Magazine article Newsweek International

Political Freedom's Price

Magazine article Newsweek International

Political Freedom's Price

Article excerpt

Southeast Asia, we have been told, is the second front in the United States' "war on terror." During the past month, with bombings in Bali and the Philippines, it's certainly felt like it. As the campaign against terror enters its second year, governments all over the world have mobilized incredible resources to combat what they see as the growing menace of religious extremism and terrorism. At each step along the way, Washington reminds us this war must be a global, not unilateral, effort. But while terror networks and militant organizations have sprouted in many far-flung locations, those of us, especially in the human-rights and NGO community, who live in these new war zones are understandably worried about how the battle is being waged. Indeed, there are more than enough signs to suggest this campaign is going off the rails.

Lest it be forgotten, Asia is already one of the most regulated and restrictive political environments in the world. The region is a virtual patchwork of repressive rules and restrictions--variously dubbed national-security laws, antisubversive laws or internal-security acts--which give leaders wide powers to tighten the screws in the service of "stability and order." Now, with the backing of Western governments and international bodies, these regimes say they require even more powers to keep the peace. It should hardly be surprising that some of those with the most appalling human-rights records have embraced the vague call to arms that is the war on terror. The Philippine government--with its violent handling of the Moro community in Mindanao--was one of the first to jump on the antiterror bandwagon. Not long after September 11, Indonesia moved quickly to label the Free Aceh Movement a terrorist organization, with the unproven and likely spurious charge that it had links to Al Qaeda. It's one of the most compelling examples of how regional governments are willing to use the terrorist moniker to demonize opposition groups. …

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