Call for a national coalition against terrorism based on a national consensus  to strengthen democracy and human rights  in Malaysia as an example to the world to remove causes of terrorism

-  at “Roundtable on the Roots of Rage, the Causes of Terrorism” at the Conference on Terrorism organised by Institute of Strategic and International Studies (ISIS)
Lim Kit Siang

(Kuala Lumpur, Saturday): Let me approach the topic by referring to the keynote address by the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamad yesterday, where he said that the best solution to the global problem of terrorism is to remove the causes of terrorism and his agreement   during  the dialogue that one cause of terrorism could be a sense of injustice felt by the people against oppresive regimes of their countries. In another response, he said there is no reason for terrorist movements and militant groups in Malaysia to resort to violence just because they cannot convince people to support them through elections.

Terrorists are not born, they are made. There is no terrorist gene. I agree with the Prime Minister that the root causes of terrorism must be tackled and this is why even if Osama bin Laden is captured or killed, it will not end the problem of international terrorism unless its root causes, in particular political repression and economic injustices as best  illustrated by the 50-year Palestinian-Israeli conflict, are resolved.

The Prime Minister had expressed the hope that this national conference on terrorism could pave the way to an ASEAN conference on terrorism and, which in turn, could contribute to an international conference on terrorism.

There is now an international coalition against terrorism led by the United States after the September 11 terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, although it is uncertain whether this international coalition can hold or whether it would crumble as it is not built on the sound basis of an international consensus on the root causes of global terrorism.

There is no international agreement on the definition of “terrorism” or the “terrorist groups”.  Just as food for one could be poison for another, “terrorist” for one could be “freedom fighter” for another.

Malaysia appears to be in  this international coalition, although not only Malaysian Muslim males aged  between 16 and 45, but also Malaysian non-Muslim males (probably the only country in the world) are now subject to new US visa restrictions imposed on 26 Muslim nations.

There cannot be a durable international coalition against terrorism unless it is built on two pillars: firstly, an international consensus on the root causes of global terrorism and secondly, national consensus against terrorism in the respective countries.

I had hoped that there would be  initiatives to develop such a national consensus embracing all political parties, whether in government or opposition, religious groups, NGOs and a full cross-section of the civil society.  I am not sure this  ISIS conference is a step in this direction, not only because it does not seem to represent a full cross-section of the Malaysian society but the omission of the important subject of the impact of the September 11 terrorist attacks on  democracy and human rights in Malaysia.

This omission is particularly conspicuous in the light of the recent controversy involving Suhakam as to whether democracy and human rights should take a backseat after the September 11 events.

Many govenrments in the world especially the United States and United Kingdom have made use of the September 11 events to clamp down on democracy and human rights purportedly in the interests of national security,  and similar voices have been raised in the country.

But why should national security on the one hand and democracy and human rights on the other be placed in an adversarial context, as if it is a zero sum game where one can only be advanced at the expense of the other?

Couldn’t national security be strengthened by greater respect for democratic freedoms and human rights?

In fact, I would argue that Suhakam, established by Parliament to “protect and promote” human rights,  has the statutory responsibility to make a special effort to convince the government that the lessons to be drawn in the aftermath of
September 11 is that there should be more regard  for democracy and human rights to remove the conditions which spawn all forms of extremism and terrorism - instead of tinkering with any notion of putting democracy and human rights in the backseat.

The demand for greater freedom of expression, press, information, assembly and association is not a demand for absolute or unlimited liberties, licence or lawlessness but to create the basis for a stronger, healthier and more viable nation and society.

The recommendations which Suhakam have made will not bring down the nation but will remove the conditions where extremism and even terrorism might breed.

In dealing with the national component of the war  against terrorism, there must be a national consensus to address the legitimate grievances, disaffections and alienation felt by the people.

The Prime Minister yesterday asked how could there be justification for terrorism  in Malaysia where everyone can participate in politics and be elected if there is support from the  majority of the people. But is the government prepared to address the grievances and disaffections about the blemishes in the electoral and political process which detract from the legitimacy of the election results?

Although so much has been said about the KMM (Kumpulan Militant Malaysia), the fact is the government has not produced any evidence to convince Malaysians that KMM really exists!

Recently, the Prime Minister announced that Malaysia had always been an Islamic state, which constitutes a tectonic shift in nation-building, jettisoning a fundamental constitutional principle and nation-building cornerstone for 44 years that Malaysia is a secular state with Islamc as the official religion.

Is the government prepared to listen to the objections to such a declaration which goes against the constitutional, political and legal history of the past four decades, starting from the Reid Constitution Commission Report 1957, the Government White Paper on the Constitutional Proposals, the Federal Constitution 1957 and the declaration by the first Prime Minister, Tunku Abdul Rahman in Parliament in 1958 that Malaysia is not an Islamic state. In fact, the Tunku once remarked in 1959 that the attainment of an Islamic state would require the drowning of every non-Malay in the country!

Does the government understand why this is regarded as a tectonic shift in nation-building - that  once the non-Muslim Malaysians agree to jettisoning of the 44-year fundamental constitutional principle that Malaysia is a secular state with Islamic as the official religion, they would be disenfranching themselves as non-Muslim Malaysians can have no say, input or participation in determining what type of an Islamic state Malaysia should become.

It is important not to neglect the  national component in creating a consensus against terrorism among Malaysians so that Malaysian leaders can speak with legitimacy and authority on the international component of the war against terrorism.

Malaysia  must avoid the double-standard of  speaking  the language of democracy and human rights in the international discourse on terrorism but using the language of political repression and economic injustices at home.


*Lim Kit Siang - DAP National Chairman