11 May, 2007

Mahathir says he wanted to censor the Internet

Malaysia's former prime minister wanted to censor the Internet to prevent Malaysians from accessing pornography, but was foiled because of the need to appease foreign investors, according to a report today (Friday).

"They put on the Internet all those pornographic, dirty pictures and things like that," Mahathir said, according to a transcript of the interview published Friday.

"If a young boy, a teenager, sees all those things, he goes crazy and he rapes little children and rapes even his grandmother," Mahathir, 81, added.

Mahathir said he was under pressure by foreign investors to keep the Internet uncensored because of efforts to develop Malaysia's Multimedia Super Corridor, a high-tech zone shaped after California's Silicon Valley that Mahathir launched in the late 1990s to house technology firms.

"I was forced to say 'I will not censor the Internet'," Mahathir said. "But I was never convinced. Even now I'm not convinced. I don't mean censor contrary views. Contrary views (are) OK, but censor those filthy and dirty things," he said.

Web sites critical of the government sprung up during the final years of Mahathir's time in power, offering an alternative to coverage by local news media. Critics say Malaysia's system of annually reviewed publication licenses forces many outlets into self-censorship.

Mahathir Mohamad has also called for Malaysia's long-serving trade minister to be sacked, claiming she was abusing her power and undermining affirmative action policies for the ethnic Malay Muslim majority.

Mahathir, who appointed Rafidah Aziz as trade minister in 1986, reiterated that Rafidah's ministry has allowed a select few well-connected Malay businesses to import cars at cheap prices, according to an interview published Thursday by Malaysiakini.com, an independent news Web site.

Asked how such abuses could be curbed, Mahathir said, "Very simple. Remove the minister."

Rafidah has repeatedly denied allegations by Mahathir and opposition leaders that the ministry has allowed corruption to fester in its policy of issuing car import licenses, known as "approved permits," or APs.

The APs are given only to Malay companies as part of the country's affirmative action policy.

"When the ministry gives thousands of APs to one person, knowing full well that person is selling the APs (to unauthorized agents), that is aiding and abetting abuse" of affirmative action policies, Mahathir told Malaysiakini.com.

The decades-old import license program is meant to help poor ethnic Malays break into the auto industry to catch up with the economically dominant Chinese minority.

Mahathir, who retired as prime minister in 2003 after 22 years in power, has over the past year made repeated attacks on his hand-picked successor, Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, and other Cabinet ministers. But Rafidah has been his choice target.

In his interview with Malaysiakini.com, Mahathir expressed bitter disappointment about how government ministers have treated him following his retirement.

"When I stepped down, I thought I was going to have a good time being at social meetings with these people. Maybe they might even ask me my opinion," Mahathir said.

"But the moment I stepped down, I was cut off dead. They don't see me at all. From the first day, I was shocked. I thought these were my friends."

Mahathir also said it is time to dismantle parts of the affirmative action policy, known as the New Economic Policy, or NEP, for shortcomings.

"I think we should restudy it because there are certain weaknesses that have to be corrected. There are still certain areas where you have to preserve this affirmative action and certain areas where we should discard (it)," he said, without elaborating.

"Wholesale withdrawal of the NEP, I think, is not a good idea at all," he said, pointing out that the policy was responsible for uplifting many Malays, who came from villages with little opportunities and ended up being successful professionals and businesspeople.

Meanwhile, opposition leader has criticized the government for canceling an international Muslim-Christian conference, calling it a blow to the multiethnic country's reputation for religious tolerance.

Opposition leader Lim Kit Siang said Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi should "walk the talk" on his commitment to interfaith dialogue, and should encourage such interactions instead of canceling them.

The Building Bridges seminar, held annually for international Christian and Muslim scholars since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, was supposed to take place in Malaysia this week but was canceled three weeks ago in a little-publicized decision.

The decision became known only after The Times newspaper of London reported it Thursday, quoting the office of the Archbishop of Canterbury, which organizes the conference.

"The last-minute cancellation ... is a big blow to our international image and reputation as a successful and model multi-religious nation," said a statement from Lim, leader of the Democratic Action Party.

Abdullah "goes to international forums to preach the virtues of inter-religious dialogue but at home, the government is not prepared to allow an international inter-religious conference to be held," he said.

The Rev. Hermen Shastri, general secretary of the Council of Churches of Malaysia, also expressed dismay and appealed to the government to review its decision.

"The Council of Churches is at a loss as to the reasons why the authorities have withdrawn support at such a late state," Shastri said in a statement.

It said the seminar had been planned for a year.

A government official, who asked to remain anonymous because he was not authorized to make public statements, said a misunderstanding had caused the late cancellation.

While Malaysia had thought it had called off the conference earlier due to issues that could not be resolved, the office of the Archbishop of Canterbury had not understood this until shortly before the seminar was to have taken place, the official said.

He could not specify what the unresolved issues were, but said they were related to conference speakers and participants. He said the government still hoped to hold the dialogue later.

Nearly 60 percent of Malaysia's 26 million people are Muslims, but there are large Buddhist, Christian and Hindu minorities whose right of worship is generally respected by the government.

But interfaith relations have recently come under strain due to several religious disputes seen as the result of growing Islamization and erosion of minority rights.

Malaysia is a progressive muslum nation and like another great Islamic dominated country Turkey, arguably one of the best examples of what can be achieved through education.

The cancelling of this summit has achieved about as much as what the summit could have achieved. It has gotten people talking about religious divide. These ebbs and flows of openness will continue until people achieve the freedom to make their own decisions.

My sense is that it is this very erosion of religion that some holy men are worried about. Controlling the population as they become educated gets more difficult. The West went from 90% church going at the turn of last century to 10% 3-4 generations later.

This is a serious threat to any religion which has historically had such a strong grasp on their people. Building bridges might just lead to personal choice, which is not consistent with some people's view of the world.

Craig, Sydney, Australia

Simon has a point. What he may be trying to say is that the Shariah in Malaysia just cannot run parallel with its secular constitution and that true adherents on the bench and in parliament just cannot be depended on to defend the constitution.

Tommy Peters, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

"O you who believe! do not take the Jews and the Christians for friends; they are friends of each other; and whoever amongst you takes them for a friend, then surely he is one of them; surely Allah does not guide the unjust people." (Sura 5:51)

"Let not the believers Take for friends or helpers Unbelievers rather than believers: if any do that, in nothing will there be help from Allah..." (Sura 3:28)

"And whoever desires a religion other than Islam, it shall not be accepted from him, and in the hereafter he shall be one of the losers." (Sura 3:85)

Don't be so hard on these poor schmoes; they're jsut being pious.

Neil Stephenson, York,

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