On the Beat | By Wong Chun Wai

Placed in a negative light on mere suspicion

The implications are grave because Malaysia cannot afford
to send the wrong signals to the world, in the wake of anger against countries
that are regarded as a haven for terrorists.

Next, an Associated Press reporter quoted Dr Mahathir out of context,
erroneously reporting that the prime minister wanted the US and Britain to
attack Israel. Nowhere did Dr Mahathir state that Israelis were terrorists, as
the article implied.

But that was not the only damage. The New York Times, quoting unnamed
officials, alleged that Osama had been bolstering Islamic insurgency in
Indonesia, the Philippines and Malaysia.

The report said that terrorists tied to Osama's network and based in these
three countries were among the likely targets of future covert and overt
American actions.

Another unnamed official said the Pentagon was developing a list of potential
targets beyond Afghanistan where Osama associates live. The three countries
were, again, among several countries named.

Although the US Embassy issued swift clarifications, denying these
non-attributed news reports, Malaysia is understandably peeved.

As a moderate country, which is strongly against any form of terrorism, such
stories will wrongly put us in a negative light in the eyes of the world.

New Zealand, for example, has reportedly advised its nationals not to travel to
countries like Malaysia and Indonesia.

Who would want to travel to Indonesia, for example, with CNN showing daily
street demonstrations and Muslims signing up for jihad (holy war) in

It's a case of the Indonesians shooting themselves in the foot. They cannot
afford such negative publicity. Why should western tourists spend their money
in Indonesia if their lives are at stake?

Some Malaysians, though, have seemingly joined the battle cry. The declaration
by PAS that its members were on the way to fight in Afghanistan may help the
Islamist party score points but will eventually add to the gloom.

Tourists and investors will be turned off by such reports. The ordinary trader
and businessman in Kelantan and Terengganu will be affected by the actions of
PAS members who burned the American flag at its party headquarters on Wednesday

Malaysia is already feeling the pinch of an economic slowdown in the aftermath
of the Sept 11 attacks in New York and Washington.

The stand of the Malaysian Government is clear – the attacks by the US against
the Taliban will not solve the terrorism problem. Innocent Afghans, who play no
part in the politics, should not have to die.

Until now, as the US continues to shell Afghanistan, Osama and the Taliban
leaders are still alive but the Afghan people are suffering and fleeing from

On the local front, Malaysia has come down hard on extremists, including those
from the KMM who have vowed to topple a democratically-elected government and
set up an Islamic state by force.

The KMM leaders, many of whom are PAS members and supporters, were reportedly
trained in Afghanistan. They have been placed under the Internal Security Act
while action is being taken against the remnants.

The US media, which has criticised the Malaysian Government over the arrests –
claiming they were politically motivated – now appears to be taking a

Western diplomats, who used to be critical of Dr Mahathir and had secretly
flirted with PAS, now see the Malaysian Government in a positive light because
Barisan Nasional has proven to be rational and moderate.

Sections of the Western press have begun to take a more balanced view towards
Malaysia, acknowledging that there is a price to pay for stability and

On Sept 18, the AFP headlined a news item ''Malaysia offers alternative view of
terror attacks'' which reported that Malaysia was baffling Westerners to
examine what it calls a ''model Islamic state.''

''That is how Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad describes his country, and many
in the multi-cultural and multi-religious society agree enough to have voted
him back into power for the past 20 years.''

It went on to report that ''the stereotypical view of Islam as a dour and
repressive religion which breeds hatred for infidels or unbelievers would not
survive the length of time it takes to drink a cup of coffee.''

It is perhaps timely for Malaysia to invite journalists from major western
countries to see for themselves what a modern Islamic nation, with its unique
pluralism, can offer.