International Papers

The War’s Second Front

Earlier this week, U.S. officials announced that al-Qaida’s East Asian network is a possible future target of the campaign against global terrorism. According to Britain’s Guardian, Osama Bin Laden’s regional influence is strongest in Indonesia, where so many foreign warriors have gone to join the “holy war” against Christians in the Maluku Islands that an Indonesian Muslim group “opened a special welcome desk for them at the local airport,” and in the Philippines, where several Islamic fundamentalist groups are thought to receive funding and support from Bin Laden.

Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post wondered why middle-class Indonesians who deplored the Sept. 11 attacks were nevertheless uncomfortable with the U.S. response. It concluded: “Indonesia’s political leaders freely admit the country’s people generally care more about 100 dead Palestinians than about the many thousands of their own (Christian) fellow Indonesians killed in communal fighting in the Maluku Islands. Such attitudes are part of a general, cultural identification with other Muslims as underdogs and are easily used by ambitious politicians.” Another SCMP piece examined the situation in the Philippines, where Muslim separatist groups such as Abu Sayyaf (for more about AS, see this “International Papers” column from August 2000) “are known to have exchanged money, personnel, materiel and training with terrorist organisations based in Afghanistan and the Middle East.” An editorial in the Philippine Star urged the Arroyo government to eliminate Abu Sayyaf: “The country’s greatest contribution to the war against terrorism is the neutralization of this extremist group.” Although the U.S. sources also mentioned Malaysia, the Guardian said, “[A]nalysts give very little credence to the claims by the prime minister, Mahathir Mohamad, that Islamist radicals are plotting a terrorist campaign to overthrow him. Most commentators believe Mr Mahathir is exploiting the growing popularity of the fundamentalist opposition group … as an excuse for a crackdown.” An op-ed in the International Herald Tribune by Anwar Ibrahim, the jailed former Malaysian deputy prime minister who claims he was framed by Mahathir to thwart his electoral challenge, said increased democracy was the best hope against terrorism:

Intellectuals and politicians must have the courage to condemn fanaticism in all its forms and reject fanatics who seek change through violent means. But they must, in the same breath, equally condemn tyrants and oppressive regimes that dash every hope of peaceful change.

Proceed with caution: On Wednesday, the Organization of the Islamic Conference held an emergency summit in Doha, Qatar, to discuss the current crisis. The 56 nations of the OIC agreed on a statement that condemned the terrorism of Sept. 11, declaring that it “contradicts the teaching of all religions and human and moral values,” but stopped short of holding al-Qaida responsible. It also warned the United States against attacking states it suspects of harboring and supporting terrorists “without sufficient proof.” The Financial Times said the lukewarm communiqué was “probably the best that the US and its allies could have hoped for in the present circumstances. Some countries such as Iran were arguing for a clear condemnation of the US-led action in Afghanistan.” For the Independent’s Middle East Correspondent Robert Fisk, the gathering was an exercise in denial: “Listening to the speeches … it was possible to believe that Osama bin Laden represented Arabs more faithfully than their tin-pot dictators and kings.” Fisk reported that Osama Bin Laden’s name “did not sully the Qatar conference hall,” thus “allow[ing] everyone to duck this annoying, dangerous, frightening man who is calling for the overthrow of almost every single one of the Islamic delegates.” A commentator in Israel’s Ha’aretz observed:

The Islamic states have been caught up in a complex situation in which they have been forced to condemn the terror attack on the United States, differentiate between “the right kind of Islam and the wrong kind,” define who is a freedom fighter and who is a terrorist, criticize a fellow Islamic state for harboring a terror organization, refrain from condemning another Islamic state (Pakistan) for assisting in the attack, and, primarily, defend the remaining Islamic states against an attack by the West, “without sufficient proof.” This is too full a plate for an organization that … is sorely lacking a leadership that is capable of taking decisions or formulating strategy.

No waiting to exhale: A group of divorced parents has petitioned Israeli authorities to issue two gas mask kits to children whose parents have joint custody. According toHa’aretz, Equal Parenthood said the current policy of one kit per kid turns lives into a game of Russian roulette, since “it is difficult to guess in which of the two homes the children of divorced parents will be at a time of danger.”

Beach balls: Traditionally, the period between mid-September and mid-October is Britain’s conference season, when the political parties gather at seaside venues for their annual meetings. Usually, conferences dominate the news, but this year events overseas overshadowed the gatherings in Bournemouth, Brighton, and Blackpool. This week, the Conservatives met, and as happened with the party’s recent leadership election—originally scheduled for Sept. 12, the ballot result got lost in the news from America—they were overwhelmingly upstaged by world events. The liberal Guardian took great pleasure in comparing the keynote speech by new Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith with Tony Blair’s rousing oratory at Labor’s get-together last week. One commentator declared: “Last week Mr Blair bared his soul in a crusade against world injustice: today there was little of what drives Mr Duncan Smith on view. Save for a few half-hearted personal passages, today’s bland address could have come from any bald Tory in a suit.” Veteran sketch writer Simon Hoggart described a joint appearance by Duncan Smith and his predecessor William Hague: “They looked like two boiled eggs in blue eggcups. Their pates gleamed in unison. I gazed from the balcony in awe. If you’d stuck a few sequins on their heads they’d have looked like Dolly Parton’s cleavage.”