Attorney-General should consider whether there is a case to prosecute Shaykh Muhammad Hisham for criminal defamation for alleging without furnishing any evidence  that FBI had established that Malaysia was inevitably linked with extremist Islamic groups in the US

Media Statement
by Lim Kit Siang
 (Petaling Jaya,  Monday)For the past week since  New Straits Times carried the report on 13th February 2002 quoting Shaykh Muhammad Hisham Kabbani, the chairman of the Islamic Supreme Council of America, as alleging that a  former Cabinet Minister had been funding extremist Islamic organisations in the United States, including the specific allegation of a US$10 million contribution to one such organisation, the issue had been used as a political “football” instead of being taken seriously from the national point of view.

DAP calls on the government, in particular the Deputy Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi and other Cabinet Ministers, to put national  interest and honour above party interest.

In making his allegation, Shaykh Muhammad Hisham said when the Islamic organisations in the United States  were   investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI)  for possible links with several extremist groups, Malaysia was inevitably linked.

He said  "That was how Malaysia got connected with terrorism activities" even though Malaysia was a civilised nation and did not support extremist activities.

From the national interest viewpoint, the most important issue from Shaykh Muhammad Hisham’s allegation is whether it is true that Malaysia was “inevitably linked” in FBI investigations into terrorism and  extremist Islamic organisations in the US after the September 11 terrorist attacks - which is a most serious allegation highly detrimental to Malaysia’s international reputation by identifying the country with terrorism.

This is the first time such  an allegation linking Malaysia with terrorism  had been made publicly and internationally, and the first thing any responsible and self-respecting government should have done is to demand verification  that the FBI had discovered Malaysian involvement with   extremist Islamic organisations in the United States in the post-September 11 FBI investigations - whether from the United States Embassy, the State Department, the FBI or other sources.

It is most unfortunate,  regrettable and totally reckless of national honour and  dignity  that instead of defending Malaysia’s reputation and national interest, the government accepted Shaykh Muhammad Hisham’s allegation as gospel truth with the Deputy Prime Minister telling the nation and the world: “I have always wondered why the US and its media made so many accusations against us.  Now we know why.” (New Straits Times 14.2.02)  

In the past weeks, there had been a deluge of adverse US media reports about Malaysia’s links with al-Qaeda operatives and networks, and this was why I had repeatedly called for a  “smart” media policy and end the ridiculous situation where Malaysians have to scour the foreign media for news about al Qaeda operatives, links and activities in Malaysia and Southeast Asia which are “blacked out” in the local media.

Is it now suggested that all these adverse US media reports are all because of  the so-called funding of US extremist Islamic organisations by a former Cabinet Minister, as alleged by Shaykh Muhammad Hisham - an allegation which had not yet been reported or picked up by any US media or their “trigger-happy journalists” who are accused of wanting to paint Malaysia in the worst possible light, such as depicting Malaysia as a hotbed of militant Islam and even as the planning and financial hub for al Qaeda-linked groups in the region?

Playing party politics should always come second and be subservient to the protection of the national interests and honour.  Whether a former Cabinet Minister had contributed US$10 million to an American extremist Islamic organisation is important as a political issue for UMNO in its battle to regain Malay political support - and it is a public interest issue whose  truth must be established - but it is secondary to the greater  national interest question as to whether FBI had established from its post-September 11 investigations against terrorism that Malaysia was “inevitably linked” with Islamic extremist organisations in the US.

To protect Malaysia’s national interest and honour, the Attorney-General should consider whether there is a case to prosecute Shaykh Muhammad Hisham for criminal defamation against the government and country unless he could produce evidence to substantiate his allegation that  Malaysia was “inevitably linked” in FBI investigations for possible links with several  extremist Islamic groups after the September 11 terrorist attacks.

Shaykh Muhammad Hisham should also be required to produce evidence to substantiate his allegation that a former Cabinet Minister had contributed US$10 million to an extremist American organisation, or he should be declared a persona non grata and prohibited from entry into Malaysia.

Would Shaykh Muhammad Hisham be given such “VIP treatment” by the Malaysian government and the Malaysian mainstream media if he had alleged that a member of the present Cabinet had been funding extremist Islamic organisations in the US and that this had been discovered by the FBI?

Shaykh Muhammad Hisham  would have been hounded and bundled out of the country immediately after he had opened his mouth, and rightly so, if he had made a similar allegation against a current member of the Cabinet without producing any proof - and there is no reason why he should be treated differently, just because he is making an allegation against a former Cabinet member who is regarded as UMNO’s Public Enemy No. 1.

This is an acid test as to whether UMNO Cabinet Ministers can put national interest above petty party or personal interest, and  they should not continue to fail such an acid test in the handling of the Shaykh Muhammad Hisham allegations.


*Lim Kit Siang - DAP National Chairman