Though the United States emphatically denies the war on terrorism is fundamentally a war on Islam, Muslims around the world perceive it as such. This, in many instances, has resulted in a backlash against the U.S. manifesting itself in increasing support of conservative Islamic parties in various countries.
A case in point is the majority-Muslim country of Malaysia, where the main opposition party, the fundamentalist Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party (pas), is garnering support through exploiting anti-Western sentiment in the lead-up to national elections next year.
What is more, the party itself is increasingly leaning toward Islamic extremism. At the Islamic Party’s annual assembly in mid-September, hard-line Islamic clerics defeated moderates to gain control of the party. The party congress resulted with the pas vowing to seize power from the moderate United Malays National Organization, the mainstay of the ruling National Front coalition, and to turn the country into a theocratic Islamic state.
The appeal of the Islamic Party’s stance is reflected in its nationwide gain in popularity and influence. In the last five years, the party has grown in membership from 300,000 to 1 million and currently has control over two of the 13 Malaysian states. During the most recent parliamentary elections, in 1999, it tripled its representation in parliament. And the pas not only has the support of conservatives: “Analysts noted that an increasing number of moderate Muslims appear to lean toward pas …” (South China Morning Post, Sept. 16; emphasis ours).
Though the pas may not currently have sufficient support to defeat the National Front coalition in Malaysia’s elections next year (largely due to the voting power of ethnic Chinese and Indian minorities), it is likely to gain considerable power.
Moreover, the Islamic Party’s rise in popularity demonstrates a dangerous swing toward the more radical side of Islam in Malaysia. The Malaysian New Straits Times, describing the pas as “disguised extremists,” stated, “Make no mistake—pas is situated within the Islamist movements in which the Taliban, Wahhabis and al-Qaeda lie at one extreme …” (Sept. 14).
This does not bode well for the U.S., whose war on terrorism is actually galvanizing extreme Islamic elements rather than suppressing or eradicating them.