President Barack Obama and his Malaysian host vowed today to fight the “evil” and “hateful” ideology unleashed by the Islamic State group, whose self-claimed attacks recently in France, Lebanon and Egypt have cast a grim shadow over an Asian summit.
“We will not allow these killers to have a safe haven,” Obama said at a business conference on the sidelines of a summit of Southeast Asian leaders that Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak opened earlier. The two leaders will attend a larger summit of 18 Asia-Pacific countries on Sunday.
The summit is taking place against the backdrop of the bombing of a Russian airliner over Egypt, a suicide bombing in Beirut, a series of attacks in Paris and the slaying this week of a Malaysian hostage by militants in the southern Philippines. Najib said he was going to begin his speech by talking about the achievements of the 10-nation Association of Southeast Asian Nations, of which he is the current chairman.
“But the events of recent days and weeks have cast a shadow over us all,” he said. “Be assured that we stand with you against this new evil that blasphemes against the name of Islam.”
“The perpetrators … Do not represent any race, religion or creed. They are terrorists and should be confronted as such, with the full force of the law,” Najib said in a stirring speech that repeatedly emphasized the tolerance of Islam.
He also cautioned that a military solution alone will not be enough to defeat terrorism. “It is the ideology propagated by these extremists that is the cause of this sadistic violence … We must not lose sight of the fact that the ideology itself must be exposed as the lie that it is – and vanquished. For it is not Islamic. It cannot be.”
In his speech, Obama referred to the attack on a luxury hotel in the capital of Mali yesterday, and said the world is determined “to push back on the hateful ideologies that fuel this terrorism.”
Besides Malaysia, the region also includes Indonesia, the world’s largest Muslim nation that is no stranger to extremism. Some other nations in the region Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Myanmar have large minority Muslim populations. But by and large, Southeast Asia has not been inflicted by the kind of violence seen in the Middle East, where the Islamic State is most potent.
Najib suggested that economic growth has been the bedrock of the region’s relative peace and progress. The combined GDP of the 10 nations a motley conglomeration of 630 million people following Islam, Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Sikhism, Confucianism and Taoism was USD 2.6 trillion in 2014, an 80 per cent increase in seven years.
The region is aiming for greater economic, political and cultural integration. Tomorrow, ASEAN as the grouping is known will formally establish the ASEAN Community to create a unified economic entity.