- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 9, 2003

Last week, the Treasury Department added 10 members of the radical Jemaah Islamiya group to the official list of terrorists. As Treasury Secretary John Snow stated, the move is part of the effort “to dismantle Jemaah Islamiya, to shut down their financing and support.” Around the world, there has been grumbling that this is mere grandstanding. Some of those newly listed by Treasury as terrorists are already in prison for terrorist activity; others are on the run. Jemaah Islamiya itself already is designated as a terror group, so it goes without saying that its members are terrorists. Other critics complain that reciprocal diplomatic backscratching kept individuals and groups from Malaysia off the list. Even worse, no organizations or charities were added to the roster of Specially Designated Global Terrorists, or SDGTs, which would allow asset freezes. The naysayers should hold their tongues, as progress against terror is being made in Southeast Asia.

Officially designating known terrorists as SDGTs is not an empty gesture. In many countries in Southeast Asia, courts are hesitant to freeze assets, especially when the legal ground for doing so is thin. The ability of U.S. intelligence and financial investigators to track terror’s money trails is vastly superior to that of many resource-limited Asian agencies. In many cases, Washington SDGT designation and the evidence used to make such a classification provide foreign prosecutors the justification and the damning information for crackdowns. For example, Indonesian Foreign Minister Hassan Wirajuda announced yesterday that Jakarta was freezing the assets of those designated as terrorists by Treasury last week. Ongoing international cooperation against more groups and individuals can be expected, and isn’t limited to those who have been listed as SDGTs.

Our sources in Indonesia and Malaysia complain that one of the biggest impediments to greater cooperation between the United States and Southeast Asian governments is what the Asians consider to be America’s hypocrisy. On a regular basis, Washington presses Asian military and police to ignore due process to accelerate arrests and crackdowns in ways that would not be tolerated in the United States. There is also confusion surrounding America’s conflicting goals in the region. On one hand, Washington is encouraging more openness and more democracy, while on the other, it is demanding security dragnets against terror that are not compatible with liberalization.

Malaysia offers a paradigm that suggests stability in volatile Muslim lands is most likely when national security comes before democratization. For 22 years, Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad has used an autocratic hand to keep a lid on Islamic parties and fundamentalists in a nation where 60 percent of 23 million citizens are Muslim, and probably would vote for Islamic law if they could. Washington is hesitant to highlight jihadist links in Malaysia because Dr. Mahathir has tighter control of the situation than his neighbors, and it is not clear in which direction the country will turn when he steps down next month. A Malaysian backlash toward perceived U.S. bullying could bring popular momentum for declaration of an Islamic state.

Across Southeast Asia, there are gripes that the U.S. wants Asian governments to take action against Islamic organizations that Washington won’t take against similar groups in America, especially those financed by Saudis. In this complaint, they have a point. America must lead by example.



Click to Read More

Click to Hide