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Anti-war shine on showman

Kuala Lumpur, Feb. 24: Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohammed today again proved he is one of the best showmen in the developing world.

Demanding that all war — apart from that sanctioned by the UN — be declared illegal, Mahathir rode high on the rising sentiment of many Non-Aligned Movement nations that the likely war on Iraq was another instance of the “clash of civilisations” between the West and the Islamic world.

In his opening speech at the Nam summit, the chairman grabbed the opportunity to play the Muslim card to the hilt. “Is it true that Muslims are born terrorists because of the teachings of a prophet who was a terrorist'” he asked.

“How do we explain the pogroms, the inquisitions and the holocaust which characterised Christian Europe for almost 2000 years' Why did the Jews choose to seek haven in Muslim countries whenever Christian Europeans persecuted them' Do people seek safety in the hands of terrorists'” he continued.

Mahathir’s speech was greeted with loud cheers and appreciated by most delegates, nearly 50 per cent of whom are from the Islamic world.

South African President and former Nam chairman Thabo Mbeki, too, kept the focus on Iraq. “Peace and stability in our countries and the rest of the world demands that Iraq, a long-standing member of our movement, should cooperate fully with the UN Security Council and the weapons inspectors to satisfy all humanity that she has no weapons of mass destruction,” he said. But he was quick to add that the findings of the weapons inspectors and the decisions of the Security Council should be respected by all, including those “who are incomparably more powerful than” the developing nations.

Mbeki’s remarks reflect the consensus the Nam has reached on Iraq. But it was Mahathir’s articulation of the fears of the Islamic world that pleased many delegates.

The Nam chairman picked up from where he left off at the Business Summit yesterday. His intentions were clear: If India and South Africa, driven by their “pragmatic approach”, were trying to steer Nam towards engagement with the West, he was not party to it. He wanted to hold the mantle of the developing world.

It is the “double standards” of the West that infuriated the Muslims, Mahathir continued. Risking that his remarks could be seen as justifying terrorism, he built up his argument, weaving the September 11 attacks, the likely war on Iraq and the West Asian crisis as part of a logical sequence.

“If Iraq is linked with the al Qaida, is it not more logical to link the expropriation of Palestinian land and the persecution and oppression of the Palestinians with September 11'” he asked.

But what was significant --- and not lost either on India or Pakistan --- was Mahathir’s decision not to term Kashmir as another issue of the Islamic world. He steered well clear of south Asia, concentrating mainly on Iraq and West Asia.

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