Happy Chinese New Year

Malaysia has a very large Chinese population, about 1/3 of the country, and the New Year (year of the Ram, apparently) is a big holiday. The town is lit up with those pretty red lanterns. Downtown, the main drag is strung with lights and lanterns from the spreading canopy trees in the boulevard to the shophouses lining each side. At night, it’s almost like entering a tent, the decorations are so thick. Even the Cat Statue has a chinese outfit on. At midnight, the firecrackers kicked in. My neighbors on every side lit off these 10-foot long strings of ladyfingers in unison. It was deafening.

Bali

The recent bombing in Bali is terribly unsettling, coming as it does a few months before my departure for Malaysia. As horrific as it is, though, it doesn’t change my plans, and I don’t think it will be a “first step” on the road to something more terrible, God willing. Eric Boehlert of Salon.com has an interview with “Robert Hefner, a Boston University professor, Indonesia expert and author of “Civil Islam.”” Boehlert has reported well on Islam in the past; his article on CAIR in particular was very good. The interview with Prof. Hefner is worth reading; he argues that “in terms of moral authority for these groups [radicals] to sell their arguments to a small fringe of the Muslim community, [the bombing] has been a serious setback.”

Anyone looking for English-language news out of Indonesia about Bali should have a look at Joe Friend’s weblog, so many islands, so little time, direct to you from Bandung.

Also in the news, though regrettably not (yet?) online, is an article by Alex Alexiev in the 10/28 issue of the National Review. “The End of an Alliance” lays out very clearly the role of the Saudi government in spreading wahhabi heresy worldwide, and the tremendous destructive effect that has had. Unlike others who have picked up on the Saudi connection, he doesn’t conclude that Islam is the enemy, but rather that the US has to more effectively engage and support traditional Islamic institutions to counter Saudi influence. And of course turn off the spigot of money flowing out around the world. Alexiev figures the cash flow at $4 billion a year, in the excerpt available here.

Update

I came home to see Omar Al-Faruq on the front cover of my free copy of Time Magazine. OK, so that explains the embassy closings. That article is serious bad news, except for the fact they caught him. Really, the arrest of Faruq is a perfect example of the war on terrorism done right. Authorities got a lead, they followed it up, they cooperated with the local authorities, they checked his background, they nailed him. Good job, gentlemen. Police work at it’s best.
Contrast that to the denial of visas to 150 honor students from Malaysia. How do you ask a country to make dozens of arrests on your behalf and share intelligence information, then turn around and stiff the best and brightest young people from that country? Supicion should have some grounds. Were the students even in the Muslim Students Association, never mind anything more insidious? Where is the discretion, the individual assessment, the case-by-case examination? Bin who? Denied. Mahathir is playing it cool though. They’ll probably just transfer the kids to Canada.

Malaysian students abroad spent RM6

Malaysian students abroad spent RM6 billion this year. That’s almost USD 2 Billion, the great majority of which is spent in the USA. That’s quite an expenditure that US colleges and universities undeniably benefit from. The University of Michigan charges upwards of three times in-state tuition to international students. Why then, did the US Consulate not renew visas for 150 Malay students coming back from visits home? The Malaysian government has been very co-operative in the War on Terror, arresting scores of suspected jihadis back home and affirming the US’s right to prosecute the war. Some goodwill all that cooperation gets. Add to that the humiliating embassy closures on Sept. 11 for unspecified threats and it all gets maddening. Maybe I’m just selfish – everytime Malaysia gets in the news, I know I’ll receive that much more scrutiny next time I cross customs.