Malaysia hits back at US travel warning, saying it ‘lacks objectivity’

This May 25, 2018, photo show a general view of capital city of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. (AP)
Updated 15 April 2019

Malaysia hits back at US travel warning, saying it ‘lacks objectivity’

  • Over the past few years, Sabah has been the site of several high-profile kidnappings for ransom by the Abu Sayyaf Jihadist group and other terrorist organizations from Mindanao

KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia on Sunday described an advisory issued by the US warning its citizens not to travel to the Southeast Asian country, as “lacking objectivity.”
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement that it “strongly protests” the US government’s decision to include Malaysia as one of 35 countries given a “K” indicator on April 9 in its travel advisory for this year. The indicator relates to “the risks of kidnapping and hostage-taking by criminal and terrorist actors around the world.” America raised concerns over the risk of potential kidnapping or hostage-taking situations in certain areas of eastern Sabah.
The Malaysian government responded that the travel advisory “lacks objectivity” and does not reflect “the reality on the ground.”
It went on to describe the security situation in eastern Sabah as “safe and protected for tourists.”
The statement added: “This is borne out by the fact that the number of tourist arrivals in Sabah has grown by 5.5 percent, reaching 3.87 million last year. Further, the number of kidnapping incidents has dropped significantly to almost nil. Eastern Sabah continues to attract world-class divers.”
The ministry said it has ramped up its security efforts with increased patrols, closer security cooperation with neighboring countries, and the strategic positioning of security assets in the areas mentioned, while urging the US to immediately remove Malaysia from the list. 
The state of Sabah is in the eastern part of Borneo Island, bordering Indonesia and Brunei. The island is close to Mindanao, in the southern part of the Philippines.
Over the past few years, Sabah has been the site of several high-profile kidnappings for ransom by the Abu Sayyaf Jihadist group and other terrorist organizations from Mindanao. 
This month, a Malaysian fisherman died from gunshot wounds when he tried to escape from his Abu Sayyaf captors. He was reported missing along with two Indonesian fishermen in December last year. All three men were believed to have been kidnapped from their boat. 
Dr. Oh Ei Sun, a senior fellow at the Singapore Institute of International Affairs, told Arab News that despite the dire situation in Eastern Sabah, the travel advisory would not affect Malaysia’s tourism. 
”To be blunt about it, this won’t affect Malaysia a lot, because most of the tourists who go to the surroundings of Semporna (in Eastern Sabah) are amateur or seasoned divers who will go there at all costs due to its designation as the world’s best diving spot,” he said. 
He added that most non-Americans, and even non-Europeans, are less influenced by US travel warning nowadays, as there are many other factors that would affect people’s decision to travel to a country. 
The other 34 countries given a “K” indicator in America’s 2019 travel advisory include Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Iran, Iraq, Kenya, Mexico, Nigeria, Pakistan, the Philippines, Syria, Turkey, and Yemen. 

For Iman Jodeh, being Muslim and a progressive Democrat go hand in hand

Updated 31 May 2020

For Iman Jodeh, being Muslim and a progressive Democrat go hand in hand

  • Iman Jodeh, the Democratic nominee for Colorado’s House of Representatives District 41, speaks to Arab News

NEW YORK CITY: In the 1980s and 1990s, Colorado’s Muslim community was made up of fewer than 30,000 people, and there were only five mosques in the entire state.

“It was really small, but we were happy,” said Iman Jodeh, the Democratic nominee for Colorado’s House of Representatives District 41.

Ever since she was a child, on the first day of Ramadan, Jodeh has sent teachers a letter, written on the mosque letterhead, saying: “For the next 30 days, Muslims will be fasting. So if your Muslim students seem lethargic by the end of the day, please understand why.”

Today, there are over 100,000 Muslims in Colorado.

(Photo: Supplied, Iman Jodeh)

“Those Muslims are starting to make up a big voting bloc, a big portion of our legislators’ constituency. And it is incumbent upon those legislators to make sure they are listening and taking into account the views of the constituents, regardless of their race, creed or religion. And I constantly remind them of that,” Jodeh told Arab News by phone.

The Democrat hopeful grew up in the shadow of two Gulf wars, and shortly after the 9/11 attacks, the Afghan and the Iraqi wars. She remembers the anonymous phone calls at dinnertime threatening to kill her father Mohammed, and recalls her mother, who wears a hijab, being frightened to leave the house.

