Bismillahi Rahmani Rahim
Assalamualaikum Warahmatullahi Wabarakatuh
A very good morning Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen:
- I am very happy to be have been invited by Tan Sri Munir Majid to join you this morning. Many of you will agree with me that Tan Sri Munir is a Malaysian phenomenon. A quintessential renaissance man who has, at different times of his career, been an academician and scholar, a securities analyst, a journalist and editor, an investment banker, and the country’s first securities regulator. For most of us, to have done just one of these, and to have done as well as he has, would be a success. To have done them all, and with such distinction, is extraordinary.
- None of these things could have been achieved without a driving passion. Those who know Munir would agree that he is nothing if not passionate about what he does.
- But passion alone would not have been sufficient to get Munir to where he is today. Passion without purpose and direction merely burns and eventually consumes itself. In Munir’s case, he was shaped by the values of some of the finest educational institutions that Malaysia and the world has to offer: Bukit Mertajam High School, which was awarded Premier School status three years ago, and the Royal Military College. From there, he proceeded to the London School of Economics, where he graduated with a degree in economics, and a doctorate in international relations. He continues to be associated with the LSE as Visiting Senior Fellow in its Southeast Asian International Affairs Programme.
- We are gathered here today to celebrate the publication of a book by Munir Majid. And what an impressive book it is. The 73 articles in this book were written between 2001 and 2005. They constitute a chronicle, a running commentary as it were, of the goings on during that tumultuous and unfortunate period. The views expressed therein are representative of the views held by many Muslim intellectuals around the world who were troubled by the policies of the US administration and its allies towards the Muslim world during that time.
- It is written in a style that is distinctly Munir’s. Eloquent, erudite, witty, frank, provocative and prescient. His understanding of the issues is grounded on deep scholarship, motivated by a desire to speak out against what he sees as ignorance, prejudice and injustice. Certainly, Munir pulls no punches in detailing what he sees as misguided and shortsighted policies. In some of the articles, he can barely contain his anger at the gross injustices he sees being perpetrated. In these instances, he is implacable and unapologetically so. But if Munir Majid’s observations cut to the quick, they are no more than what other critics have said, including Europeans and Americans, and with a great deal less flair.
- The title of the book, “9/11 and the Attack on Muslims”, is deliberately provocative and certain to raise more than a few eyebrows. But if I understand him correctly, this is precisely the effect that the author intended. I believe his purpose is to shock us into thought and action about how many in the West think about Islam, Muslims and the Islamic world, and how the Western world has dealt with and continues to deal with the problem of terrorism. The events described in the book offer valuable lessons about the dangers of binary or ‘black-or-white’ thinking (“either you are with us or you are against us”), and a reminder of the great responsibilities that come with having great power.
- I believe Munir’s aim in writing this book is to build bridges between the Muslim world and the West rather than to destroy them. It is as much about the dangers of anti-West sentiments held by Muslims, as it is about anti-Muslim sentiments held by the West.
- The terrorist attacks of September 11 2001 were a watershed event as far as US and Western attitudes towards Muslims are concerned. Washington was shocked by the brazen manner in which the citadels of its financial and political power were attacked, and its response was mighty and swift. The rest — the war against terror, the attack on Afghanistan and the invasion and occupation of Iraq — is history.
- A vicious cycle of reciprocal events ensued. NATO and other allies such as Australia were mobilized, and terrorist attacks were mounted by Muslim groups against US, European and Australian interests in various countries such as Spain and Indonesia. The terrorist groups associated their cause with Islam and called themselves by Arabic or Muslim names although Islam forbids the killing of innocents.
- The unfortunate association of terrorism and the killing of unarmed civilians with Islam and Muslims strengthened negative stereotypes of the latter in the West. From here it was but a short step to link Islam, Muslims and the Muslim world with poverty, underdevelopment, lack of democracy, intolerance, discrimination against women and human rights abuses besides terrorism — notwithstanding that all these characteristics are the antithesis of Islam, and are found in abundance in traditional and underdeveloped non-Muslim societies as well.
