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Dr. Mahathir's shameless betrayal of the Palestinian cause

By Dr. S. Husin Ali

The Special Session of Islamic Conference of Foreign Ministers on Terrorism
held in K.L. (April 1-3), recently ended in a total failure with no
agreement on the definition of terror.

The failure of the Conference to achieve its primary goal of defining
terrorism was a major foreign policy debacle for the B.N. government which
had initiated the Session.

Paradoxically, while it was a foreign policy failure, it proved a success
for Dr. Mahathir in his aim of using the Conference as a launching pad for
his goal to secure a full reapproachment with the U.S. In fact, the
Conference failed precisely because it was subordinated to Dr. Mahathir's
ulterior aim.

Dr. Mahathir's motives in this regard became clear when he set out his
definition of terrorism in his keynote address. "I would like to suggest
here", he intoned, "that armed attacks or other forms of attack against
civilians must be regarded as acts of terror."

Elaborating on this, he went on to declare that:

"According to this definition of terrorism, the attack on the World Trade
Centre on September 11, the human bomb attacks by Palestinians and the Tamil
Tigers, the attacks against civilians by Israeli forces, the killings of
Bosnian Muslims and others must be considered as acts of terror and the
perpetrators must be condemned as terrorists."

Such a definition of terror which equates the resistance of the Palestinians
with Israeli state terror and places both on the same more plane is clearly
flawed. While violence against civilians is both deplorable and repugnant,
the fact remains that such terror has been used by the oppressed peoples
when their countries have been occupied by colonial powers. The Irish used
such violence against the British colonialists as did the Algerian against
the French colons. In this sense, terror has always been the poor man's
weapon when faced with imperial might and technological superiority. In the
case of the Palestinians, the oppression and the ruthless occupation of
their homeland by Israel with its overwhelming military superiority has
pushed them to take this course.

Likewise, the equation of the Palestinian suicide bombers with those who
carried out the September 11 attack is a travesty of the struggle of the
Palestinians. It was left to the Iranian Foreign Ministers to point out
that, unlike the September 11 terrorists, the Palestinians were merely
resisting, albeit by terror, the occupation of their homeland by Israeli

It is a measure of Dr. Mahathir's complete detachment from the real world
that he obviously believed that he could persuade the Conference to adopt
this definition of terror. However, with the atmosphere so highly charged as
a result of blatant Israeli aggression and with the Arab and Muslim world
seething with anger, no nation at the Conference (with the possible
exception of Bosnia-Herzegovina) was prepared to endorse this definition.
Even the so-called "moderate" Gulf states dared not associate themselves
with this attempt to brand Palestinian suicide bombers as terrorists at a
time when the latter were perceived by the Arab masses as the only answer to
Israeli State terror.

Many of the interventions that followed Dr. Mahathir's speech were clearly
an oblique criticism of his definition. During the closed door sessions, the
criticism of his definition was "heated and angry" - a fact that even Munir
Majid, a strong apologist for Dr. Mahathir was forced to admit. The
rejection of the definition was total. As one Arab delegate put it "There
have been some attempts to single out resistance groups like Hamas and
Islamic Jihad for committing suicide bombers against civilians as acts of
terror. But those attempts were quickly rejected.”

In fact, the final declaration issued at the end of the Conference contains
a paragraph to this effect which is a clear rebuke to the attempts of Dr.
Mahathir to characterize the Palestinian suicide bombers as "terrorists".
The paragraph categorically states that "We reject any attempt to link
terrorism to the struggle of the Palestinian people to the exercise of their
inalienable right to establish their independent state with Al-Quds Shrif
(Jerusalem) as its capital." For Dr. Mahathir, this must have been a bitter
pill to swallow.

Finding himself completely isolated, Dr. Mahathir and his colleagues
attempted to put a new spin of his keynote speech. Embarrassed by foreign
press reports that he had condemned Palestinian suicide bombers as
terrorists, Mahathir claimed during a meeting with Palestinian officials
that his remarks had been taken out of context. His loyal foreign minister,
Syed Hamid Albar echoed this claim pointing out in his speech the Prime
Minister had made a distinction between freedom fighters and terrorists.

It is of course, true that in his keynote speech, Dr. Mahathir cited
examples of freedom fighters like Jomo Kenyata, Robert Mugabe, Nelson
Mandela and Sam Nujumo who had previously been accused of being terrorists
to make his point for the need for such a distinction. However, in the same
speech, he explicitly stated that Palestinian suicide bombers were
terrorists, the clear implication being that they were not therefore freedom
fighters. The record speaks for itself and no amount of spindoctoring can
change the facts.

With the collapse of the Conference as a result of the failure to arrive at
a common definition, Wisma Putra tried to put a further spin on the
Conference outcome. It was claimed that there was never any intention to
come to an agreed definition at the Conference itself. Dr. Mahathir's
proposed definition was according to the new spin, only meant to be a basis
for discussion! Such attempts to cover up a failure  are so pathetic that
they hardly warrant a response.

Although he was completely isolated at the Islamic Conference, Dr. Mahathir
was lavishly praised by the Western media for his condemnation of
Palestinian suicide bombers as "terrorists." Thomas Friedman, a staunch
Zionist and Right Wing columnist in the New York Times praised Dr. Mahathir
for "courageously" denouncing Palestinian suicide bombers.

More importantly, the real significance of the speech was not lost in the
corridors of power in the West to which it was in fact directed. As one
Western diplomat told Reuters News Agency: "I do think he is trying to
position himself with the West as a moderate voice."

On April 3, when news emerged in the press that President Bush had invited
Dr. Mahathir for a visit to Washington from May 12-14, it became clear why
Dr. Mahathir was trying so hard to "position himself with the West as a
moderate voice." It was now evident that the whole orientation of the
Conference and the tenor of his speech was shaped by his desire to project
himself as a “moderate” Muslim in anticipation of his Washington visit.

In a word, Dr. Mahathir had subordinated the outcome of the Islamic Foreign
Ministers Conference to his overriding goal of image building in preparation
for his Washington visit.

By positioning himself as a “moderate Muslim” prepared to stand by the West
in its fight against terrorism and radical Islam, Dr. Mahathir obviously
hopes to effect a full reproachment with the US. By so doing, he intends to
eliminate any traces of concern in the U.S. over his human rights record and
his repression of the Opposition. Above all, he is intent on eliminating any
lingering concern there may be in Washington over the case of Anwar Ibrahim.

Given the fact that the extreme Right is in the ascendancy in Washington and
that it has managed to whip up the issue of terrorism to paranoid
proportion, Dr. Mahathir should have little difficulty in realizing his
goal. But his shameless betrayal of the Palestinian people in their most
desperate hour to achieve these aims will live in infamy.