Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia - At the invitation of the Perdana Peace Foundation,
I spent the week attending their Global
The foundation was started by Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad, the former prime minister
of Malaysia, who was also the
keynote speaker at the event.
The conference was attended by approximately 2,000 people from dozens of nations.
The speakers included antiwar hero Daniel Ellsberg, antinuclear activist Helen
Caldicott, outspoken British MP George Galloway, Iraq war veteran Jimmy Massey,
Prince Alfred of Liechtenstein, Malaysian Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi, former
Australian Prime Minister Bob Hawke, and former UN officials Hans von Sponeck
and Denis Halliday.
Antiwar.com editorial director Justin Raimondo and myself were among the featured
speakers. The event was financed entirely by corporate
and NGO sponsors, including top Asian companies, as well as a few Western
companies like Dell Computer and Nestle.
There was extensive media coverage in the Asian world, but there was no evidence
of Western journalists in attendance.
The forum made a commitment to form a world peace secretariat that will be
based in Kuala Lumpur. Antiwar.com will be very involved in the secretariat.
"Give People the Right to Veto War"
The key message of the forum was that democracy
means giving citizens the right to decide whether their own countries initiate
Malaysian Defense Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak questioned why countries
claiming to be democratic never sought the views of their own citizens before
going to war. “Perhaps it is high time to allow intelligent voters in democratic
countries to exercise their veto each time their government decides to go to
war outside their own borders.”
Most of the speakers made it clear that we cannot look to politicians to stop
wars. It is up to the citizens of every country to bypass and overrule their
politicians and withdraw their support for politicians, corporations, and media
that support war, and to give their enthusiastic support for those that do push
Dr. Mahathir said that voters in democratic countries should
commit to voting out all "war-loving leaders." "As most warmongers
are elected to office in many democratic countries, peace therefore must be
made the main issue in all democratic elections everywhere." Dr. Mahathir said
election candidates must be made to declare their stand on peace and be made
to reject war totally. "If they don't, then they should get no votes. Peace-lovers
must make sure that these people will be defeated always," he added.
Toward a Single-Focus, Broad-Based Antiwar Movement
A very encouraging sign was the commitment of
the leaders to focus strictly on opposition to war and imperial aggression.
This is in stark contrast to much of the leadership of U.S. antiwar groups,
which have a tendency to narrow outreach by incorporating other issues into
their activities. A
forum subcommittee issued a 14-point program that focuses on the immorality
of wars of aggression. It was made clear that this was just a guiding set of
principles, and that full endorsement is not a requirement for participation.
Dr. Mahathir said the forum participants were at liberty to adopt whatever methods
they found appropriate to ensure that the message of peace would be promoted
Conference organizer Matthias Chang made it clear that a multi-issue movement
is doomed to fail. "A broad-based, single-focus movement is the only way
we can succeed. We need to bring together the Left and Right, and all
those who seek peace as an alternative to resolving international conflicts."
Chang said his personal philosophy is a libertarian one, and he is a great admirer
of the works of the late Murray Rothbard. Chang and Dr. Mahathir support a return
to the gold standard in Asia to protect against the fiat money systems of the
The foreign policy of the U.S. was singled out
as the worst violator of national sovereignty and human rights, but the mood
was far from anti-American. Most speakers referred to American values as examples
to the world, but condemned President Bush and both major U.S. political parties
for their insistence that all other nations must follow their world agenda.
Najib made it clear that the forum was not advocating nations relinquishing
the right to self-defense. "Every country has the right to self-defense,
to protect life and property within its own borders. But in the absence of a
world government or a willingness to surrender rights to a regional grouping,
national sovereignty must remain sacrosanct and be the basis of interstate conduct."
Najib called for alternatives to combat the scourge of terrorism. "If
we choose to bomb terror into submission, we will fail. If we choose to respond
to their hatred with more of our own, we will fail."
On a personal note, I have never been so encouraged by such an event. The people
of Malaysia love and admire Americans and American values. They do seem quite
perplexed by the conflict between these values and the actions of U.S. leaders.
It was difficult for them to comprehend how such a strong majority of Americans
now oppose the war in Iraq, yet there is no desire among most U.S. politicians
to leave. They were most discouraged by the fact that the front-runners for
the presidential nominations of both political parties support increasing the
U.S. presence in Iraq.
An Unwelcome Guest
One controversy that emerged was the surprise
attendance of Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe. Mugabe has been engaged in an
outrageous and inexplicable war against the poor of his nation, hoping to wipe
out poverty by destroying the poor. He asked to address the event, and was added
to the program at the last minute.
In response, Justin Raimondo revised his speech, opening with a strong attack
on Mugabe and calling on the attendees to denounce him. According to Raimondo,
"Associating with criminals like Mugabe will only help the War Party by
giving them ammunition against us."
Following Raimondo’s talk, Caldicott, Ellsberg, Hawke, and other leaders spoke
to the event's organizers and informed them of plans to protest Mugabe’s talk.
Shortly thereafter, Mugabe withdrew his request to speak. Official
Zimbabwe state media said the cancellation was because "the
atmosphere at lunch would not have been suitable for a head of state."
Dr. Mahathir said that the forum was open to everyone. "Everybody
can attend. If he wants to say how good it is to be a dictator, he can."
Much More to Come
Antiwar.com will be reprinting many of the talks
from the forum as they become available in coming days. Mp3 versions of the
event's activities will be available within a few weeks.
We expect this event to be only the beginning of what promises to be a truly
nonsectarian, broad-based global antiwar movement.