Last Friday, the US State Department placed visa restrictions on Muslim men from Malaysia and 25 other countries, under its latest move to tighten immigration policies in the wake of the September 11 terrorist attacks.
Under the new US visa rules, male Muslim Malaysians aged
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 FBI 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 new discriminatory US visa rules, which undermine the
repeated US assurance that it is not conducting a war between the West
and Islam in its
response to the September 11 terrorist attacks, elicited immediate criticism and protest not only from the DAP, but also the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamand, who expressed regret that Washington continued to focus attention on Muslims and the Islamic countries in its anti-terrorism fight.
Deputy Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Abdullah Badawi said the move “smacks of discrimination in all its aspects”.
Foreign Minister, Datuk Seri Syed Hamid Albar expressed shock and took exception to the new US visa restrictions to Malaysian Muslim men and that of 25 other Muslim countries, saying this would only reinforce the perception that the US was singling out Muslims in its war against terrorism.
Defence Minister, Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak was incensed at the “baseless” US visa restrictions for Muslim men from Malaysia. He declared that the move should not have been made against Malaysia, which had "continuously campaigned against terrorism acts by various groups" and wanted to know the “basis for the US to drag Malaysia into the issue of fighting terrorism."
But suddenly, there was total silence from Ministers on the issue - all because of the success of the US Embassy’s damage-control operation.
On Monday, US Ambassador Marie Huhtala told Wisma Putra that the embassy had not received any instructions from the US State Department on the new visa restrictions for Malaysian Muslim men.
On Tuesday, the US embassy confirmed that Malaysian men aged between 16 and 45, and not Muslim men only, are subject to the tighter entry requirements - that the new US visa rules is applicable to this age group irrespective of their race, religion and culture.
It is most inexplicable and unacceptable that the objections of UMNO Ministers to the imposition of new US visa restrictions to Malaysia disappeared altogether when the US embassy clarified that they applied not only to all Muslim men but to all non-Muslim Malaysian men as well.
It is unthinkable how such an explanation could make the imposition of the new US visa restrictions to Malaysian Muslim men acceptable, when it should be regarded as an injustice compounded - by roping in non-Muslim Malaysian males as well! This must be one of those rare cases where an injustice is “resolved” by the aggravation of the injustice!
The biggest objection to the extension of the new US visa restrictions to Malaysia is the unmistakable implication that the country is now on the US State Department black-list of “terrorist states”, when Malaysia should never be placed on the list.
Or must Malaysians thank the Prime Minister for his declaration that Malaysia is an Islamic state for the reason why Malaysia has appeared on the US State Department radar and blacklist of “terrorist states”?
Be that as it may, Hamid and the Foreign Ministry should not only vigorously protest but demand that Malaysia should be taken out of the US State Department “black list”.
The imposition of the new US visa rules for Middle East countries
is understandable, as Americans argued that all the 19 suicide
hijacker-terrorists of the September 11 carnage were from the Middle
East - 15 from Saudi Arabia. Of the 22 still-wanted terrorists on the FBI
list, all are also from the Middle East.
Critics of the laxity of US visa regulations said the roster of visas granted to Middle Easterners is large, more than 250,000 a year, including 60,000 to Saudi Arabia, almost 3,000 to Iraq, 49,000 to Egypt, 14,000 to Syria and a few hundred for Libya, even after Middle Eastern terrorists first bombed the World Trade Center in 1993.
However, what could be the justification for the “profiling” of Malaysians, whether Muslim or non-Muslim males regardless of race, religion or culture?
Hamid Albar should stand up for the honour of the country and the rights of Malaysians, by demanding not only a full, proper and satisfactory explanation from the US government for the most unfair “profiling” of both Malaysian Muslim and non-Muslim males but for the immediate removal of the profiling of Malaysians in the visa regulations.