RECENTLY, I met a group of influential Americans who were in Kuala Lumpur at the invitation of the Malaysian Government. They were aides of congressmen, strategists, retired diplomats, academicians and journalists.
Lunch began with exchanges of pleasantries and discussions on how well Malaysia was doing, but the mood changed slightly when the conversation eventually turned to the looming war with Iraq.
For the various representatives of the Malaysian media at the table, the views from this group of conservative opinion shapers were, to put it mildly, a matter of serious concern.
If the views of these Americans reflect the powerful people they work with in Washington DC, then the prospect of global peace in the long term is troubling.
These Americans found it hard to accept that the ongoing anti-war protest was not an expression of support for Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. They found it even harder to listen to views that a war against Iraq would boost the position of Islamic radicals and lead to more terrorist attacks.
One retired diplomat, who has served in many Asian countries, told his listeners that when the Taliban regime fell in Afghanistan, many Muslim countries were jubilant.
My fellow journalists told him that he could not draw a parallel between what happened in Afghanistan and what would take place in Iraq because they were two different scenarios.
In the case of the Taliban, the World Trade Centre in New York had just been attacked and it was clear that the al-Qaeda, which was using Afghanistan as a base to train terrorists, was directly involved. Many people felt that the swift retaliation by the US was justified, given the nature of the attacks in New York and Washington.
But many people are now questioning the sudden US aggression towards Iraq because they are not convinced by the allegations put forth by the Bush administration.
It's a case of Iraq being in trouble whether or not it produces the weapons of mass destruction. People are asking why the US should be exempted when it is keeping piles of weapons.
Another American at the table said the dictatorship of Saddam was good enough reason for his removal. Killing of the minorities, especially the Kurds, had been taking place for years, he pointed out.
Without doubt, Saddam is a rogue and will not win any admiration from rational Malaysians. But many of us want to know why the US is keeping other authoritarian Arab regimes in power. Is it simply because they are prepared to be its allies?
Fearful of angering the US, many Arab countries, including those in the Organisation of Islamic Conference, are availing themselves as bases for the US to launch its attacks. So much for Islamic brotherhood in the OIC, you may say.
Finding it difficult to rebut this point, one academician then said Iraq would be the first of the many Arab dictatorships to fall, suggesting that these regimes had led to stifled dissent and failed economies.
Islam, he suggested, was to be blamed for the deteriorating economy. However, this Harvard-type could not explain why non-Islamic countries in Africa, South America and East Europe fared equally bad, if not worse.
The sad part was that our guests found it difficult to accept that the US policy in the Middle East, especially in Palestine, was the major contributing factor for the animosity against the US among radical Islamic groups.
As we reached dessert, the former diplomat said he had heard of Hindu militants but only Islamic radicals blow themselves up. Obviously, he has not heard of the Tamil Tigers who carried out suicide bombings or the Christian extremists in Indonesia who fight Muslims or the Irish Republican Army.
There can be no justification for war – whether political or religious. War is wrong, it's as simple as that. Let's give peace a chance.