 terrorist attacks.

This will be the immediate reaction of thre 1.3 billion Muslim people in the world, as  the visa restrictions from Malaysia and 24 other countries are as indiscriminate and disproporationate as the US airstrikes in Afghanistan which has entered into its second month, heedless of whether innocent parties are the victims.

When the new US visa rules come into effect next week, male Muslim Malaysians aged between 16 and 45 planning to go to the US would have to complete a detailed questionnaire asking if they had any past military service, whether they had any weapons training, besides their previous travel itineraries.  After filling up the questionnaire, they would have to wait 20 days for their visas, while information is studied in Washington by a terrorist task force.

Besides Malaysia, countries affected by the new rules are Afghanistan, Algeria, Bahrain, Djibouti, Egypt, Eritrea, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Malaysia, Morocco, Oman, Pakistan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia, the United Arab Emirates and Yemen.

The US State Department could not have come out with more crude, blunt and insensitive visa restrictions which tantamount to putting all the male Muslim men between the ages of 16 and 45 among the 1.3 billion Muslims in the world on notice that they are  all suspected as potential terorrists until they are declared “cleared” by the terrorist task force in Washington - as if al Qaeda terrorists would volunteer the information as to whether they had any past military services or weapons training in their visa applications.

Malaysia is doubly offended by the US visa curb, not only for being  lumped with  countries like Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, Libya and Syria which the US has openly labelled  as “terrorist states”, but also because the Malaysian government had always prided itself as an oasis  of peace, order and security which is a  completely safe haven  for foreign investments and visitors.

Defence Minister, Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak is incensed at the  “baseless”  US visa restrictions for Muslim men from Malaysia, saying the move should not have been made against Malaysia, which had "continuously campaigned against terrorism acts by various groups".

He said: "We are sad over this decision. I don't see the basis for the US to drag Malaysia into the issue of fighting terrorism."

He added that Malaysia was a peaceful country with law-abiding citizens and had always attracted visits by foreign tourists.

Najib should strongly urge the Cabinet on Wednesday to strongly   protest to the US administration at the visa restrictions and to demand the exclusion of Malaysia from the US immigration “black-list”.

In actual fact, the US authoritities have already tightened visa  restrictions in the wake of the September 11 terrorist attacks, and this is why one PAS Member of Parliament was refused visa approval to attend the conference “Post-Crisis Malaysia: The Political and Economic Aftermath” at the Johns Hopkins University in Washington  on November 8-9, 2001 and another PAS MP had to be substituted instead - although I have been informed that the visa rejection was because of the PAS MP’s previous student activities in the United States rather than because of the direct consequences  of September 11.

Be that as it may, Najib might have protested too much, as it cannot be denied that the Malaysian authorities must bear certain responsibility in dragging Malaysia into the US  visa restrictions, as in the past few months before the September 11 terrorist attacks and  motivated primarily  by political considerations,  the Malaysian government had been speaking and acting as if Malaysia had become a hotbed of Islamic terrorism  with allegations about militant Islamic activities and organisations like the Kumpulan Militant Malaysia.

Yesterday, the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamad was vowing about an “all-out fight” against “militant groups”, led by students who graduated from madrasah (religious school) in Pakistan planning to set up a Daulah Islamiah (Islamic State) after they overthrow the governments of Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines.

Launching the 2001 National Settlers’ Day celebrations at Padang Astaka Bandar Ketengah Jaya in Dungun, Terengganu yesterday, Mahathir said the existence of militant groups prepared to rob, kill, threaten the places of worship of other religions and topple the government through violent means is not to be treated lightly.

DAP full agrees with the Prime Minister that militant groups committed to the violent overthrow of the elected government cannot be taken lightly, but apart from all the propaganda  about them - convincing even foreigners including the US State Department that Malaysia has become a hotbed of Islamist terrorism -  where are the evidence of the existence such groups and activities?

The Malaysian government had been so successful in spreading the image of Malaysia as the centre of militant Islamic terrorism that the country is being avoided not only by foreign investors but also foreign tourists!

This was why early last month, I urged all Malaysians, and in particular the government, to avoid self-inflicted wounds which could only add to the gloom of  the prospects of the Malaysian economy by turning away foreign investors and tourists from the country because of doubts about Malaysia’s stability and security, and I mentioned two instances at the time, viz:

Parliament should take a serious view of the US visa restrictions on Malaysian Muslim men and should send an all-party delegation to protest to the United States Ambassador in applying such  unfair and baseless  visa curb to Malaysia.


*Lim Kit Siang - DAP National Chairman