Message to Harapan Government– NIP Wahhabism in the Bud


November 18, 2018

Message to Harapan Government— NIP Wahhabism the Bud

By Fathol Zaman Bukhari

https://www.ipohecho.com.my/v4/article/2018/11/16/spread-of-wahhabism

Professor Ahmad Fauzi Abdul Hamid of Universiti Sains Malaysia’s damning statement that Muslims in Malaysia are “slowly but surely becoming radicalised” should not be taken lightly. I knew this was coming as ominous signs are so plentiful and obvious that even the most cynical can no longer dismiss them as inconsequential.

The Islamic scholar implored that the new Pakatan Harapan Government take precautionary measures to arrest the spread before things get out of hand.

“Before the situation becomes untenable like what is happening in Afghanistan and Pakistan, it’s better to nip the problem in the bud. We need to do whatever possible to see it done. Revamping the school curriculum is one possible way to correct the situation,” he said.

Islam preaches compassion, love and tolerance but what we see in the Middle East, Pakistan and Afghanistan is something else. All of those benign virtues associated with Islam are being systematically destroyed by people who use religion for their very own selfish ends. I concur with the academician that religious extremism has no place in a multi-ethnic and multi-cultural Malaysia.

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The radicalisation of Islam in Malaysia, incidentally, did not happen in a few short years. It is like an underground fire that is fueled by methane gas. You don’t see the flame but the burning continues and the heat permeates through the vents. It becomes volatile and deadly once the flames reach the surface and start to engulf the surrounding. This is the scenario I can think of.

According to Fauzi, Islamic theology taught in government schools in the early 1990s has shifted from traditional to one derived from the Middle East, especially from Saudi Arabia. The views are one-sided, sidestepping the norms while embracing a more radical form of mind-set, one of exclusivity, supremacist, with diminishing respect for the practitioners of other religions. Thus minorities and those with differing views are considered “aliens” or “non-conformists.”

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The term “liberalism” is often bandied about. If being a Muslim and you don’t conform you are a “liberal” and is regarded an outcast destined to burn in hell. The naivety is simply mind-blowing. The only similarity I can allude to is the Inquisition in 12th century France which later spread to Spain and Portugal. The objective of the Inquisitors was to “combat dissent and public heresy committed by baptised Christians.” And the targeted groups were mainly converts who were erroneously labelled as suspects due to the “assumption that they had secretly reverted to their former religions.

Incidentally, the last public execution of the Inquisition was in Spain in 1826 when a school teacher was garrotted (strangled) for being a disbeliever and attempting to spread his belief to his students.

Things were definitely different, pre- and post Merdeka in 1957. And being someone from that era I can safely vouch for it. In 1979, following the Iranian Revolution that helped catapult Ayatollah Khomeini into power, the equation changed dramatically. The revolution sparked interest in Islam all over the world.

Iran is a proponent of the Shia form of Islam which is strongly opposed by the Sunnis in other parts of the Muslim world led by Saudi Arabia. The oil-rich Saudi government, in wanting to counter the spread of Shia teachings, took advantage of this change offering scholarships and money to institutions and charities in the developing Muslim world. Malaysia was one of the many beneficiaries.

 

This, the Saudis believe, would help impose their brand of conservative Islam popularly referred to as Wahhabism or Salafism within their area of influence, including Malaysia.

In the 1980s and 1990s many Malaysians, especially Malay Muslims, went overseas for higher education. Due to the interest in Islam, many headed to the Middle East especially Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Egypt to pursue religious studies. This was made possible by the generous scholarships offered by the Saudi Arabian government. Over there they were exposed to the Wahhabi/Salafist way of thinking and practices.

When these students returned they got into the mainstream education system and becoming the ideal source for the Wahhabi/Salafist way of thinking which preaches intolerance, extremism and exclusivity. Some gained entry into the civil service, becoming influential bureaucrats, lawyers, academicians and politicians. These people are now in positions of power thus allowing them to make decisions for the good and bad of all of us. That explains why the thinking of these “misfits” are so skewed

Wahhabism was started by Muhammad Abd al-Wahhab (1703-1792) who was dismayed by what he saw in Istanbul. The Ottoman Turks’ way of life, he reasoned, was revolting. He then decided to propagate his version of “a pure and unadulterated Islam.”

