Conference Reports

Conference on Terrorism

Date: 16-Sep-2001

Conference on Terrorism
16-17 November 2001
Dewan Tun Hussein Onn, Level 2

Organized by Institute of Strategic and International Studies (ISIS)

Malaysia made a timely move to examine and discuss the issue of terrorism at the two-day conference on "Terrorism". The conference was attended by both the Prime Minister and his deputy.

Day 1 (Nov 16, 2001)

The subjects discussed included:

  1. Definition of terrorism: What? Who? Why? How?
  2. The incident of Sept 11 and its aftermath:
    a) Global politics and impact on security
    b) Economic impact on the world, region and Malaysia
    c) Islam vs the West
  3. The causes of terrorism (the root of rage)
  4. The US-led response and attack on Afghanistan: What is right and what is wrong
  5. How should the US, the Islamic world, and the rest of the world respond?
  6. How should Malaysia respond?

Prime Minister Datuk Seri Dr Mahathir Mohamad claimed that it was necessary to identify terrorists based on acts than persons in order to clear the confusion and misunderstanding among different people groups or religious groups. The means of violence could either be justified or not jusitified. Some methods of killing were unlawful even in fighting for a noble cause, for instance, suicide bombing. He commented on the recent US' attack on Afghanistan. It appeared to many people as a war against Muslims because there was no precise definition on "terrorism." Terrorists were unrecognizable until they act, he said, therefore it was difficult to wage a conventional war against them. Such war will not wipe out terrorists; instead it will breed more future terrorists as the attack angered many Muslims and non-Muslims alike. Religion has a strong grip on Muslims. The extremists played on the emotion of Muslims to justify their acts. Unfortunately, most Muslims did not understand the Quran well, but blindly listen and follow the ulamas. Islam has been selfishly used by those interested in amassing power. Any Muslim could make a case on his own interpretation to gain power.

Dr Mahathir also believed that the principal cause for Sept 11 was the Palestine-Israel issue in which Israel has repeatedly refused to recognize the Palestine State. Any international strategy to cease the fighting will be impossible because of a lack of understanding of one another. It was important to understand the terrorists' mentality and why they were willing to die for what they believe in. State terrorism shouldn't be ignored. Nevertheless, terrorism cannot be wiped out but could be lessened. The immediate solution is to remove the cause of terrorism. Dr Mahathir hoped that the coming ASEAN discussion on this matter would impact UN.

In response to the PM's address, a UKM professor remarked that terrorism would still exist even if the Palestinian issue was resolved because terrorism was viewed as a resistance movement, just as the resistance movements against Stalinism and Nazism were not perceived as terrorist acts. The root of terrorism might be a result of a false sense of injustice. Muslim regime around the world seemed to involve injustice and corruption, e.g. the Middle East. Another participant believed that there was a hidden US agenda, i.e. the real reason for hunting Osama bin Laden was to wipe out opposition party, so that the US could act freely in Saudi Arabia.

Tan Sri Dr Noordin Sopiee held that "terrorism" is a shortcut to achieving immediate objective and intimidate people. It was the search for the right weapons to lack of success in any prospect???. Intelligence was needed to identify the terrorists in order to penetrate right down to the grassroot.

Razak Baginda stated that such problematic issue was a question of means & ends. Terrorism itself was a means to instill terror and achieve a propaganda; its ends was where the problems lay. For instance, if it was a criminal activity in political nature, i.e. killing innocents in the name of world revolution, one might ask whether its political ends is justifiable? Lack of definition of political ends caused problem. On one hand, terrorism could not be ever justified because the act itself discriminated; on the other hand, its cause might be justifiable.

Bunn Negara claimed that the US could not wage war on terrorism because:

  1. It is a nation state which should have no partiality and little, if any, legitimacy in fighting a universalistic battle against the universal scourge of terrorism
  2. It is a superpower state which is determined by its interest in advancing certain objectives and frustrating others.
  3. It is the sole superpower, therefore any action would be taken as one more step towards a unipolar world with violent implications.
  4. Terrorism is a class of actions that can come from virtually anyone in any direction at any time.
  5. Its special link with Israel and its inability and unwillingness to accept a judicious definition of terrorism, and therefore it is unable to identify terrorists judiciously.
  6. The action taken is "war" which is a bad policy.

Participants trusted that the US as world police must hold to the foot. It must be confined to the international law, and the recent incident should be approached legally through the UN with international law. Some thought that the US attack on Afghanistan was basically not against terrorists but the Taliban government. Others postulated political oppression, economic alienation and wrong teaching on certain ideology were the cause for violent acts. It simply took a leader to disorientate the people and provoke them to action.

Dato' Mohamed Jawhar Hassan said the incidents of Sept 11 & its aftermath definitely had an impact on the American psyche (insecure and vengeful US) but also global political and security. There will be a new cold war ? West vs Islam, the rest vs Islam ? the clash of civilizations. Not only will there be conflicts within the Muslim community itself, the stereotype and negative remarks from the West on Islam aggravated ignorance & religious discrimination. The only way to arrest the trend was close collaboration between the West & Islam with a close look at good cause. Dato' Hassan expressed his disappointment with the UN and said that it was a sorry existence as it acted only for the convenience of the US.

Concurrent Sessions: The West vs Islam
What contributes to the misunderstanding between the West & Islam is the inability to recognize evil, coupled with people who make remarks that condemns other religion. "Not able to recognize evil is the tragedy of human race," said Dr Farish Noor. He said the claim of Jose Djokada of the Philippines that "Islam is a curse to humanity" is ignorant and irrational. In the wake of Sept 11, while most people have taken note of Samuel Huntington's thesis on "the Clash of Civilzations," Noor claimed that civilization by definition cannot clash due to centuries of exchange and dialogue between the East & the West. Islam & the West cross-fertilize and impact each other, therefore, civilization thrived instead of clash. There are no clear boundaries. The claim of "Clash of Civilizations" bypasses the concrete political issue to apply cultural elements in the cause of Sept 11. However, people who accept Huntington's thesis see the present attack on terrorism as war against Islam.

Dr Abu Bakar of IKIM said that Islam & the West are strange bedfellows. He touched on the historical background and the evolvement of Islam and Constitution of Medina. He believed that after the Medina Charter, there should be no further holy war to fight.

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