Travel ban stirs unease in Indonesia, Malaysia

Malaysians shout slogans and hold placards during a rally held in response to the Trump administration's 'Muslim Ban' executive order, in front of the US Embassy in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, on Feb 3, 2017.
Malaysians shout slogans and hold placards during a rally held in response to the Trump administration's 'Muslim Ban' executive order, in front of the US Embassy in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, on Feb 3, 2017. PHOTO: EPA

Concern is growing in Indonesia and Malaysia about US President Donald Trump's travel ban - currently under suspension - against seven Muslim-majority nations, with activists and political leaders warning that the move has widespread implications for the region, even though the ban does not apply to either South-east Asian country.

Yesterday, human rights activists protesting outside the US Embassy in Jakarta called Mr Trump's decision to bar citizens from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen from entering the US, a threat to international peace.

They also called on the Indonesian government to take action against the ban, which is being challenged by courts in the US.

Civil rights lawyer Veronica Koman said the travel ban was an affront to all Muslims and refugees, and should be revoked. "The purpose of this demonstration is to denounce Mr Trump's policy," she added.

The protest in Jakarta follows a similar rally held across the street from the US Embassy in Kuala Lumpur last Friday led by members of Malaysia's political opposition and other non-governmental groups.

Opposition leader Saifuddin Abdullah said the travel ban encourages Islamic radicalisation in the region. The Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) terror group wants to create its next wilayah, or state, in South-east Asia as it loses territory in the Middle East.

"What the executive order has done is to give more reason for people to be radicalised and join ISIS," he added. "It falls right into the narrative of ISIS that you cannot believe in democracy."

Indonesian officials have also said that barring immigrants from the seven countries will have a "negative impact" on global efforts to fight terrorism.

Indonesian Vice-President Jusuf Kalla said that while Indonesia, which is the world's most populous Muslim country, was not affected by the travel ban, Mr Trump's policy could still fuel prejudices against all Muslims.

Muslim Youth Movement of Malaysia president Mohamad Raimi Rahim agreed, adding that the discriminatory stance could already be felt.

"There's a sense of fear among Malaysian Muslims, including those with US visas, that anyone could be stranded and interrogated at an airport," he said at Friday's rally. "From what Mr Trump and his new administration indicated, there's a strong anti-Islam sentiment and so we do not feel welcome any more."

The protests came amid news that a US federal judge had issued a nationwide restraining order on Friday, which temporarily blocks Mr Trump's travel ban.

The US Department of Homeland Security also issued a statement the same day to clarify that no other other countries had been "identified as warranting future inclusion (in the travel ban) at this time, contrary to false reports".

Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak, who recently fashioned himself as a champion of Muslims elsewhere, including the Rohingya in Myanmar, has remained silent on the issue, raising questions from the opposition over his sincerity towards fellow Muslims.

"We demand that the government of Malaysia state its stand on this matter. Mr Najib has been silent on this," said Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia committee member Ulya Husamudin.

Meanwhile, Indonesian President Joko Widodo has assured Indonesians that they will not be affected by the ban and urged his citizens to remain calm: "We are not affected by the policy, so why worry?"

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on February 05, 2017, with the headline 'Travel ban stirs unease in Indonesia, Malaysia'. Print Edition | Subscribe