The “Arabisation” of Malay Muslims has accelerated over the years. Today “uncovered” women are a rarity. And if you do meet them they are among the few who dare to be different. To the diehard believers, this phenomenon is the result of the proliferation liberalism that corrodes their way of life. The traditional yet alluring kebaya modern, the choice dress of my mother and aunties in the 1950s right to 1970s, had given way to the drab and soulless “tudung” and “telekung” which are designed to conceal the female figure.

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Why no skull cap for Anwar Ibrahim?

Male members are more adept at sporting a goatee and wearing a skullcap, as this is deemed appropriate and in sync with the dress code of Wahhabis. The more Arab one looks and talks, help to improve one’s religious credentials. It is about being as close as what was witnessed in 6th century Mecca and Madinah.
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So “selamat pagi” becomes “assalamualaikum” and “akhirat” becomes “jannah”. It is definitely chic to lace one’s speech with some Arab-sounding words although they may mean little or nothing to both speakers and listeners. The absurdity is getting a little out of hand, I dare say. But to the adherents this is God-sent.

The troubled interfaith relations prevalent today are the result of this exclusivist Wahhabi/Salafist thinking which has crept into the education curriculum and mind-set. Renowned Muslim scholars are labelled “secular” and “liberal” to keep the Muslim masses from hearing them out. Those who do not toe the line are banned from speaking out. Fatwas (religious edicts) issued are seldom explained. Questioning a fatwa is considered blasphemous.

Notwithstanding the brouhaha surrounding the controversial Department of Islamic Development (JAKIM), no solutions are yet forthcoming. Funding for the department’s many questionable activities has never been accounted for.

Where will all this lead us to? Your guess is as good as mine. With the emergence of Malaysia Baru (New Malaysia) this inadequacy will be addressed in due course. But looking at what’s been happening, I have my doubts.

Hopefully, I will be proven wrong.

Malaysia: Avoid the Arabisation Trap


October 24, 2018

Malaysia: Avoid the Arabisation Trap

by  |  Phar Kim Beng

@www.malaysiakini.com

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“Come what may, Malaysia should not be enmeshed in the geo-political, even petty morass of West Asia. Whether or not Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS photo) was directly involved in the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi on October 2 at the its Istanbul consulate, the fact is Malaysia lacks the strategic depth to contain or constrain the behaviour of Saudi Arabia”.–Phar Kim Beng

Anyone familiar with the Middle East will know the phrase “a friend of my enemy is my friend”. It is also a testament to how dangerously fluid the tribal dynamics in the Middle East can be.

Just a few decades ago, Qatar was a friend of Saudi Arabia. Qatar is now its enemy, as well as that of United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt, all of which appear to dislike the warm and receptive attitude of Qatar to Muslim Brotherhood, Turkey, Iran and other groups that the first four countries dislike.

In the Middle East, the literature of Orientalism is wrong on many things but not necessarily flawed on the other: when a group of people or nation hates you, they hate you forever. Obversely, when they love you, they love you forever too; at which point effusive expressions like “habibi” (my love) will come sprouting out from their lips, like honey that oozes non-stop.

But then the line that separates love and hatred is a fine one in the Middle East – what we Asians called ‘West Asia’. When you fail to appreciate their kings, crown princes, perhaps even their austere concept of culture, you are considered an “outsider” who cannot truly appreciate the internal elegance, beauty and structure of the Middle East.

It is not without some truth, to be sure. The late Professor Fred Halliday, who taught International Relations at the London School of Economics and Political Science, used to say that the Middle East is seen through the optic of sheer desert and sands. Yet, the Middle East is actually surrounded by many strips of water, such as the Red Sea, the Suez Canal, the Persian Gulf, the Gulf of Aden, the Straits of Hormuz, all of which lead to the Indian Ocean. There are more seas around the Middle East, it appears, then in the whole of Asia.

