Dominos in Southeast Asia; This Time, It's a Question of minds.(OPED)

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), June 27, 2002 | Go to article overview

Dominos in Southeast Asia; This Time, It's a Question of minds.(OPED)


Byline: Ximena Ortiz, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

BANGKOK, Thailand. - Just when you'd relegated firebrand ideology in Southeast Asia to the secure corridors of history's libraries, a belief system of domino-toppling potential is sweeping the waterways, jungles and cities of Southeast Asia. More than two decades after the end of the Vietnam War, a familiar question has once again become lamentably pertinent: Are we losing Southeast Asia?

Although the media has focused on the Middle East as the source of virulent anti-Americanism coupled, according to the militants, to the Muslim faith, it is becoming increasingly clear that this sentiment is gaining pace in Southeast Asia. In fact, this region has been identified as the likely area for al Qaeda's relocation and the second front of the war on terror.

Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, while in Singapore for an Asian security conference, warned recently of a "gathering storm" of terrorism. Some high-profile arrests that governments in the area have made in the wake of September 11 testify to the proliferation of terrorist cells in the area. Malaysia has arrested 62 people it says were plotting terrorist attacks. In December, authorities in Singapore arrested 13 militants believed to have links to al Qaeda. One of their cells had already obtained four tons of ammonium nitrate to use as an explosive. Intelligence officials in Malaysia believe that the men had links to a terrorist known as Hambali, who is believed to have arranged refuge for Zacarias Moussaoui when he visited Malaysia.

In January, authorities in the Philippines seized on intelligence from Singapore to arrest an Indonesian munitions expert believed to have been trained by al Qaeda just hours before he was scheduled to fly to Thailand. As a result of the arrest, the police in the Philippines uncovered explosives, detonators and other bomb-making equipment which, according to the Philippines police chief, Leandro Mendoza, "were [powerful] enough to level a block of houses." In March, Agus Dwi Karna, an Indonesian suspected of being a member of a group linked to al Qaeda, was arrested at Manila's international airport for possessing components for explosive devices. He was deported along with two Britons, a Japanese and a second Indonesian.

Widespread adherence to Muslim militancy in Southeast Asia is rudely surprising because it is a very new phenomenon. After all, this militancy, coupled with anti-U.S. fervor, has only recently spread even in the Middle East. A few short decades ago, Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, Iraq, Egypt, Jordan and many other states were cosmopolitan, open societies. Even the Muslim fundamentalists that prevailed in the states of Kuwait and Saudi Arabia were far from virulently anti-American.

And for all the talk of Islamic extremism being medieval, Muslims were models of tolerance compared to their Crusading Christian contemporaries at that historic juncture. Islam, which emerged after Judaism and Christianity, quite specifically instructs Muslims to respect the beliefs of Christians and Jews, since they are people of the book and therefore guided by a definitive moral code. Jesus is one of Islam's holiest prophets, as is Moses.

In the past few decades, Islamic fundamentalism and anti-American sentiment has obviously intensified in the Middle East. …

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