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Transcript of PM's interview

KUALA LUMPUR Oct 15 - Prime Minister Datuk Seri Dr Mahathir Mohamad
discussed the economic, political and security implications of the
terrorist attacks in America on Sept 11 in a special interview over RTM
tonight. The interview was moderated by National Economic Action Council
(NEAC) communication team head Abdul Rahman Sulaiman, with Utusan Malaysia
Senior News Editor Abdul Aziz Ishak and The Star Senior News Editor Wong
Chun Wai as the panellists. The following is the transcript of the

QUESTION: Can we begin by asking you to explain Malaysia's stand on the
ANSWER: Our stand is quite simple, that is we do not agree with acts of
terror, do not agree with terrorists in whatever struggle. There may be
people struggling to liberate their country but there are actions which
are considered acts of terror, that is not fighting against the oppressors
but causing deaths and injuries to innocent people, that is an act of
terror. Therefore we are against terrorists. But in countries where there
are opportunities to change the government, for example through the
democratic system like in Malaysia, there is no reason to resort to other
means like terrorism. We also do not agree with the practice of declaring
war on a country to eradicate terrorism and terrorists because we are of
the opinion that this will not succeed in defeating the
terrorists. Instead we should find out why they resorted to terrorism. We
should make some efforts to try and eradicate the causes. Like in Malaysia
previously, when faced with terrorists, we not only fought against them
but also launched a war to win the heart and mind of the people so that
they would not support the terrorists. And when we knew of the reasons for
the people's dissatisfaction, we overcame them by giving or doing
something so that they would no longer feel alienated. For example, at
that time Tunku Abdul Rahman gave citizenship to more than one million
people who lived in Malaysia but did not have citizenship rights. We also
took various actions to save those exposed to terrorism, by giving them an
opportunity to stay permanently in certain areas, do business and work,
and in this way they no longer felt pressured or marginalised and so they
did not support the terrorists. That is why we could defeat the
terrorists, not only with military actions but through what is called
"winning the heart and mind of the people" by psychology. 

QUESTION: To some people in Malaysia, Osama bin Laden is a fighter, and
yet others say Osama is using the religion factor to legitimise his
political agenda, and when Osama called for jihad, they began to question
why jihad when innocent people were killed. What is your view on this
ANSWER: We feel that this is not a jihad, definitely not a way to go on
jihad. We can embark on jihad through various ways, for example by
developing our country until it is so strong that no one can pressure us,
that is also jihad. Developing an Islamic country by mastering knowledge,
that is also jihad. On the other hand, if we have to fight our enemies, we
fight them but we do not kill people who have nothing to do with the
oppression we are subjected to. What had been done was the killing of more
than 6,000 people who had nothing to do with oppression. They included
Malaysians. What wrong had we done that Malaysians should be killed? That
was an act of terror and it did not reflect true jihad. If it were jihad
there was no need to kill and then embark on a jihad, and we do not need
to die in such a war in order to go to heaven. Non-Muslims may not
understand this but for Muslims this is important. We should remember the
struggle of Prophet Muhammad, he did not die in a war and yet he found a
place in heaven. This was also the case with several of his friends, they
were not killed in war but still went to heaven. To think that only by
going to war, indulging in acts of terror, murdering people and in turn
getting ourselves killed is jihad and will make us martyrs is totally not
in line with Islamic teachings. 

QUESTION: Do you view the attack on New York and the United States'
retaliation against Afghanistan as a clash between Islamic countries and
the Western system or "The clash of Civilisations"?
ANSWER: I do not accept that this is an attack on Islam or Muslims because
if they want to destroy all Muslims it is quite easy for them ... if they
fire a nuclear bomb, hundreds of millions of Muslims will be wiped
out. But they did not do this. They are only attacking Afghanistan. We do
not agree with the raids because many innocent people will become victims,
but this is not a war on Muslims. 

QUESTION: Touching on this clash of civilisation, although it has not
reached such a level, what is happening is that ties between Islam and the
West are coloured by anger, hatred, injustice and oppression, so where are
we heading from here?
ANSWER: Muslims find ways to introduce Islam to non-Muslims as a religion
of peace and not war but the focus had been on Islamic groups who went
about their extremist ways and were irresponsible. And because of this,
the portrayal of Muslims and Islam has become worse. When we feel
frustrated over this, we take actions which further aggravated the image
of Islam. We need to be rational including in this matter we need to be
rational, too. We are not out to wage a war against non-Muslims. We don't
agree with terrorirsm even if it is perpetrated by the non-Muslims. 