When the optica are skewed, as Edward W Said (author of ‘Orientalism’, a book that discusses the West’s patronising representations of “The East”) once said, it lends itself to a corpus of travel writings, literature and travelogues that focus on all things on the land, not everything else which the Middle East can offer. Thus, the Middle East is seen through the lens of a fixed framework.

One of these fixed frameworks, sadly, has proven to be true: the Middle East nations appear bent on going on a war path against one another, especially against Iran, and lately, the Muslim Brotherhood.

Fortress of the Ahl Sunnah Wal Al Jamma

The reason, once again, appears simple. The four countries mentioned earlier seem to believe that they are the fortress of the Ahl Sunnah Wal Al Jamma (a Sunni Islamic sect of Islam), which can withstand the pressure and manipulation of Iran.

Qatar, the Houthis in Yemen, even Lebanon too, have fallen under the influence of the Shi’ite.

Even the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, Palestine and Syria are considered the defenders and fronts of Iran, albeit doing the biddings of Iran in Qatar, Yemen, Syria, and last but not least, Turkey.

But Qatar, Yemen, Syria and Turkey are not necessarily pro-Iran or pro-Shi’ite. Almost all of them want a region that is peaceful, with the exception of President Bashar Al Assad in Syria.

Come what may, Malaysia should not be enmeshed in the geo-political, even petty morass of West Asia. Whether or not Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS photo) was directly involved in the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi on October 2 at the its Istanbul consulate, the fact is Malaysia lacks the strategic depth to contain or constrain the behaviour of Saudi Arabia.

Defence Minister Mohamad Sabu made the right decision to pull back Malaysian peacekeepers from there. It was also wise to cancel the King Salman Centre for International Peace (KSCIP) in Putrajaya.

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f Malaysia is further entangled with the Middle East/West Asia, Malaysia would not have one any leeway to escape the spillover effects of their radicalism. It is better to be safe than to be sorry.

Look at businessperson Low Taek Jho, better known as Jho Low. He allegedly swindled 1MDB to work with false companies in the UAE and Saudi Arabia. Tens of billions of US dollars have been lost, and will not be recovered.

All such madcap adventures began with the fawning of the yacht and wealth of the Middle East or West Asia, many of which were allegedly rented to mislead the Malaysian and other governments.


PHAR KIM BENG is a multiple award-winning head teaching fellow on China and the Cultural Revolution at Harvard University.

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.

Malaysia takes a stand on–Jamal Khashoggi’s murder. It is an unacceptable act of tyranny


October 23, 2018

Malaysia takes a stand on–Jamal Khashoggi’s murder. “It is an unacceptable act of Tyranny”

by Bernama

The Face of an Arab Tyrant  

Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad has described the murder of Saudi Arabian journalist Jamal Khashoggi as an extreme and unacceptable act of tyranny.

He said Malaysia does not support the killings of government critics. “We all have someone we dislike, but we cannot simply kill him because we don’t like him. I used to be hated by many, and if we have the same system like Saudi Arabia’s, I probably won’t be here talking to you today.

“Alhamdulillah, we don’t see such acts of tyranny here in our country,” he said at the “Bicara Minda Bersama Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad” talk moderated by veteran journalist Johan Jaafar at Dewan Karangkraf in Shah Alam yesterday.

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The Prime Minister said this when asked about Malaysia’s stand pertaining to the murder of the journalist. Last Saturday, Saudi Press Agency reported that Saudi Arabia had admitted that Khashoggi was killed in its consulate in Istanbul.

The report stated that the discussions allegedly held between the Washington Post columnist and those he met in the consulate had turned into a fight which led to his death.

Following Khashoggi’s death, the international community began to put pressure on Saudi Arabia. Several countries have pulled out of the Saudi investment summit in Riyadh.

– Bernama

The 1600 Penn Avenue and The Barbarian in The Arabian Desert


October 21, 2018

US Mid-East Policy:The 1600 Penn Avenue and The Barbarian in The Arabian Desert

by Dr.Fareed Zakaria

https://fareedzakaria.com/columns/2018/10/18/khashoggis-alleged-murder-says-as-much-about-america-as-saudi-arabia

“The United States’ Middle East policy should be based on its interests and values in the region, and these will never be perfectly aligned with any one country… [I]t is what helped President Jimmy Carter forge the Camp David accords. This is why, from presidents Bill Clinton to George W. Bush to Barack Obama, the U.S. government has urged even its Arab allies to undertake serious political reforms.

