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Anti-Muslim sentiment is growing in East Asia. AsiaWeek reports from Hong Kong

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  • Tarek Fatah
    Friends, At times we are so caught up in how the west views the Muslim world, we forget there are a few billion non-Muslims living in the east whose opinions
    Message 1 of 1 , Dec 22, 2001
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      At times we are so caught up in how the west views the Muslim world, we
      forget there are a few billion non-Muslims living in the east whose opinions
      also matter. Un fortunately, as AsiaWeek reports, the Muslimphobia displayed
      in East Asia pales in comparison to the west. Here is an eye-opener from
      Honk Kong.

      Read and reflect.

      Tarek Fatah
      Wednesday, November 28, 2001

      The Cost of Casual Racism
      Anti-Muslim sentiment is growing - and dangerous

      AsiaWeek Magazine

      HONG KONG: There is much to admire about the People's Action Party (PAP)
      government in Singapore. Most admirable, perhaps, is its splendidly honest
      policies on race and religion. In 1991, I asked Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong
      how he responded to criticism that the Singapore Armed Forces discriminated
      against his country's Malay community. It was said that Malays could not be
      trusted to fight for Singapore in any conflict with Muslim neighbors
      Malaysia or Indonesia. Goh never fudged the issue. He said there was no
      formal prejudice, but that it would be foolish not to bear in mind that when
      the cry of "Allahu Akbar" is heard, Malay-Muslims might feel divided
      loyalties. It was a brave answer that cut to the core of the issue.

      Likewise, Lee Kuan Yew, Goh's predecessor, discussed Singapore's race
      relations during an interview last year. He talked about the policy of
      racially integrating the housing-development-board flats where most of the
      population live. People want to be among their own kind. It feels more
      natural and comfortable if the people next door speak the same language,
      have the same religion, eat the same food -- and have the same color skin.
      We all lack tolerance in this regard; some of us just admit it less readily
      than others. But if this intolerance is left unchecked, it results in ethnic
      ghettos in which the intolerance feeds upon itself and leads ineluctably to

      To forestall this, Lee made sure that flats were allocated in proportion to
      the racial makeup of the country. In a block of 100 units, roughly 70 would
      be taken by Chinese, 16 by Malays, 8 by Indians and the remainder by
      Eurasians and others. And they were mixed up together, Chinese next to
      Malay-Muslims, next to Indians. Of course, as Lee himself told us, people
      did not like it. As a politician who had to contest elections every five
      years, he would do better in a vote-winning sense by letting the Chinese
      have their own blocks, the Malays theirs, and so on. But, as he put it, with
      one of his trademark piercing glares, the alternative was worse to

      I have thought about this often. As a libertarian, my instinct is to let
      people live where they want to live. So this PAP policy grates on my liberal
      outlook. But reality increasingly makes me concede that Lee is right. By
      reality, I don't just mean Sept. 11 -- though, of course, that is a major
      factor; but other incidents I've encountered recently in traveling around
      the region. Right now, I'm in Ho Chi Minh City. The other day I met one of
      my favorite people here, Andy Tran Dao Anh, the youthful chairman and CEO of
      Diginet Technologies, one of Vietnam's booming software developers. Andy was
      explaining why he thinks his country is continuing to do well while others
      in the region are tanking. He concluded: "And it's safe. No terrorists here.
      We have almost no Muslims."

      A few days earlier, when overnighting in Singapore, I had inquired at a
      Singapore Airlines desk about flying to Cotabato City in the southern
      Philippines. I knew the flight times from Singapore to Manila, but I needed
      those for the connecting flights to Cotabato. It was after hours and I was
      sure it would be difficult to get the information from Philippine Airlines.
      The woman at the desk, a mature ultra-efficient "Singapore girl," tried
      everything, but with no luck. She was upset at not being able to help. "Are
      you going to Cotabato on business?" she asked. I said I was. "It's very
      dangerous there, you know," she said. "They have a lot of Muslims there."

      In Thailand and Myanmar, colleagues of mine have made similar comments --
      before, as well as after, Sept. 11. No one now makes even a token attempt to
      deny that Thais and Burmese dislike their own Muslim citizens. My Burmese
      friend told me one evening in the bar of the Strand Hotel: "Muslims don't
      belong in Myanmar. We don't trust them." I am becoming weary of arguing
      back. I have turned purple with rage at such comments. I have come close to
      losing friendships. But now I hear these remarks all the time -- and from
      otherwise intelligent and tolerant people. I don't know what to do. It is
      deeply depressing.

      I wonder if perhaps there's a bit of inverted prejudice on my part. I lived
      for five years in Malaysia. I've traveled many times to Brunei and
      Indonesia, as well as to places like Aceh and Mindanao. I've visited other
      Muslim countries in the Middle East and Africa. I have many Muslims who are
      among my dearest friends in the region. I feel for them and I understand
      their confusion, their anxiety -- and their anger. I don't blame them. I
      tell them openly that if I were a Muslim, I'd be tempted to protest in the
      streets and in front of American and British embassies. I'd be tempted to
      wear an Osama bin Laden tee shirt and strut about sticking a finger up at
      Uncle Sam. This is the horror. In reaction to the foul and insidious
      prejudice one begins to act like a fascist.

      Right now, I am reading Anthony Loyd's book My War Gone By, I Miss It So. It
      is an account of his time in Bosnia and Chechnya. His reportage of the
      Russian bombardment of Grozny should be required reading for those
      applauding the bombing of Afghanistan. Loyd was one of the few reporters in
      Grozny when the Russians first leveled the city. The carnage defies
      belief -- and, horrors, it is still continuing. There are many
      heart-stopping passages, but there is one that made me go cold in the heat
      of Saigon. Loyd visits a hospital as the victims of a Russian bombing raid
      on a mountain village are brought in. Marika, 4, was "missing the lower part
      of her back and buttocks, but was still alive, just, and her pale, doll-like
      form lay motionless face-down on a table as a doctor removed large pieces of
      metal from her wounds, allowing each to drop on the table with a heavy

      Her sister Miralya, slightly older, had a head wound and was crying blood
      and shaking uncontrollably. Loyd goes to the village and finds the girls'
      family. He reports that they are all dead -- "laid out on a bed in bundles,
      none of which was bigger than a supermarket bag. The boy was the best
      preserved, the mother barely recognizable as human. Of the other sisters, a
      small pair of legs emerged from a cloth, and the two heads lay at the end of
      the bed." Like Loyd, I think of this scene when I hear the term "collateral
      damage." What is so odious is that journalists and anchormen have adopted
      the term -- just as they have adopted the prefix "Islamic" or "Muslim"
      before they say terrorist. I don't know what is worse -- all this or the
      growing anti-Muslim sentiment itself. Both are on the rise and will lead to
      more unspeakable acts like those already seen in Chechnya and Afghanistan.
      Where do we go from here? Will someone tell me, please.
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