QUESTION: From the view of international politics, some say that from the
terror attacks on the US and the bombings of Afghanistan, the world will
change. The US as a super power will be undermined and the next power will
be China. So what is Malaysia doing to prepare such a future political
ANSWER: We are a small nation, and for us the use of force will not save
us. We are aware that there are big powers in the world, if they want they
can invade Malaysia. For this reason, there is a view that the present
civilisation is still primitive. It is still at the level of that of the
Stone Age of the past. Because we measure strength and ability based on
the ability to kill a great number of people. If a country is able to kill
more people than another country, then that country is regarded as a super
power. So we are still primitive and because of this we need to bring
about a change in our thinking. Instead countries that are rich and
powerful could save a great number of people who are oppressed and poor
with minimum costs. They could improve the livelihood of these people. So
the world should realise that force not only could be used by the big
powers but now also by the small powers. We should reassess the way to
measure the sucesss of a country not on its military might but its ability
to develop its own country not at the expense of other countries. 

QUESTION: In this aspect I think Malaysia has achieved whatever you
mentioned earlier because from the list issued by Washington Post
recently, Malaysia is considered one of the successful Islamic countries
in terms of its per capita Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of RM10,500 per
year, only slightly lower than Saudi Arabia which gained greatly because
of oil. Actually, this fact is acknowledged by many foreigners but it is
very sad that some people in our own country do not want to admit it. 
ANSWER: Yes, they do not want to accept the truth because they have a
political agenda. This is most saddening because if we cooperate we can
become a country that is more developed than what we are now. To us our
struggle is to develop our country until we become a developed
nation. This is a jihad because when we become a developed nation there
will be less pressure on us as they will acknowledge our ability. This is
better than trying to go to war and fight our enemies or to send our
people to war where we are not sure of winning. If we become a developed
country, not only can we win but people will not pressure us. 

QUESTION: When you touched on jihad in a statement recently, Kelantan
Menteri Besar Datuk Nik Aziz called on Muslims to go on a jihad and you
were regarded or viewed as a person who did not support jihad, in fact,
accused of despising jihad when the government arrested the son of Datuk
Nik Aziz, Nik Adli, who at one time went on jihad in Afghanistan. How do
you respond to this matter? 
ANSWER: When he was on jihad in Afghanistan, we did not arrest him but he
returned here with the intention of toppling the government by force. That
is why he has been placed under detention because his action would cause
Malaysia to become weak due to disunity, riots. This is against the
command of Islam that Islamic countries should be able to defend
themselves. This type of people usually directed themselves more at
governments of Islamic countries and because of their action most Islamic
countries could not be developed and became weak. And since they are weak
they are always suppressed by other people. We will not allow our country
to become weak just because there are a handful of irresponsible people
said to be planning to use violence to topple the government because they
were disappointed with the struggle through democracy by their group. This
is the reason they felt that a struggle through the ballot box would not
possibly put their party in power. With this, they opted to use violence
and they also felt that democracy was not an Islamic system. 

QUESTION: Malaysia is a moderate and liberal country, but several recent
incidents have marred this image. For example, demonstrations in front of
the United States embassy by Pas members and they also burned the
U.S. flag and the latest a letter which contained the anthrax virus was
sent to the Microsoft office (purportedly from Malaysia). Such incidents
might damage our good name. The outside world might lump us among the
extremist countries while the fact is that we are a moderate nation. What
is our response to this? 
ANSWER: Certain quarters are bent on giving this wrong image of Malaysia
to portray Malaysia as an extremist country. I don't know about this
letter whether it was really sent from Malaysia or not or contaminated
with anthrax while on transit from Malaysia to the U.S. We really don't
know for sure. We'll wait for more information. But regarding
demonstrations, this is very sad because out of frustration at not being
able to repel attacks on Muslims, they could only afford to hold
demonstrations. This only showed our weakness. We are helpless. What can
we get out of holding demonstrations, can we cause the attacks on
Afghanistan to stop just by displaying banners? We should instead build
our country to become more progressive and influential at the
international arena. This is the approach this government is taking. 