… All of this requires nuance, sophistication and ceaseless high-quality diplomacy. This is the price of being the leader of the free world,  a job that we appear of late to have vacated.”–Dr. Fareed Zakaria

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The apparent barbaric killing of Jamal Khashoggi tells us something important about Saudi Arabia. But it also tells us something important about the United States.

First, Saudi Arabia. As has been often noted, Khashoggi, a Post contributing columnist, used to be part of the Saudi establishment. Although not a member of the House of Saud, he was well born and well connected. He edited an important Saudi newspaper and worked for senior royals. I first met him 14 years ago; he assisted me when I spent a week in Riyadh and Jiddah.

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Khashoggi was working for Prince Turki al-Faisal (pic above), the longtime head of Saudi intelligence who was at that time Ambassador to Britain and later Ambassador to the United States. Turki is one of the sons of King Faisal — in other words, as senior a royal as you can get, other than the monarch.

Khashoggi was, even in those days, a liberal and a reformer but always moderate and incremental in his approach. He worried that too much reform would be disruptive. “I would like to see my government taking harsher measures against [extremist elements],” he told me in 2005 on my PBS show, “Foreign Exchange.” But at the same time, he warned about going too fast. “We do not want to break the society,” he said.

Watching Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s approach, a mix of authoritarianism and real reforms, Khashoggi became more critical but was never a radical. So why was he apparently seen as so threatening? Perhaps because he was respected within the Saudi establishment. Harvard’s Tarek Masoud suggests that the Khashoggi affair might signal that there is greater dissent within the Saudi establishment than we had believed. If so, this is significant. When the scholar Samuel Huntington studied the breakdown of authoritarian regimes in the 1970s and 1980s, he noted that a schism within the ruling elite was almost always the precursor to a broader breakdown of the regime.

Historically, Saudi Arabia has maintained stability because it was really a patronage state, not a police state. The kingdom has typically dealt with its critics and dissenters by buying them off — most importantly in the case of hardline clerics. It employed this strategy again most recently after the Arab Spring, when it massively increased subsidies to citizens and gave bonuses to government employees. It worked. In fact, a lesson of the Arab Spring seems to be that repression doesn’t work as well — consider Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak, Syria’s Bashar al-Assad — as bribery does.

Yet MBS, as the Saudi crown prince is known, appears to be changing the patronage model, bringing it closer to the police-state one. He has mixed economic, social and religious reforms with an ever-tighter grip on power, shaking down businessmen, imprisoning activists, targeting news platforms — and now, it would seem, executing a columnist.

Leaving aside their immorality, ruthless actions such as these tend to produce instability in the long run. Mubarak couldn’t hold on, and Assad’s survival has come at a staggering cost, with his territory diminished and mostly in ruins. Ironically, for someone so ferociously anti-Iranian, MBS resembles no Middle Eastern ruler as much as the shah of Iran, a reformer and also a despot, who was much loved by Western elites.

Mohammed is a complicated figure. He has moved Saudi Arabia forward in some areas while moving it toward greater repression in others. But the larger issue is that U.S. foreign policy should not be based on personalities. President Trump’s worldview seems utterly rooted in his likes and dislikes of other leaders — including Kim Jong Un, Angela Merkel and MBS. In the Middle East, this has led to the blind subcontracting of U.S. foreign policy to Saudi Arabia. Washington has watched and de facto endorsed the kingdom as it ramped up its war in Yemen, blockaded Qatar, quarreled with Turkey and essentially kidnapped the prime minister of Lebanon. All of these moves have, in large measure, failed.

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The United States’ Middle East policy should be based on its interests and values in the region, and these will never be perfectly aligned with any one country. Historically, this has meant being an honest broker, respected by all major powers. It is what allowed Henry Kissinger to practice shuttle diplomacy and pull Egypt away from the Soviet camp, and it is what helped President Jimmy Carter forge the Camp David accords. This is why, from presidents Bill Clinton to George W. Bush to Barack Obama, the U.S. government has urged even its Arab allies to undertake serious political reforms.

