Transcript of Newsweek International's Q&A session with Singapore Senior Minister Lee Kuan Yew

26 Nov 2003


Q What do you make of the European-American divide?
A The Europeans underestimate the problem of Al Qaeda-style terrorism. They think that the United States is exaggerating the threat. They compare it to their own many experiences with terror - the IRA, the Red Brigade, the Bader Meinhof, ETA. But they are wrong.
Al Qaeda-style terrorism is new and unique because it is a global in its spread across peoples and continents. An event in Morocco can excite the passions of extremist groups in Indonesia. There is a shared fanatical zealousness among these different Muslim extremists around the world. That makes this a unique threat. Many Europeans think they can finesse the problem, that if they don't upset the Muslim countries and treat Muslims in their countries well, the terrorists won't target them. But look at South East Asia. Muslims have prospered here. But still Muslim extremism and militancy have infected them. Muslim extremists target Singapore because we uncovered and made public in December 2001 the Jemaah Islamiyah threat to the region. But we have done nothing to harm Muslims. Similarly, Muslim extremists had planned to bomb targets in Thailand although the Thai government did them no harm.
Americans, however, make the mistake of seeking a largely military solution. You must use force. But force will only deal with the tip of the problem. In killing the terrorists, you will kill the worker bees. The queen bees are the preachers, who teach a deviant form of Islam in schools and Islamic centers, who capture and twist the minds of the young." Amrozi bin Nurhasyim, one of the plotters of the Bali bombing, was sentenced to death by an Indonesian court. On hearing the sentence he said, "I'll be happy to die a martyr. After me there will be a million Amrozis." On the other hand, Abu Bakar Bashir, the spiritual head of Jama Islamiya, who churns out these kinds of people, was acquitted on the serious charges and was convicted on minor offenses for a four-year term. Men like Bashir are the real force behind the terror.

Q: How can this deeper problem be handled?
A Well, you can't do it alone," he said immediately. "You can't go into the mosques, Islamic centers, and madrassahs. We have no standing as non-Muslims, no legitimacy. Your barging in will create havoc. Only Muslims can enter these religious sanctuaries to cut off these heretical preachers and win this struggle. Moderate, modernizing Muslims must be willing to take on the extremists. Political, religious and civic leaders in Muslim countries together have to make the case against these heretics. The strong developed countries can help these moderate Muslims out to modernise their societies. But, the NATO allies must, as they did during the Cold War, present a solid block and support moderate Muslims worldwide. Muslim modernisers must feel that the US and its allies have the resolve and commitment to provide the resources, energy and support to make them the winners. No one wants to be on the losing side.
But when America and Europe are divided on this issue, when Japan is hesitant, the extremists are emboldened to believe they can win against a divided group of once allies. Their tactics for the time being are to hit only Americans, Jews and America's strong supporters, the Italians, Brits and Turks, warning the Japanese, but leaving the others alone. They intend to divide and conquer.

Q What needs to be done in Iraq?
A Iraq has become a test of American perseverance. You must see it through and I believe that you will. And it is related to the larger struggle. You must put in place moderates who can create a modern society. If you walk away from Iraq the jihadis will follow you wherever you go. You may think you've left them behind but they will pursue you wherever you go. Their ambitions are not confined to any territory or people, they're global.

Issued by the Press Secretary to Senior Minister
26 November 2003

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