QUESTION: In the 1960's, Malaysia faced the communist threat, but it seems
the latest threat comes from the extremist militant groups. How do our
security agencies prepare to face such threats? 
ANSWER: What is important, we need to have intelligence capability that
could detect such groups at an early stage before they could grow. Nipping
in the bud such threats would mean we could arrest people who threaten our
security such as what we are doing under the ISA (Internal Security
Act). We also need information. We know surely there are people who have
informatiion about such threats. Unfortunately such information was not
passed on to the government. If not for the information-gathering by the
police, we might not get this information. So obtaining such information
about their activities is very vital and actions to cripple such
activities are equally important. 

QUESTION: Security seems to have taken a back-seat lately. For example,
the U.S. itself did not anticipate attacks on the World Trade Centre and
the Pentagon. In Malaysia itself, we managed to detect such activities
only after a robbery at the Southern Bank branch and this indicated a
weakness on our security operandi. 
ANSWER: I agree our operandi are not that effective in detecting such
activities. So it was with the Al Maunah case, when we saw a group of
people carrying out training we thought this was something normal because
in Malaysia we have many such groups. So we did not do anything until they
carried out their activities, including killing people. This is very sad
but now our apparatus has been enhanced. Our agencies no longer regard as
insignificant certain information they obtain. They need to do research
but when they do so, many people oppose this, saying this is suppressing
the people's freedom. But the question is, are we concerned about the
general security or the freedom of a few people? 

QUESTION: This freedom too at one time caused outside parties to criticise
us. The use of ISA, for example, was severely criticised. The government's
move to help certain companies which failed during the recession also met
with the same reaction. All these were considered something not good but
what was implemented after the Sept 11 incident seemed to show that we
have been vindicated. If previously they were angry about ISA, now the US
government has created the executive order which allows for killing on
mere suspicion. 
ANSWER: America or any country when they are secure they will consider
actions to save people who are unsafe, like our situation before, as
pressure, suppression, but when the same thing happens to them surely
there will be realisation that they should also use the same methods. This
is what we now see of people who always talk about being liberal, but when
it was not their rights which are threatened, of course they are liberal

QUESTION: Touching on America, how do you see the relations between
America and Malaysia in the context after the Sept 11 incident and
America's reprisal attacks? It seems to us that America understands
Malaysia better. Could this be temporary in nature or could it bring about
a new dimension in more positive relations? 
ANSWER: I find that with the Bush administration we can have contact and
dialogue if we are talking about freer dialogue. I believe they subscribe
to the principle of freedom ... I believe they will not restrict us from
voicing our views because this is our right as a country. They also have
the right to voice their opinions. I am convinced that the present
American government will accept that there will be views which differ from
theirs ... if they want all to be in agreement with them then this will
hinder dialogues and debates, and we will not be able to identify what is
best when there is no dialogue and debate. Our ties with America are good
and, they, I believe, respect our right to make our stand. 

QUESTION: You have suggested that an international conference be held to
discuss the problem of terrorists and ASEAN will hold the first conference
in this region to discuss this problem. What are the more comprehensive
steps to overcome this problem of terrorists? 
ANSWER: First, we have to identify who are terrorists and who are not
because in the history of developing countries, especially those which had
been colonised before, many among the independence fighters were
categorised as terrorists. Then they won and attained their independence
and immediately they are no longer terrorists ... their struggle is
considered as a struggle to liberate their countries ... for example we
know of Jomo Kenyatta, President (Robert) Mugabe ... they were previously
labelled as terrorists but now they are not regarded as terrorists. This
means that a person may be considered a terrorist by one party and a
nationalist fighter by another ... it is also possible that a person was a
terrorist at one time and was not labelled as such at another time. This
is why we need to determine who the real terrorists are and what actions
can be attached to terrorists. Surely, people struggling for their
countries' independence cannot be regarded as terrorists. However, if in
their struggle they used cruel methods like killing innocent people
... this was what happened at the World Trade Centre ... the people were
not guilty but the action taken by these people could be because they
believed they were struggling for something, but they have killed innocent
people. That was an act of terror, regardless of what they were struggling
for. Exploding a bomb strapped to your body in a supermarket ... that is
an act of terror whatever the cause of their struggle, halal or not halal
it should not be done because innocent people will become victims. So, we
have to know who the real terrorists are, who are not and what actions can
be regarded as acts of terror and what actions are permissible. For
example, if they are attacked by troops who dominated them, continued to
colonise them, and they fought with the army, that is not an act of terror
... that is a "legitimate" action because they have a right to defend