All of this requires nuance, sophistication and ceaseless high-quality diplomacy. This is the price of being the leader of the free world, a job that we appear of late to have vacated.

(c) 2018, Washington Post Writers Group

 

Jamal Khashoggi’s Final Words—for Other Journalists Like Him


October 20, 2018

Jamal Khashoggi’s Final Words—for Other Journalists Like Him

On October 3rd, the day after Jamal Khashoggi disappeared, the Washington Post received a final column left behind with his assistant when he went off to Turkey to get married. It was, in seven hundred words, poignant and personal and epically appropriate, considering his fate. “The Arab world was ripe with hope during the spring of 2011. Journalists, academics and the general population were brimming with expectations of a bright and free Arab society within their respective countries,” he opined. “They expected to be emancipated from the hegemony of their governments and the consistent interventions and censorship of information.” Instead, rulers grew ever more repressive after the short-lived Arab Spring.

Today, hundreds of millions of people across the Middle East “are unable to adequately address, much less publicly discuss, matters that affect the region and their day-to-day lives,” Khashoggi wrote. They are either “uninformed or misinformed” by draconian censorship and fake state narratives. As the headline of his last published words asserted, “What the Arab world needs most is free expression.”

In his death, Khashoggi, a Saudi journalist and former government supporter who became a vocal and fearless critic of the current Saudi crown prince, has galvanized global attention far more than he was able to do during his life. The horrific details of his murder and dismemberment have had an effect he would never have imagined—putting into serious question the fate of a Saudi leader, the state of U.S.-Saudi relations, American foreign-policy goals in the world’s most volatile region, and even policies that have kept dictators in power. The repercussions are only beginning.

But Khashoggi was hardly a lone voice decrying political repression in the Middle East, as he acknowledged in his final Post column. Saudi Arabia may be the most cruel and ruthless government in the region, but it uses tactics embraced by dictators, sheikhs, and Presidents across twenty-two countries.

In 2014, Egypt’s military-dominated government seized all print copies of the newspaper Al-Masry Al-Youm, whose name means “The Egyptian Today.” Al-Masry Al-Youm is that rare private newspaper in the Arab world where young reporters once dared to question government policies in hard-hitting editorials and groundbreaking journalism. “The Egyptian government’s seizure of the entire print run of a newspaper, al-Masry al Youm, did not enrage or provoke a reaction from colleagues. These actions no longer carry the consequence of a backlash from the international community,” Khashoggi wrote. “Instead, these actions may trigger condemnation quickly followed by silence.”

The world, particularly the West, is partly culpable for looking the other way, he wrote. It is a tragic irony that the world is paying attention to Khashoggi’s death, yet still not making an issue of a sweeping problem that could determine the future of a region of twenty-two countries and four hundred million people. On Thursday, the U.S. Treasury Secretary, Steve Mnuchin, announced that he would not attend the Saudi investment conference known as “Davos in the Desert,” which is pivotal to the crown prince’s plans to modernize the kingdom’s oil-reliant economy. The British trade minister, the French and Dutch finance ministers, and the president of the International Monetary Fund also backed out after Khashoggi’s disappearance. But no foreign government is addressing the broader political practices in any other country, or any other case, in the region.

In his column, Khashoggi drew attention to imprisoned colleagues who receive no coverage. “My dear friend, the prominent Saudi writer Saleh al-Shehi, wrote one of the most famous columns ever published in the Saudi press,” Khashoggi noted. “He unfortunately is now serving an unwarranted five-year prison sentence for supposed comments contrary to the Saudi establishment.” Shehi, who had more than a million followers on Twitter, was charged with “insulting the royal court” for his statements about widespread government corruption in his columns for the newspaper Al Watan and on a local television program.