“It changed my life. In the wake of 9/11, I was a sophomore in college and had not declared my major yet. Two days later, I was a political science major and, again, speaking to crowds having to defend my religion.”

Being a first-born, first-generation American, with perfect English, understanding the cultural nuances of America, I had to walk that line of also understanding the Arab heritage and Islamic culture and nuances, and marrying those two to be able to communicate the need of being an Arab Muslim American woman.

Iman Jodeh

Jodeh, a trained political scientist, spent the years following those events advocating for the Muslim community and the Middle East, “the most misunderstood region of the world, and the people who call it home.” She taught about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict at the University of Denver, held cultural events about the region and discussed Islam.

The most effective results, according to Jodeh, came via her non-profit “Meet the Middle East,” which invited Americans to take an “educational immersion journey” to the region to meet various stakeholders there, from Arab Bedouin to Palestinians living in Nablus, and both right-wing and left-leaning Israelis.

The travelers were invited to spend time in Jordan, Egypt, and sometimes Iraq and Morocco.

“From the Berbers of Morocco to the Kurds of Iraq, all these cultural and regional nuances must be understood before you can even attempt to understand the complexities of the conflict, and the kaleidoscope that make up the Middle East,” Jodeh said.

(Photo: Supplied, Iman Jodeh)

“There are things we can highlight to prove to the world that the Muslim world is one of the most fascinating places to be: There are nine women heads of state in the Muslim world, and the US has yet to see our first. It was Arabs and Muslims who discovered contagion; Arabs and Muslims who discovered latitude and longitude.

“Some of the first and oldest libraries were in Alexandria and Baghdad. And one of the oldest universities was in Morocco, founded by a woman.

“The more we can show that to Americans, the more we’re going to see further understanding and commitment to ending violence in the Middle East, as well as asymmetrical policies from the US and how we look at the region.”

Jodeh said her love for Palestine is ingrained. She was never introduced to it. She did not have a first language: It was Arabic and English her entire life. She was never just American. She was Palestinian American.

I am running to make the American dream a reality for everyone. The American dream has become harder and harder to realize. It is not a trite or cliched phrase for me. I am someone who is the product of a family who came here to realize that dream and with the cost of living, the lack of health care, our climate being threatened, our lack of criminal justice reform, civil rights being accosted... These are all things that are hurting the American dream. This is un-American, this is not the Colorado that I want to see.

Iman Jodeh

“This is my identity, I will never abandon this narrative, because I feel I have an obligation to all Palestinians everywhere to advocate when I can.

“The age of learning, that renaissance period is coming. But we have to get through our dark ages before we can get there. And, unfortunately, that is what we are witnessing today in the Middle East. And it’s heartbreaking.

“But the majority of people in the Middle East are under the age of 35, people like myself. We are just learning how to step outside dictatorship and implement something that we have known our entire lives to be true, which is democracy.

(Photo: Supplied, Iman Jodeh)

“Democracy is not a concept that is new to the Arab world. Shariah law has paved the way for democratic processes like social welfare,” she said.

To Jodeh, being a Muslim and a progressive Democrat complement each other. She gained her knowledge of Islam from her father, a Palestinian immigrant who co-founded the largest mosque in the Rocky Mountain region, and took his daughter with him when he taught or gave speeches on Islam. That put her in contact with scholars whom she still consults today.

In Aurora, a city she calls home and “one of the best and most diverse cities in the nation, a true reflection of America,” Jodeh has been working at the Interfaith Alliance of Colorado, where she speaks, often as a Muslim voice, on contentious bills, such as Equal Pay for Equal Work.

(Photo: Supplied, Iman Jodeh)

“I testified that, 1,400 years ago, God came down with a verse in the Qur’an: ‘I never fail to reward any worker among you, for any work you do, be you male or female — you are equal to one another.’

“It was ironic to me as a woman following a religion that is often deemed as primitive, that this was prescribed to the people 1,400 years ago.

“In Islam, there’s a chapter in the Qur’an called ‘Al-Nisa’ or ‘The Woman.’ There is not a chapter called ‘The Man.’

“What’s beautiful about the Qur’an is that it grants women rights not granted to women in the West until the 1920s,” Jodeh said.

“The fact that those rights were laid out for women so early on is proof of the sanctity of a woman in Islam: Her right to divorce, to own land, to take part in government, to own her own business. These were all things that have been practiced and continue to be practiced.”

The Democratic Party primaries in Colorado will take place on June 30.