QUESTION: Recently, the government announced a stimulus package worth
RM4.3 billion as a short-term measure to face the U.S. economic
slowdown. And the government also promised to unveil more in the budget
this Friday. From the long-term point of view, can such a package overcome
our problems?
ANSWER: Yes, to a certain extent it could overcome problems but not fully
because the government has limited means ... we cannot spend too much to
the extent that we have to borrow more as this will weaken us. But to the
best of our ability, we will use fiscal measures to restore our economy
but the people have a role to play as well as the private sector has a
role but we will elaborate on this in the budget. 

QUESTION: Usually at times such as this the government will ask the people
to be patient and to spend their money. But at the same time the people
feel that now is the time for them to save their money. How to strike a
balance on this? 
ANSWER: They do this not based on economic considerations ... if they are
not that confident about the future usually they like to save but if they
save and don't spend, then the retailers will have problems, workers in
the retail outlets will have problems, those supplying to the retailers
will also have problems and so are the factory workers. That is why we say
during this period, have faith in the country's economy for it will
recover in the future, and for this we have to spend our money
domestically and not to take our money out of the country, or to go for
overseas tours, go for domestic tourism, if we take our money out, then
we'll have problems. 

QUESTION: Talking about Islamic countries, even when a big crisis such as
this is happening, they are still not united and do not have a clear
stand. For instance, what is happening has hardly prompted Islamic
countries to seize the opportunity to influence the U.S. to resolve the
Palestinian-Israel conflict? 
ANSWER: Not only the Islamic countries but among Muslims in Malaysia
itself there's no unity. Muslims are more inclined to attack fellow
Muslims, and the number of Muslims killed by other Muslims is sometimes
more than by other enemies of Islam. This is a "disease" afflicting us and
this disease is caused by those who abuse the religion for their own
interests. People who "hijack" the religion, those who deliberately create
disorder in Islamic countries. Because of this we cannot focus our efforts
in strengthening Islamic countries. All Islamic countries are
weak. Normally when we are weak we will find faults with others ... but if
we really strive and we don't make use of Islam to serve certain
interests, I am confident Islamic countries can become strong and can
cooperate, with no one raising differences of opinion that cause conflicts
among Islamic countries. 

QUESTION: During the Cold War sometime back, Islamic countries had two
choices between America and the Soviet Union. But Islamic countries
generally chose America because they opted for the trend of defending
democracy. But after the Cold War the reverse happened. So how was it that
Islamic countries could no longer win the heart of America? There must be
something wrong ... so what should be done by America to win the heart of
Islamic countries and also other developing countries which feel uneasy? 
ANSWER: During the Cold War, Islamic nations were suspicious of communist
countries and that was why they preferred to side with the United States,
and America too contributed to their economies with the purchase of oil
and the like. But after that there was no more choice as there was only
America, and maybe there were parties in America, for instance its banks
and the financial authorities, which only looked at opportunities to make
huge profits because there were no more obstacles, and they used their
government's power to open up the world market so that they could exploit
it and this caused we people in Malaysia, for example, to feel
pressured. This is why we nowadays voice opinions which seem to be
anti-American but we are not anti-American ... we do not agree with the
way these rich capitalists are given a chance to exploit the world to
enrich themselves through unreasonable ways ... to the extent that some
have money amounting to billions of dollars. What are they going to do
with billions of dollars? 

QUESTION: Back to the issue of economy ... if in Singapore the people are
warned to be prepared to face a difficult period. But in Malaysia
sometimes our leaders tell the people not to worry ... we have oil ... so
there seems to be a "false sense of security". If possible, could you give
a preview of the coming budget? 
ANSWER: Our budget will be focused on defending the position of our
country's economy ... for this we will use fiscal measures and we also ask
the people to be careful, to take actions that can help, for example, by
spending their money in the country, don't go overseas ... we have also
cautioned the people that our economy will not grow at 7-8 percent like
before ... it will be lower. Maybe this year it will drop to until 1 or 2
percent only and not 8 or 7.5 percent as projected when we tabled the 2001
Budget. So the people must also be prepared to face an economic
slowdown. But if they act wisely, and the government also acts to ward off
the damaging effects, we are confident that through diversification, with
the various types of economic activities in our country, we will not feel
the effects of the economic downturn as were felt by some countries which
depend on one or two sources of income only. 