- President Bush and later President Obama have taken pains to stress that the war against terror is not against Islam and Muslims. President Obama took a personal interest in dissuading Pastor Terry Jones from burning copies of the Quran and in defending the building of the Islamic community centre near Ground Zero in New York. However, other administration voices were less discriminating and more overt in their statements.
- The Christian Right and evangelicals like Reverend Jerry Falwell have been leading influences on anti-Islamism in the US. Today, more than a decade after 9/11, there are signs that Islamophobia has reached worrying levels in the US and Europe, and Muslim communities no longer feel safe in many neighborhoods.
- Moderates in Muslim countries have often been asked to speak up against terrorism and extremism. It is not only moderates in the Muslim world that need to confront their extremists more squarely. The moderates in the West must do likewise, and challenge not only the extremists in their religious establishment, but also those in the powerful media and government that champion hard-line foreign and security policies, which lead to much violence and conflict abroad. In this regard, the launching of the Global Movement of Moderates by the Prime Minister is an important initiative in galvanizing and uniting moderate voices of peace among people of all cultures and beliefs.
- Much has transpired since 2005, when the last article in this collection was written.
- Hope for a long-needed change in US policy was kindled with the election of Barack Obama as president. President Obama has boldly sought “a new beginning” in US relations with the Muslim world. Consistent with this, President Obama launched a policy that explores engagement and accommodation for mutual peace, a policy which the Muslim world welcomed and was eager to reciprocate. Unfortunately the president faces strong criticism of the policy at home and opposition and resistance from Israel abroad. He is criticized, among others, for weakness and appeasement.
- Relations between the West and the Muslim world will depend very much upon whether the policies initiated by president Obama is able to overcome the challenges and stay the course whoever wins the next US presidential election. It will be tragic both for the West and the Muslim world if the “new beginning” he courageously embarked upon comes to grief.
- Bridging the gulf between the Muslim world and the West entails addressing the primary factors that divide the two sides. These problems are essentially political in nature, and not religious or cultural, although all these condition the political problem.
- The divide between the West and the Muslim world is largely a consequence of a failure to communicate and dialogue effectively. Good dialogues by their very nature seek to exchange views, clarify issues and misconceptions, and find common ground. Dialogues that engage the countries and communities of the West and the Muslim world are especially useful given the extensive ignorance, misperception, misrepresentation and prejudice that often prevail between the two sides.
- The misunderstanding is prevalent on both sides, which is odd given the vast treasury of knowledge available to all in this internet and connected age. The fundamental similarities are overlooked; instead it is the presumed differences and alleged failings of the other that are magnified. Among the distortions in the West are the identification of Islam and Muslims with violence and terrorism; the presumption that Islam is incompatible with democracy; and the confusion of the influence of tradition and culture with religion.
- Groups within the Muslim world share responsibility for this state of affairs. Giving Islamic appellations to their militant movements and identifying their cause with religion; committing terrorist acts in the name of Islam against unarmed civilians, more often of their own kind have all contributed to the negative imaging and understanding in the West.
- It is telling for a book that has as part of its title ‘Attack on Muslims’ that the author devotes the closing passages to the responsibilities of Muslims. He calls on Muslims to understand their religion more deeply and to reclaim the message of moderation and tolerance that is at the heart of the religion. He calls on Muslims to undertake better governance, to disavow corruption, cruelty and injustice and to work for the betterment of their peoples. For ultimately, it is only when Muslim countries are themselves internally cohesive and resilient, and peaceful and prosperous that they are able to manage their relations with the West on an equal footing.
Ladies and Gentlemen:
- Tan Sri Munir Majid’s alma mater, Bukit Mertajam High School, has the rather remarkable school motto of “Accomplish or Do Not Begin”. Reading his book and looking at his life, I am of the opinion that Tan Sri Munir Majid more than amply fulfills the motto. It is with much pleasure for me to now officially launch his book “9/11 and the Attack on Muslims”.