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Michael Abramowitz, the President of Freedom House and a former national editor at the Washington Post, told me that Khashoggi rightly identified the broader stakes. “Khashoggi’s final column accurately pinpointed the appalling lack of political rights and civil liberties in much of the Arab world, especially the right to freely express oneself,” he said. Khashoggi began his last piece by citing Freedom House’s 2018 report—and the fact that only one Arab country, Tunisia, is ranked as “free.” Abramowitz told me, “What is especially sad is that, while we are properly focussed on the outrageous actions by the Saudi government to silence one critic, we must also remember that countless other bloggers, journalists, and writers have been jailed, censored, physically threatened, and even murdered—with little notice from the rest of the world. And, in some cases, notably Egypt, conditions have deteriorated.”

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In the Gulf states, Human Rights Watch chronicled a hundred and forty cases—a number chosen based on the original character limit on Twitter, though there are actually many, many more—where governments have silenced peaceful critics simply for their online activism. Among the most famous is Raif Badawi, a young Saudi blogger who ran a Web site called the Saudi Liberal Network that dared to discuss the country’s rigid Islamic restrictions on culture. One post mocked the prohibition against observing Valentine’s Day, which, like all non-Muslim holidays, is banned in Saudi Arabia. In 2014, he was sentenced to ten years in prison, a thousand lashes, and a fine that exceeded a quarter million dollars. (I wrote about his case in 2015.)

Badawi’s sister Samar—who received the 2012 International Women of Courage Award at a White House ceremony hosted by Michelle Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton—was arrested in July. When the Canadian Foreign Minister, Chrystia Freeland, tweeted her concern about the Badawi siblings, in August, the kingdom responded by expelling the Canadian Ambassador, recalling its envoy, freezing all new trade and investment, suspending flights by the state airline to Toronto, and ordering thousands of Saudi students to leave Canada. (I wrote about the episode that month.)

In Bahrain, Nabeel Rajab, one of the Arab world’s most prominent human-rights advocates, is languishing in jail after being sentenced to five years for tweeting about torture in the tiny sheikhdom and criticizing Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen. In the United Arab Emirates, Ahmed Mansoor, who ran a Web site focused on reforms, was sentenced to ten years for social-media comments calling for reform.

“The Arab people are desperate for real news and information, and Arab governments are desperately trying to make sure they never get that,” Sarah Leah Whitson, the executive director of Human Rights Watch’s Middle East and North Africa division, told me. “Uncensored communication on social media promised journalists and writers in the Middle East the greatest hope to freely exchange ideas and information, but it’s also why Arab governments, so terrified of the voices of their own citizens, rushed to pass laws criminalizing online communications and jailing writers and activists for mere tweets.”

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The wider world bought into the Saudi narrative that Mohammed bin Salman, the crown prince and de-facto ruler, was intent on opening up the kingdom. Perhaps tellingly, it is the free press elsewhere in the world that first asked questions about Khashoggi’s October 2nd disappearance, in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, where he had gone to get papers so he could marry. “The world should take note that it is the free press, not the Saudi government or the White House, that has doggedly searched for the truth about what happened to Mr. Khashoggi,” the Democratic senator Patrick Leahy, of Vermont, said in a statement. “It reminds us, once again, that a free press is an essential check against tyranny, dishonesty, and impunity.”

 

Growing Disaster of Trump’s Foreign Policy


October 15, 2018

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Growing Disaster of  Trump’s Foreign Policy

by: Philip Bowring

https://www.asiasentinel.com

The developing world is being slow to wake up to the potentially devastating consequences of a key aspect of US President Donald Trump’s foreign policies, particularly now that that John Bolton and his strident “f… the world” views have become so important.

News almost everywhere is dominated by the display of politics and hypocrisy accompanying the appointment of a member of the US Supreme Court, a supposed judicial appointment marred by tawdry performance on all sides. One needs to ask why this display should concern a world simultaneously confronting three frighteningly serious economic issues.

The first is the long-needed rise in interest rates which is necessary but unsettling after so long a period of cheap money, which has boosted asset prices more than economies. The second is Trump’s trade war. Its scope has narrowed with deals with Mexico, Canada and Korea that change the trade picture very little but provide the president with necessary political cover. But the war against China is ever more intense, with unpredictable consequences for world trade generally and Asian trade in particular.

