On the Beat | By Wong Chun Wai

Malaysia a victim of ignorance

The decision will affect mostly students, businessmen and
transit visitors as Canada
is not known to be an attractive tourist destination for Malaysians.

In trying to downplay the issue, Canadian High
Commissioner Jean McCloskey has explained that the move did not just affect Malaysia
but also Zimbabwe,
Hungary, South
Africa and several other countries.

Still, the timing of the decision is certainly
regrettable. Admittedly, it is the prerogative of the Canadian government to
review the situation but Malaysians cannot be blamed if they feel that the
decision is yet another example of stereotyping based on religion and culture.

The other blow was Malaysia's
dropping out from the list of FDI from its previous 22nd position. The FDI
Confidence Index reportedly said that uncertainty about the leadership
transition, fears of terrorism and the complex relationship between politics
and business had affected the country's attractiveness.

This is despite Malaysia
making progress in banking reform, corporate governance, improving its
infrastructure and having an estimated 4% gross domestic product growth rate
this year, the report acknowledged.

The only consolation is that Asean countries including Singapore
also experienced declines in investor attractiveness with the island republic
falling from 13 th to 22nd position in the index. It also moved out of the top
25 list of most attractive markets for American investors.

Political reasons aside, Asean countries are finding it
tough to compete against China
with multinational corporations shifting base to China.

is not just offering lower production costs but also market opportunities, a
more competitive position and even skilled workers in information technology
and engineering. Language used to be a minus point but the Chinese are learning
English fast.

All this means that Malaysia
has to work harder to get back our businesses. It starts with our image and the
perception of foreigners towards Malaysia.

No amount of investment promotion trips will help us if
the world thinks that Malaysia
is a haven for terrorists. We do not want the world to assume that it's a place
for terrorists to meet or wannabe Osama bin Ladens to carry out training.

Our security forces must be commended for acting tough
against extremist groups and they deserve to be supported by all Malaysians.

But politicians like Datuk Nik Aziz Nik Mat and Datuk
Seri Hadi Awang are not helping us with their statements. Recently, Hadi's
statement on banning swimsuits on Terengganu beaches earned us a full page in
Time magazine.

Such controversial statements are giving the impression
that Malaysia
is slowly turning into another Afghanistan
and when Westerners see these magazines carrying pictures of these PAS leaders
with their goatees and turbans, they will think we are situated next to Kabul.

In the latest edition of Time, which carried a special
report on terrorism, Malaysia
was mentioned no less than five times in the report, which claimed that "the US
believed that Southeast Asia had the world's highest
concentration of al-Qaeda operatives outside Afghanistan
and Pakistan."

Such post-Sept 11 hysteria is part of the political
scenario that Malaysia
and other Muslim countries have to cope with. The US
will not consider that long before the attacks on the World Trade Centre in New
York, the Malaysian authorities had acted against
Islamic extremists who had links with Afghans.

The Kumpulan Militan Malaysia,
which included grassroots PAS leaders, had arms training and when they were
arrested under the Internal Security Act, there were protests from many,
including groups in the US.
It was the same with the Al-Ma'unah group which killed some policemen in their
arms heist.

These militants never had much chance to stay long
because of the alert surveillance. What the US
security agencies and media are not admitting is that the terrorists, including
those who crashed into the WTC, had their training on US

Many of the terrorists who have been detained since then
included US-born Arabs. By the same logic, can't we now argue that the US
is a training haven for terrorists? In fact, London
has continued to be the headquarters of many groups, including the Tamil

Tightening entry regulations into the US
and some Western countries may strengthen security but only a short-term
respite, if not a false sense of security, to these countries.

The root cause is the US
policy in West Asia, particularly the Palestinian-Israeli
conflict, and unless the US
adopts a fair and workable solution there, no amount of regulations will stop
Islamic militants from making the US
a target.

And Malaysia,
which is thousands of miles away from the US
and West Asia, has found itself a victim of ignorance.
But then, the Americans have always been lousy in geography. Never mind if
President George W. Bush has an MBA from Harvard.