Lee Kuan Yew gives warning to Islamic moderates

AFP , Singapore

Sun, Mar 28, 2004 - Page 4

Moderate Muslims must take a stand against religious extremists, Singapore Senior Minister Lee Kuan Yew said, warning that failure to do so would lead to Islam being "hijacked."

In an interview with the BBC's East Asia Today program Friday night, Lee said the silence of moderates over deadly bomb attacks such as the ones in Bali and Madrid made it appear that only the US and its allies were fighting extremists.

Lee said "the crux of the battle, really, is between moderate and extreme Muslims."

However, moderate Muslims were "keeping out of sight" at the moment, he said.

"But if Madrid, 9/11, Bali and so on keep going on and the moderates in the Muslim world keep silent, either condone or duck the issue, then there is a danger that the West may begin to feel, that really, there are no champions to counter these terrorists," Lee said.

"That would become a very dangerous problem," he said in the interview.

"I am saying that moderates in the Muslim world, by not being able to take a stand and take the lead and start the argument with the extremists in the mosques, in the madrasah [religious schools], they are ducking the issue and allowing the extremists to hijack not just Islam but the whole of the Muslim community."

The former premier said there was a danger the war on terror would widen the differences between Islam and the West, but this could be prevented if the moderates made their stand clear.

"Let's take 9/11 or Madrid," he said, referring to the September 11, 2001 airborne attacks in the US and the March 11 bombing in the Spanish capital that killed 190.

"If nobody except Europeans and Americans and those who are already committed condemn this -- I mean if all Muslim countries stay silent or Muslim groups stay silent -- then there is the danger that the Europeans and Americans may come to the conclusion, `Look, there's really nobody on the other side that's standing up against this evil.'"