QUESTION: I think the state that is badly affected by the economic
slowdown is Penang which heavily depends on exports of electronic products
and tourism. Will be there a special package for Penang? 
ANSWER: Although many workers are retrenched, the number of new jobs
created is more than those retrenched ... so they must be willing to do
other work to sustain their livelihood. From the point of view of tourism,
the number of tourists from America and Europe might drop ... but they are
not normally our biggest sources of tourists. More tourists to Malaysia
come from ASEAN countries as well as from Japan, China, India and we are
still able to attract them and lately we notice more tourists from the
Arab countries to Malaysia. Some efforts have to be made to increase their
arrivals because I'm convinced they (the Arabs) are not going to the
U.S. and Europe this time around and this is an opportunity for us. We
normally undertake efforts to attract tourists from among ASEAN
countries. This does not mean that we give less inmportance to tourists
from China, Japan and others. We make special efforts to attract tourists
from East Asia. We have to focus on certain segments, this time we focus
on Islamic countries because for us such countries have the potentials to
increase our tourist arrivals. 

QUESTION: Another industry that we could encourage is education. Are we
making headway in this sector? 
ANSWER: Now we have more than 15,000 foreign students in our country and
we can regard one such student in Malaysia as equivalent to 360 tourists
who stay here for only a day because these students don't stay here for a
day or two but at least one or two years. So attracting students to come
to Malaysia greatly helps our economy. Now we are told the situation in
certain countries is not that conducive to many students who are looking
for alternative places to study and we have the potentials to attract
them, for example many are now not that keen to study in America because
of the high costs, we can attract them to come to Malaysia by setting up
enough institutions for them. 

QUESTION: I wish to go back to the question of terrorism ... in the
context of Malaysia the militant movement has looked fertile since last
year. Would the calls for jihad which are increasingly heard and the
sentiment of sympathy for Osama bin Laden and the Taliban create militant
groups, whether big or small, after this either in the context of this
country or the region? 
ANSWER: I do not believe that a fertile situation for militant groups is
due to people or a group of people interested in resorting to terrorism
... to others they may not agree with the action of America but I also
think they do not agree with acts of terror. We in Malaysia do not agree
with and do not support and, in fact, oppose the actions of Osama bin
Laden and the Taliban because they are the ones involved in providing
training to our militant groups who returned to their own country to try
and topple the government, and therefore we have no reason to sympathise
with Osama bin Laden or the Taliban. In fact, Malaysia has never
recognised the Taliban; we still recognise the government of Rabbani or
Northern Alliance and they have a representative in Malaysia. 

QUESTION: But it appears that in Malaysia the Pas party has set up
hundreds of kindergartens, nursery schools, private schools, colleges
where they inculcate a culture of hate against the government and
sometimes they feel like a culture of "breeding ground for extremism". 
ANSWER: This is actually against Islam. Kindergartens, nurseries and
religious teachers are responsible for expanding Islamic religious
knowledge. Instead, they use this opportunity to stir up feelings of hate
towards the government which is also led by Muslims ... we have to pay
attention to these people. Should we allow these activities as they do not
benefit Islam and do not propagate Islam, but are only a process to shape
minds from an early stage, children from kindergartens to schools and
universities, to hate the government and because of their hatred for the
government to pick this party? So this is not Islam ... what is taught in
these schools is not the Islamic religion, and we need to see what it is
that they are doing. 

QUESTION: What lesson do you think we can all learn from what has happened
in Afghanistan? 
ANSWER: First, we know that what we are doing in our country is good for
us, good for our country, good for Islam, good for Muslims because our aim
is to develop our country into a developed nation that will be respected
by the world so that there will be no pressure on us. What we are doing is
right. The world has acknowledged that what we have done is something that
should be done ... and from this incident we can see clearly that this
liberal attitude is only on the surface ... when someone himself is hit
this liberal approach is forgotten. - Bernama