Mahathir faces isolation
(Editorial from malaysiakini, Aug 29 edition)

Aug 29: He has been feted as a visionary leader of a progressive and modern Islamic country. Indeed, the world recognises him as a Third World spokesperson. Thus, when the Islamic Society of North America said that he is no longer wanted to address its conference, that must have hurt real bad.

More so because Isna is a key organisation in the United States consisting of some 300 Islamic professional and community organisations. Its annual convention - a four-day gathering beginning this Friday in Rosemont, Illinois - is a major event in the calendar of North American Muslims.

The organisation had originally invited Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad to be a keynote speaker and award recipient at the convention's first ever Islamic Trade Fair. According to Isna secretary-general Sayyid M. Syeed, he was invited because Malaysia is a role model of how Muslims could co-exist harmoniously with other religious groups.

But things have changed since the invitation was extended. Apparently, the organisers risk facing a revolt from within its membership if Mahathir appeared at the convention. Since the nine-year jail sentence meted out on Anwar Ibrahim, Isna has reported that many of its members have expressed "sadness and anger".

"Because of the strong protest we are receiving from our members, we are unable to assure a favourable reception of the prime minister. This unfortunate situation has rendered us unable to stand by our invitation," said Isna president Muzammil H. Siddiqi, in a letter to the Malaysian embassy in Washington two weeks ago.

Local scribes are working overtime to do some damage control on this embarrassing snub. These Islamic groups, they said, are serving the American agenda. Critics should not listen to only one side of the story, they lamented.

But surely the Anwar Ibrahim trial is one of the most closely watched trials in the country, if not around the world. This is despite that the local media had sought to bury its proceedings after splashing all the lurid details on the front page when the drama began.

Insa's sudden about-turn bespeaks the success of the Free Anwar Campaign (FAC), a outfit staffed by a handful of Anwar sympathisers, launched early this month. One of its objectives is, yes, to isolate Mahathir internationally. Isna's rebuff of Mahathir indeed gave FAC its first big victory.

With that, Mahathir will now have to settle for second best. As part of his US trip later this week, he is also scheduled to receive a lifetime achievement award from a little known California-based Islamic financial house.

But if Anwar's international lobbyists have their way, Mahathir might even be denied the award. Yesterday, FAC representative Abdul Rahim Ghouse urged the American Finance House to withdraw its Lariba award to Mahathir.

And expect more of the same to come.

In October, Mahathir is likely to get a frosty reception when he goes to Cambridge for the "Malaysia in the New Millennium" seminar. A signature campaign against Mahathir's presence is already under way. A boycott by academics is also being organised. There could even be a protest rally.

Much of these is the result of FAC's prodding. Of course, FAC's task is made easier by the international perception that Anwar has been unjustly persecuted. This may not be immediately obvious to Mahathir.

Clearly, in Malaysia no one dares tell the emperor about his new clothes. How then, is the emperor to know the mood on the ground? Anti-government rallies are banned. The mainstream media continues to wax lyrical about his exploits. His minions tell him what he wants to hear.

Perhaps Mahathir is better served by travelling more overseas. Only by doing so can he get a clearer picture of his home country. And of himself.

Steven Gan
Malaysiakini (


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Anwar Ibrahim, 53, is a prisoner of conscience.  He is under a 15 year jail sentence after a show trial held by the regime of Dr. Mahathir Mohamad.  To find out more about his struggle please visit