(Petaling Jaya, Monday): The cabinet on Wednesday should maintain its cool and not go overboard as to ban Rohan Gunaratna’s “Inside Al Qaeda” which will create even greater regional and international interest in the book, more than compensating for the loss of book sales in the country, and sparking suspicion whether Malaysia has something to hide.
The Cabinet should realize that these are not ordinary times for Malaysia and the region as illustrated by the unprecedented indefinite postponement of two major events by the Australian High Commission in Kuala Lumpur, the Study in Australia Education Exhibition from Oct. 25 to 27 and the Film Festival from Oct. 23 to 27, following “information on generic threats in the region in the wake of the Oct. 12 bombings in Bali”.
The Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department, Datuk Dr. Rais Yatim has suggested that the government should take legal action against Gunaratna and according to the press, the Deputy Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi said that any legal action against Gunaratna “for linking the Barisan Nasional to the al Qaeda terrorist group” will have to be decided by the Cabinet.
But the question is whether the Cabinet should be considering any legal against Gunaratna for his book, “Inside Al Qaeda – Global Network of Terror”, including the banning of the book.
Many Cabinet Ministers and Barisan Nasional leaders are baying for the blood of Gunaratna for “linking the Barisan Nasional to the Al-Qaeda terrorist network”, like the Information Minister Tan Sri Khalil Yaakob, who should have been the most informed of all Cabinet Ministers and Barisan Nasional leaders by virtue of his sensitive information portfolio.
But they are all mistaken and barking up the wrong tree, for as Gunaratna has rightly pointed out in Sunday Star, “Nowhere in my book have I linked al-Qaeda to Barisan Nasional”. Even if Gunaratna’s book had linked Barisan Nasional to al-Qaeda, it is for Barisan Nasional as a political coalition and not for the Cabinet and Government to take legal action against Gunaratna – as it is important to keep clear and separate the distinction between government and party, which are completely different entities.
As Bernama pointed out on Friday, the offending part to Barisan Nasional in Gunaratna’s book is the paragraph in page 197 which said:
"MILF nurtures and maintains links with several individual members of political parties in Malaysia. With the exception of military cooperation with JI and KMM, MILF's links are ideological and political e.g. with the Movement of the Islamic Unity (APU); Islamic Youth Movement of Malaysia (ABIM); Islamic Front of Malaysia (IFM); Front Malaysian Islamic Council (FMIC); Kongres Indian Muslim Malaysia (KIMM); Malaysian Islamic Youth Movement (MIYM), Barisan Nasional (BN), and PAS (Parti Islam Se Malaysia)."
Gunaratna explained in the Sunday Star that the links he meant were between individuals within the organizations and not a party-to-party form of communications or collaboration.
I do not know Gunaratna and I do not defend him, but if the Barisan Nasional finds this paragraph “defamatory”, then it is for the Barisan Nasional and not the Cabinet and Government to take action to seek legal redress.
Furthermore, Gunaratna’s “Inside Al-Qaeda” has been in the market for more than four months, and if the book is prejudicial to national reputation and security, why has the government been oblivious to its sale and circulation all this while? It cannot be that no one in the top echelons of government, in particular those dealing with national security, had read the book until the controversy over the United Nations Security Council report a few days ago? Is this another major slip-up in the efficiency, effectiveness and professionalism of the custodians of national security in the country?
Gunaratna has said he does not know how his book has become the source of the chart in the United Nations Security Council Second Report of the Monitoring Group Established Pursuant to Security Council Resolution 1363 (2002) and Extended by Resolution 1390 (2002), as he had not seen a copy of it.
The Government is right in demanding an explanation and expungement of the chart in the UN Security Council Report for any false imputation that Malaysia is a sponsor or supporter of the Al-Qaeda terrorist network but it should always be mindful that it must act in an open and transparent manner so as not to make things worse.
The government should not continue to resort to ham-fisted actions as in the past suppressing books and publications but should act smart in the era of information technology and globalisation, fully aware that it should not create a situation which would be counter-productive for the country by arousing intense regional and international interest in the book and sparking suspicion whether Malaysia has something to hide by the ban of the book at a time when Al-Qaeda is undoubtedly the major preoccupation of everyone with connections to this part of the world – resulting in even greater regional and international sales and attention to Gunaratna’s book.
*Lim Kit Siang - DAP National Chairman