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M. Bakri Musa

Seeing Malaysia My Way

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Location: Morgan Hill, California, United States

Malaysian-born Bakri Musa writes frequently on issues affecting his native land. His essays have appeared in the Far Eastern Economic Review, Asiaweek, International Herald Tribune, Education Quarterly, SIngapore's Straits Times, and The New Straits Times. His commentary has aired on National Public Radio's Marketplace. His regular column Seeing It My Way appears in Malaysiakini. Bakri is also a regular contributor to th eSun (Malaysia). He has previously written "The Malay Dilemma Revisited: Race Dynamics in Modern Malaysia" as well as "Malaysia in the Era of Globalization," "An Education System Worthy of Malaysia," "Seeing Malaysia My Way," and "With Love, From Malaysia." Bakri's day job (and frequently night time too!) is as a surgeon in private practice in Silicon Valley, California. He and his wife Karen live on a ranch in Morgan Hill. This website is updated twice a week on Sundays and Wednesdays at 5 PM California time.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

On Fighting Terrorists and Creating Enemies

On Fighting Terrorists And Creating Enemies


Former Prime Minister Mahathir once made this wise observation of China: One sure way to make that great nation your enemy is to treat it as a potential one. America nearly succeeded in doing so, until President Nixon wisely reversed the course in a historic visit to Beijing in 1972.

Today, the two powerful nations have become major trading partners, and with that the world is made infinitely much safer. Further, Americans now get to enjoy their cheap laptops instead of senselessly spouting Cold War rhetoric, while the Chinese are no longer starving and are spared endlessly chanting the “Thoughts of Chairman Mao.”
Mahathir’s other reflection was that in fighting terrorists, first create no new ones. Malaysia successfully defeated its communist insurgency, and did so at the time when the Americans were fighting the communists in Vietnam. Those pajama-clad illiterate peasants ultimately succeeded in humbling the world’s mightiest military power. The sight of the last American helicopters scurrying from the rooftop of its embassy in Saigon was not pretty.

Meanwhile, the communists in Malaysia were not so much defeated as was totally ignored by the populace. Their aging and emaciated leaders were forced to retreat deep into the fetid jungles of South Thailand. In a magnanimous gesture, the Malaysian government under Mahathir signed a “peace” treaty in 1989. It was nothing but a surrender document dressed as a peace treaty, to “save face,” an all-important Asian cultural attribute. Chin Peng, ex thug and murderer but now an arthritic and scrawny old man, signed on behalf of the Communist Party, while Malaysia was represented by a junior Foreign Office functionary.


The Islamic World As A Potential Ally

In its fight against Islamic terrorists, the West, America in particular, risks making the Muslim world its enemy by treating it as a potential one. The West does this less with words and more with deeds. The Muslim street can readily understand – and dismiss – the silly utterances of a Pat Robertson or Billy Graham. It is Western deeds that ring loud and clear.

The imbroglio over Dubai World Ports’ takeover of American ports is instructive. The concern about security is specious as it remains with the Coast Guard and other governmental agencies. The anxiety over foreigners taking control is equally misplaced, as those ports are already run by British P&O.

Perhaps the British, being America’s allies, soften the foreignness. Or, like others, Americans are still tied to the bonds of tribalism (in this case Anglos Saxon), unwilling to trust others who do not share the same heritage.

That controversy sent the not-so-subtle message that those Arabs in the towering executive suites in Dubai are no different from Osama and his ilk in the caves of Kabul.

Dubai WP would not have become one of the largest if it had been inefficient and lax with security. President Bush is rightly “concerned about a broader message this issue could send to our friends and allies around the world, particularly in the Middle East.”

Dubai and the surrounding region already host a number of American schools and universities. Those teachers and professors project American values and ideals far more effectively than the military could, and at a considerably lower price tag. Ultimately, that would enhance America’s security and safety in a much more enduring manner.

United Emirate Airlines, widely acknowledged as the best, is Boeing’s leading customer. Seasoned flyers would not have chosen that carrier if they had qualms over security or safety. The crowd of Western tourists and investors in the area attest to the reality you can indeed separate the Osamas from the rest of the Arabs.

As for fighting terrorists in Iraq and elsewhere, America should pause and ponder whether it is creating new ones faster than it can kill them. That is a lesson America should have learned in Vietnam.

The images of death and destruction, as well as the Abu Ghraib prison scandal and the Haditha massacre, evoke powerful emotions in America; imagine the reactions of the families, friends and fellow tribesmen in Iraq and elsewhere in the Arab world.

Condemning and dehumanizing suicide bombers may rationalize events for us; after all they defy reasons. We might appreciate the human dynamics better if we do not refer to them as such but as vengeful killers. Suicide is not a universal sentiment, thus difficult to comprehend; vengeance is. This does not lessen their lethality, brutality or futility, but it may increase our understanding of their motivation. We would then be in a better position to counter it.


Lessons From Malaysia

Major General Mahmud Sulaiman, the man who led the final successful push against the communists in Malaysia, likened the effort to eradicating rodents. You could trap, poison, and burn those critters, but they breed faster than they could be destroyed. Worse, those brutal methods could later haunt you; the poison may kill your pets, and retrieving rotting rats from hidden crevices could be tricky. Clean up the trash, and you deprive the rodents of their food and breeding ground.

Major General Mahmud made sure that the rubbish was cleared first; he did not wish his troops to be senselessly killed in unnecessary ambushes and skirmishes with those desperate ragtag armed bandits. He also intuitively knew that for every innocent victim killed or maimed by his troops, he would have converted the victim’s entire family, friends, and village into adversaries of the state, making his job that much tougher.

The General wisely recognized that once a terrorist is not always a terrorist, or that the only good terrorist is a dead one. On the contrary, he saw immense propaganda value in co-opting repentant communists who now led peaceful and productive lives in the psychological and tactical fights against their former comrades.

America has created heaps of rubbish (literal and figurative) in Iraq. American soldiers have difficulties differentiating foes from friends. For every mistaken enemy destroyed, America creates many new ones.

American generals would do well to learn the lessons of General Mahmud Sulaiman. American leaders would do well to heed Mahathir’s insight. The first step to winning in Iraq is not to create new enemies; the next step is not to treat the Iraqis as potential enemies.

In its larger battle against Islamic terrorists, it is wise for the West not to treat the greater Muslim world as its potential enemy. The Muslim world would also do well to remember that those Islamic terrorists are, first and foremost, terrorists. As such they are the enemy of all peace loving people, Muslims and non-Muslims. In its fight against Islamic terrorists, the Muslim world is a potential potent ally of the West.

1 Comments:

Anonymous an-nasr said...

Dear Dr. Bakri,

If I’m not mistaken, this point was pointed out by the Representative from Texas:

“Mr. Bush, the then Governor of Texas, heavily criticized President Clinton for his lack of plan regarding troops occupation in Kosovo. Judging from his action at that time, everyone is confident that Mr. Bush would be a better president should he really be. But now, what happened? President Bush, who criticized others for lack of plan, is now lacked in plan himself. Only he knows best when will be the most suitable time for the troop’s withdrawal from Iraq. Maybe he forgot to consider millions of dollars spent daily on that”.

Mr. McNamara, former Secretary of Defense, must be really disappointed to witness the inability of current American top-leaders to learn a piece of lesson from the Vietnam War. Furthermore, he knew the final consequence from the actions taken by America for the history keeps repeating itself…

6:11 PM  

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