The third however could prove as important as the other two. That is the US attempt to shut down Iran’s sales of oil. The mind boggles at how self-defeating this policy is to US global interests. The main beneficiary is Vladimir Putin’s Russia, which is not only reaping billions of dollars but becoming an even more influential player in the global oil market. Meanwhile US relations are growing poisonous with Europe, which refuses to go along with Trump’s agenda and is sticking with its nuclear deal with Iran. Then there is India, whose friendship the US badly needs if it is not to cede supremacy in Asia to China. It not only needs Iranian oil but has long seen Iran as an informal ally for influence in the Indian ocean, and countering China’s influence via its huge investments in Pakistan roads and ports.

Trump’s Iran threats have added US$15-20 a barrel to the price of oil, and a further rise to US$100 a barrel is widely forecast. The strains this is placing on the trade balances of the likes of India, the Philippines and Indonesia, not to mention an already troubled Turkey and countries in Latin America, has already shown up in steep falls in currencies and stock markets throughout the developing world, and has had an outsized impact on interest rates. As of now it seems unlikely to spark a major crisis, but if oil hits US$100 plus, there is no knowing the consequences.

 

As it is, the price increase is already limiting the room for the major east Asian importers China, Japan, South Korea, to spur domestic demand to offset weakness from the trade wars.

Trump has been complaining about the oil price rise, which is also hitting consumers, but he has only himself to blame for a policy towards Iran which has only two beneficiaries apart from Russia: Israel and Saudi Arabia. The former has had nuclear weapons for decades without being sanctioned by anyone.

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Now Trump is adding to support for a state which is not only self-evidently expansionist but is now overtly racist by law as well as practice. Thanks to US protection 5 million Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza are under Israel’s iron fist, which also treats the 1.7 million Arabs in Israel as second-class citizens.

The other beneficiary is Saudi Arabia whose vicious war in Yemen is causing as many casualties as in Syria. Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman has stirred up the Gulf while his promises of modernizing the country are largely for overseas consumption. A desert empire built by warrior King Ibn Saud is unlikely to last long if the price of oil falls back to US$40 and stays there. Such are the few friends of Trump’s America. No wonder the world laughs as well as cries and treats the US claim to be defender of liberty and democracy as a sham.

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It is reminder too of how childish the US can be – hardly the sign of a superpower with staying power. It took it 20 years to get over its loss of the Vietnam war. Its view of Iran is still driven by the need for revenge nearly 40 years after the 1979 overthrow of the Shah and the humiliation of the failure of its Tehran hostage mission. It is also a US view which conveniently forgets the CIA-organized coup against the elected secular nationalist Dr Mohammed Mossadeq in 1953, which enabled the Shah to impose a royal rule which became increasingly unpopular, leading to the 1979 revolution.

And it forgets US behind-the-scenes encouragement of the invasion of Iran by Saddam Hussein (later to become evil incarnate) which solidified the rule of the clergy under Ayatollah Khomeini.

Longer term, the biggest damage to the US from its Iran fixation will be to drive others away from using the US dollar. Dependence on that currency for trading and settlement has enabled the US to make it difficult for countries to buy Iranian oil without incurring US reprisals. US policies are already beginning to push countries to use other currencies such as the euro and yuan, but for now the mechanisms are poorly developed and oil majors also fear US reprisals in other ways.

But the more the wider world loathes US arrogance, the more it will seek alternatives to allying with a country which is untrustworthy as well as arrogant. Meanwhile those with smart ways around the sanctions will make a lot of money.

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In Asia, there one country which is benefiting from Trump’s Iran policy: Malaysia. He cannot like the thought, but luckily for retreaded Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, for the time being revenues from the oil price are partly offsetting the coalition’s rash promise to voters to abolish the Goods and Services Tax and bring in the narrower-based Sales and Services tax. Revenue from this source has been cut in half. As the Asian Development Bank in its mid-year update of the Asian Development Outlook points out, Malaysia’s goal of reducing reliance on commodity prices for revenue has “received a major setback,” endangering fiscal health unless new sources of revenue can be found.