Asia reserves protests for later

JAKARTA: Millions of people voiced anger last weekend at the prospect of a US-led attack on Iraq, but there was barely a peep from Asia's Muslim-majority nations. 

But that doesn't mean the masses in countries such as Indonesia and Pakistan have lost interest. 

Big protests are planned for coming weeks, including one in Indonesia where organisers predict two million people will attend a mass anti-war prayer, or about a third of the six million protesters in 600 cities across the globe on Saturday. 

Should war break out, expect major rallies in cities across Asia and countries home to minority Muslim communities. 

ANTI-WAR MESSAGE: Indonesia office workers walking by a banner put up by anti-war protesters in Jakarta Monday.- APpic

“In Indonesia it's an internal thing. They are not so connected to the outside world on this,” said one senior diplomat here, explaining why only a few hundred joined demonstrations on Saturday. 

The biggest demonstrations in Indonesia have been sponsored by Muslim groups or political parties that do not necessarily have many ties to the liberal-left groups that were among key organisers of this weekend's huge global protests. 

As many as tens of thousands of people did turn out to protest here a week earlier. 

Muslim leaders and experts also attributed the small showing this time in Indonesia, Malaysia, Pakistan and the Philippines to the fact they were planning later protests of their own, and that in some other cases people felt they had already made their feelings known. 

Hasyim Muzadi, head of Indonesia's biggest moderate Muslim group, the 40-million strong Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), said it would hold the mass anti-war prayer on March 8 near a mosque in Surabaya. 

“NU supported the United States when it was hit by the Sept 11 tragedy. NU supports the war on terror, but what America is doing right now is destroying humanity and world peace,” Muzadi said. 

Malaysian peace campaigners have gathered more than a million signatures in a push against war in Iraq and a 200,000-strong rally is planned for Feb 23.  

Like other governments with big Muslim populations, Jakarta has become increasingly outspoken over possible military action. 

Diplomats fear it would radicalise Muslim opinion and raise the chance of attacks on Western targets in a country still shocked by last October's bombings on Bali which killed 194 people, mainly foreigners.  

In Pakistan, there have been small rallies almost every week.  

Shahid Shamsi, spokesman for Jamaat-e-Islami, the country's largest Islamic political party, said rallies would grow if war broke out. 

Asiri Abubakar, professor of Asian Studies at the University of the Philippines, said holding protests was foreign to the culture of the Muslim minority in the southern Philippines. 

“The Muslim minority in the southern Philippines do not demonstrate. They go to war,” said Prof Asiri Abubakar. 

Muslims in Thailand have focused on plans to boycott American brands such as Coca-Cola and McDonald's in the event of war. 

India appears to be the odd man out. 

“People talk about (Iraq) in hotels, streets and homes but aren't sufficiently bothered to organise a public show,” said Mufti Shabbir Ahmed Siddiqui, chief cleric at the main mosque in Ahmedabad. – Reuters  

  • Another perspective from The Jakarta Post, a partner of Asia News Network. 

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