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MALAYSIA: Abdullah calls on Muslims and West to curb extremists

Prime Minister calls for peace between divided Western and Muslim civilizations

Straits Times
Saturday, February 11, 2006

By Reme Ahmad

Kuala Lumpur --- Both Muslims and the West must face down "fanaticism and hysteria" and curb extremists in their midst, said Malaysian Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi yesterday at a conference aimed at bridging the Islam-West divide.

His speech coincided with protests around the world over the publication of controversial cartoons of Prophet Muhammad by European newspapers.

At the conference -- Who Speaks For Islam? Who Speaks For The West? -- Datuk Seri Abdullah noted that a huge chasm had opened between the two civilisations, which he said could be bridged only if both sides replaced attempts to dominate one another with mutual respect.

He criticised what he called the "demonisation of Islam" in the West: "Many in the West see Islam as synonymous with violence. The Muslim is viewed as a congenital terrorist."

But he also acknowledged that "senseless violence" committed by Muslim extremists had "made things worse."

Datuk Seri Abdullah also called on Muslims to oppose "the sweeping denunciations of Christians, Jews and the West" as well as "violence and terror perpetrated by certain fringe groups."

"Let us start now by curbing the extremists in our midst. We must put a stop to the mockery of any religion or the sacrilege of any symbol held sacred by the faithful," he said.

"The West should treat Islam the way it wants Islam to treat the West, and vice-versa. They should accept one another as equals."

The Malaysian PM added: "Western civilisation too has its share of greatness and majestic accomplishments. We must acknowledge that in the West, principles such as freedom and equality have found concrete expression in the rule of law, public accountability, acceptance of political dissent and respect for popular participation."

He urged leaders of both Islamic and Western countries to promote "bridge builders," those sections of their societies that reject violence and terror, and are keen to bring the two civilisations together.

His speech came as protests against the publication of the cartoons of the Prophet continued in some Asian and Middle-Eastern countries, including one of the biggest demonstrations in Malaysia in recent years.

Datuk Seri Abdullah is the current chairman of the 57-nation Organisation of Islamic Conference. He is seen in the West as promoting a moderate form of Islam; that and his credentials as an Islamic scholar lend weight to his words worldwide.

A total of 60 religious leaders, government officials, academics and scholars are attending the two-day conference, including former Iranian president Mohammad Khatami.

He too called for both the Islamic and Western worlds to condemn discrimination and violence.

Even as both the Malaysian and Iranian leaders spoke up for peace and moderation, some 3,000 people in Kuala Lumpur, led by opposition Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS), marched on the building that houses the Danish embassy and called for a boycott of Danish goods.

Although Datuk Seri Abdullah rejected those calls, he has made it an offence to publish, circulate or possess the cartoons.

The demonstrators, who included many university students, shouted "Destroy Denmark," "Destroy America" and "Destroy Israel."

Yesterday, the protests also continued elsewhere as tens of thousands rallied in Lebanon, Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, Turkey, Jordan, and India.

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