In Defense Of Congressman Gregory Meeks' Embrace Of Malaysia

Tomorrow afternoon, after a morning meeting with President George W. Bush at the White House, Malaysia's Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad will make his way over to Capitol Hill for a luncheon with members of the United States House and Senate. Although few would suspect it, especially if they subscribe to tradition, generalizations and even stereotypes, the gathering on the Capitol, is largely the work of Congressional Black Caucus member Congressman Gregory Meeks (D-NY).

The New York lawmaker is the co-chair of the The Malaysia Trade, Security and Economic Cooperation Caucus, a newly formed bi-partisan Congressional Member Organization, publicly unveiled this month. The luncheon with Prime Minister Mahathir is the group's inaugural event. Rep. Meeks' decision to establish the Malaysia Trade, Security and Economic Cooperation Caucus grows out of the Congressman's recent visit to the Muslim nation of 23 million earlier this year.

The Congressman was impressed with the nature of Malaysia's multi-cultural society and the manner in which it has worked to overcome its own racial divide. Mr. Meeks, speaking of his impressions of Malaysia and its leader, in a letter asking all of the members of the CBC to join the Malaysia caucus, noted the unique history and circumstances that make Malaysia an instructive example to other countries and a natural country for Black Caucus members and the United States to take an interest in. Rep. Meeks wrote:

Prime Minister Mahathir is a man of unique vision, political experience and a world statesman. Under Mahathir's leadership, Malaysia which once suffered from race riots (similar to our experience in America) and communist insurgencies, is today a stable and prosperous, multi-racial and multi-religious society. A Muslim country which equally acknowledges the religious practices and recognizes the cultural holidays of its ethnic groups (Malay, Indian and Chinese).

I visited Malaysia earlier this year and had a chance to see this nation of people of color with different ethnic roots, yet sharing a national identity as Malaysians. After my meetings with a wide range of Malaysian and American officials, I came away with a number of positive impressions which fueled my interest in the ongoing efforts to elevate our bilateral relations.

When we first learned of Congressmen Meeks' initiative our minds immediately went to the heart-felt desire of such Black leaders like W.E.B. Dubois, Marcus Garvey,the Honorable Elijah Muhammad, Malcolm X, and Minister Farrakhan, that Blacks in the United States of America would one day make connections with Blacks and other peoples throughout the world.

The effort at forging such international bonds, historically, has not been met with warm feelings by members of the American political establishment who have little stomach for the Black electorate's joining on to nations around the world, some of which are deemed the enemies of America, unaffectionately called "rogue" states. The concern, held by a powerful minority in the United States national security apparatus, is that a popular Black leader and a conscious Black community, aiming at its self-enlightened interest(s), could frustrate the foreign policy objectives of the United States government.

And that is what makes Congressman Meeks' efforts regarding Malaysia interesting to us. Instead of independently forging ties with a country for which many in the U.S. government have mixed feelings, Rep. Meeks is taking a leadership and statesman's position in an effort to improve relations between the United States and Malaysia. The Congressman is fully cognizant of the polar views of Prime Minister Mahathir, held by some, and hopes that obvious points of synergy and agreement between the United States and Malaysia, especially in the post-September 11th environment, can be appreciated above and beyond any controversy. In addition to his clear recognition of the value of improved U.S.- Malaysia relations, Congressman Meeks understands Malaysia and Prime Minister Mahathir's unique standing and leadership potential in an increasingly volatile international scene.

In his letter of invitation to join the Malaysia caucus that Congressman Meeks sent to members of the Congressional Black Caucus, the lawmaker, with constituents in the borough of Queens, made the following arguments:

* Malaysia is very active in the areas of trade, investment and technical assistance cooperation in Africa. Prime Minister Mahathir is close to a number of African Presidents and strongly supports Africa's interests on issues of foreign debt, AIDS and in the WTO.

* Prime Minister Mahathir has been the driving force behind Malaysia's 30 year record of economic transformation(from exporting raw materials to making computers) based on an approach to economic development which equally emphasizes social equity with foreign investment and private sector led growth.

* At this time of crisis in the Middle East, Prime Minister Mahathir's global credibility allows him to be at the forefront in the Islamic world in urging Muslims to condemn terrorism and in helping to craft an international consensus on the definition of terrorism (similar to my H.Con. Res. 321)

Congressman Meeks' Concurrent resolution (H.Con. Res.321) supports the efforts of the United Nations to formulate a comprehensive convention on international terrorism and urges the President to continue work in cooperation with all interested members of the United Nations to formulate such a convention to be reviewed by the House Committee on International Relations.

Prime Minister Mahathir, even over the objections of some in the Muslim world, at the recent meetings last month of the Organization Of Islamic Conference (OIC) has offered his own contribution to the effort to obtain an internationally acceptable definition of terrorism.

Congressman Meeks, in his letter to all of the members of the United States Congress, requesting their presence at tomorrow's luncheon, noted Prime Minister Mahathir's importance in discussions regarding a global consensus regarding terrorism, as well as the Malaysian leader's stance juxtaposed to the Islamic world. Rep. Meeks wrote:

Prime Minister Mahathir, one of the most respected leaders in the Islamic world has also demonstrated tremendous leadership in the fight against terrorism. At the recent Organization of Islamic Conference of Foreign Ministers meeting on Global terrorism, Prime Minister Mahathir stood virtually alone in the Islamic world when he called suicide bombing "terrorism". He also encouraged all Muslims to "condemn terrorism" and contributed the following statement in the effort to form an international consensus on the definition of terrorism:

" We recognize now that terrorism is a heinous crime against humanity as a whole. Armed attacks or other forms of attacks against civilians must be regarded as acts of terror and the perpetrators regarded as terrorists. Groups or governments which support attacks on civilians must be regarded as terrorists, irrespective of the justification of the operations carried out, irrespective of the nobility of the struggle".

Congressman Meeks does not take on the task of forging a closer relationship between the United States and Malaysia and the Congressional Black Caucus and the same, without risk. Many members of Congress are shy to embrace the controversial leader from South East Asia because of the private pressure and warnings against such applied by some members of the media and the Jewish political establishment, led by the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). Many have argued that Prime Minister Mahathir is anti-Semitic and anti-Zionist.

With the Malysian leader receiving a welcome from President Bush this week and unprecedented access to U.S. lawmakers, we expect that the efforts to demonize Mr. Mahathir and discourage Rep. Meeks from a full embrace of the Prime Minister may intensify. We have not forgotten that only days before the Prime Minister's last visit to the United States to meet with American business leaders on Wall St., articles suddenly appeared in Newsweek magazine and The Washington Post claiming that the September 11th attacks were planned in Malaysia. Even the FBI got into the Malaysia-hating act.

The Black electorate, the Muslim community and American business leaders should offer their full support of the steps being taken by Congressman Gregory Meeks. His launch of the Malaysia Trade, Security and Economic Cooperation Caucus represents the bold and visionary leadership that has been sorely missing in the United States Congress post-Sept. 11th. With so much at stake, and so much to gain from improved U.S.- Malaysia relations and the role for peace that Prime Minister Mahathir can play in the Islamic world, the enemies of Rep. Meeks' initiative are truly the enemies of what is best for America and the Black electorate.

Congressman Meeks is setting an example that needs to be followed, and defended.

Monday, May 13, 2002