The 13th summit of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) held in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Feb.20-25, 2003, was noteworthy for the outspoken, no-holds- barred comments of Dr. Mahathir Mohamad, Malaysian Prime Minister, in his inaugural address. It is also noteworthy that the US media virtually ignored his speech despite the fact that this was the biggest summit since the inception of the organization in 1961 and its 116-members represent two-thirds of the world community. Not only that, the summit was being attended by several non-permanent members of the UN Security Council whose support the US is seeking to push through its resolution on Iraq.
The American media gave little coverage to his observations perhaps because they were unpalatable for the media managers and appeared to militate against their tendentious agenda.
NAM has, no doubt, lost its significance of the cold war years but it still has a role to play in the current unipolar world and the significant shift in the strategic environment. A few new members have just joined this forum of developing countries that is attended by high-powered delegations led by heads of state or heads of government.
The inaugural address of Dr. Mahathir served as the keynote speech of the conference. Several other leaders, who followed him, spoke almost in the same vein. Although some of his views appeared radical to me, it is always advantageous to learn the opinion of a statesman of his stature. Lest I lose the essence and exact thrust of his crucial observations by giving a summary, I reproduce below extracts from his speech.
“Truly the world is in a terrible mess, a state that is worse than during the East-West confrontation, the Cold Waré.
“Why is there terrorism? Is it true that the Muslims are born terrorists because of the teachings of a prophet who was a terrorist? How do we explain the pogroms, the inquisitions and the holocaust which characterized éEurope for almost 2000 years? Why did the Jews choose to seek haven in Muslim countries whenever Europeans persecuted them? Do people seek safety in the land of terrorists?
“The Christians too were terrorized, not by Muslims but by fellow Christians who condemned them as heretics. They were persecuted, tortured, burnt at the stakes for their beliefs and forced to migrate. Seems that the Muslims did not have a monopoly of terrorism, certainly not on the scale of the holocaust, the pogroms and the inquisition. So, it cannot be that Muslims are the sole cause of all these problems. If they are not then is it a clash of civilizations, a clash of Muslim civilization against the Judeo-Christian civilization that is responsible?
“Frankly, I think it is because of a revival of the old European trait of wanting to dominate the world. And, the expression of this trait invariably involves injustice and oppression of people of other ethnic origins and colorsé
“There was no systematic campaign of terror outside Europe until the Europeans and the Jews created a Jewish state out of Palestinian land. Incidentally, terrorism was first used by the Haganah and the Irgun Zvai Leumi to persuade the British to set up Israel. . The Palestinians were actually ejected from their homes and their country and forced to live in miserable refugee camps for more than 50 years now.
“If Iraq is linked to Al Qaeda, is it not more logical to link the expropriation of Palestinian land and the persecution and oppression the Palestinians with Sept. 11. It is not religious differences which angered the attackers of the World Trade Center. It is simply sympathy and anger over the expropriation of Palestinian land, over the injustice and the oppression of the Palestinians and the Muslims everywhereé.
“Relieved of the need to compete with the Communists, the capitalists free traders have ceased to show a friendly face. Their greed knows no bound. They want countries which had fought hard to gain independence, to give up that independence, to do away with their borders, to allow the capitalists free access to do what they like to the economies of these countriesé As they merge and acquire each other, they become monstrous giants against whom the small businesses in the developing countries will not be able to compete. What is the meaning of competition if you cannot win at all. In the end a few of these monsters will control the economy of the whole world.
“Then there are the rogue currency traders who destroyed the economies of half the world, threw tens of millions out of work, bankrupted banks and thousands of businesses, caused the collapse of Governments and precipitated anarchy; all, so that half a dozen individuals can make billions for themselvesé
“War must be outlawed. That will have to be our struggle for now. We must struggle for justice and freedom from oppression, from economic hegemony. But, we must remove the threat of war first. With this sword of Democles hanging over our heads, we can never succeed in advancing the interests of our countriesé
“Globalization must not be confined to the exploitation of the wealth of the earth only. Globalization must include the multilateral protection of countries threatened by war or hegemony.
“There must be a new world order in which power is shared equitably by all. The United Nations must be reformed. It must no longer be bound by the results of a world war fought more than a century ago. Everyone must disarm. Weapons of mass destruction must be disallowed for all. And, there should be no more research into making conventional weapons more lethal.
“In the struggle to outlaw war and control arms, nuclear as well as conventional, NAM will find growing support from among many people in the North. It is a daunting task nevertheless. But, unless we take the moral high ground now, we will wait in vain for the powerful North to voluntarily give up slaughtering people in the name of national interest.”
For the complete text of Dr. Mahathir’s speech, you may reach The New Straits Times, Kuala Lumpur of February 25 on the web. Some of the themes presented by him might sound too obtuse and too theoretical, but each major war has produced new institutions and the war in Iraq might also lead to at least some changes on the international plane. The Muslim world is likely to be the most severely affected. The cataclysmic jolt it would receive might infuse a new life into it; the ensuing challenge might turn it into a throbbing, thriving community from the somnolent, incoherent mass of people that it is at the moment.