“New Beginnings:” U.S. Relations with Malaysia and the Muslim World

ambkeith_small170x250Many of you must have seen or heard about President Barack Obama’s June 4 speech in Cairo outlining the United States’ commitment to seek a new beginning between the United States and the Muslim world based on mutual interest and mutual respect.

“…Islam has always been a part of America’s story,” said the President, and “since our founding, American Muslims have enriched the United States.” The rich diversity of cultures and traditions found in both the United States and Malaysia is a key strength in our societies. The President was impressed by Malaysia’s global outlook and pursuit of economic development in order to create opportunities for its people, noting “the astonishing progress within Muslim-majority countries from Kuala Lumpur to Dubai.” My goal is to strengthen our bilateral relationship in areas where we share common ground and to identify new areas for partnership in order to deepen mutual understanding between our societies.

Like Malaysia, the U.S. wants a safe and stable country for its people and wishes for the same for the countries and regions of the world. The events of September 11 were not just an American tragedy but a global loss. Americans, Malaysians and many innocent people from other countries working in the twin towers of the World Trade Center lost their lives on 9/11. With firm resolve, the President said, “the first issue that we have to confront is violent extremism in all its forms… (and, since 9/11) the United States pursued al Qaeda and the Taliban with broad international support.” In the aftermath of 9/11, Malaysia took effective action against al Qaeda’s Southeast Asian associates in the Jemaah Islamiyah terrorist group.

Malaysians have vocally expressed their concern for the Palestinian people. The President stated that “the Palestinian people — Muslims and Christians — have suffered in pursuit of a homeland,” described their situation as “intolerable”, and committed himself personally to pursue a two-state solution in which “Israelis and Palestinians each live in peace and security.” The President also cautioned that “if we see this conflict only from one side, then we will be blind to the truth…” I see this as a challenge to all nations to focus on practical measures and diplomacy that address the legitimate peace and security needs of both Israelis and Palestinians; ignoring one or the other will not lead to peace.

The President also assured the world that he wants to help build peace and prosperity throughout the world. For example, in Pakistan, the U.S. government plans “to invest $1.5 billion each year over the next five years to partner with Pakistanis to build schools and hospitals, roads and businesses, and hundreds of millions to help those who have been displaced.”

With Malaysia, I am especially proud of our joint efforts to build bridges between our future leaders–the young Malaysians and young Americans who will shape our world tomorrow. The U.S. is committed to furthering this understanding through people- to -people exchanges. In Terengganu, for example, the state government is hosting 23 young American Fulbright English teaching assistants who are sharing their language skills and rich cultural experiences with hundreds of Malaysian teachers and students.

In his June 4 speech in Cairo, President Obama said, “It was innovation in Muslim communities that developed the order of algebra; our magnetic compass and tools of navigation; our mastery of pens and printing; our understanding of how disease spreads and how it can be healed.” Modern Malaysia, of course, is a wonderful example of scientific and technological development. The list of Malaysian and American achievements, we know, is ever-expanding.

I welcome your thoughts on the U.S.-Malaysia relations and on my personal reflections on President Obama’s vision for a new beginning in U.S.-Muslim world relations if you care to share them on my blog.

Ambassador James R. Keith


10 Responses

  1. Dear Mr Ambassador, you must know about the rights that are granted to the muslim bumiputeras in this country. I am a graduate from America and as a malaysian of indian ethnicity, i hope you dont have ‘an eye closed’ to the poor treatment of malaysian indians in this country. We are deprived of job opportunities, college entrance and get discriminated against. Please give the FACTS to the higher authorities in the white house so they know the ridiculous ‘formula’ here in Malaysia that gives heavy affirmative action advantage to a muslim bumiputera population under the pretext that they are the sons of the soil of this nation. Most indians are more than 3rd generation here. The government’s only response to comments of this nature is that it is ‘untrue and baseless’. I beg you to help us minorities. We get stepped on. God Bless.
    Some decades ago it was agreed that the malays be given privileges but it has gone overboard. All malays get a 10% discount of house purchase regardless whether they are poor or not. The poor indian man doesnt get a discount. Its like he has to pay for the malay man’s jacuzzi.

    • Dear Arasu,
      What you are saying is obfuscating the facts. The Indian community is being given chances but they choose to celebrate the wrong kind of struggle, for example the struggle for Kugan and for Indian schools.

      The biggest issue holding the Indian community is the lack of dignity. Dignity means we take pride in our selves and in our country and behave in a manner that will be a credit to ourselves and to our nation.

      It also means that we be willing to also work hard. Why not you take some time to learn from the Americans and their can do spirit. Individually and collectively, if Malaysians adopt some of the work ethics and desire for excellence that has set America apart from the Rest of the World, the whole country can progress.

      Today you have a chance to air your views to the Ambassador of the United States. Imagine if another Malaysian were to read what you wrote. What would they think?

      I can guarantee you they will not be not be pleased at all.

      Wenger Khairy

  2. My Dear Mr. Ambassador,

    Congratulations on your Independence Day tomorrow. This year I think it will be more meaningful since 1776 because the new administration is headed by an African American the first time ever. President Obama from his speeches not only inspired Americans but the whole world.

    His speeches in Cairo show a change in US policy toward Muslim world. More tolerance and understanding. But the main obstacle is the Palestinian issues. We all can agree how eloquent his speeches are but people are judge by their deeds not by their words. The Muslim world needs to see some actions not mere words. We know this administration is all about change that we believe in so please send a strong signal to all side in the Middle East.

    We also want to see more actions being taken to improve the US economy, our economy depend on that. We sincerely believe the new administration have what it takes to tackles all the challenges. More dialogues and engage more NGO in the Muslim world.

    Lastly, thanks for visiting our state of Terengganu and we hope to see your Excellency and company again. TQ

  3. Honourable Ambassador,

    Congratulations on your blog. The Obama presidency has obviously captured the imaginations of Asian countries and expectations are certainly high that America will revert back to what it once was – the catalyst and agent for “positive change around the world”.

    This “new culture” of reaching out is encouraging and I wish you a fruitful and pleasant stay in Malaysia.


  4. Certainly as brothers on the same planet, we will need to learn to bear with and care for one another. One of the best ways to communicate and exchange resources is by new media.

    Welcome to the blogosphere. 🙂

  5. Dear Sir,

    While it is highly commendable that the people of USA have chosen to seat a president whose aim is to better the relations with the 1,5 billion Muslims in the world, these Muslims are not waiting to hear hollow words but they want to see some clear action from the US. The US needs to stop supporting Israeli terrorism, Israeli occupation and oppression of millions of Palestinians, Israeli threatening of neighbour countries with their nuclear arms, Israeli warmongering that led to the hideous war in Iraq and now leading to a war with Iran and Israeli hate mongering around the world against Muslims in general. Only by returning to the values of its founding fathers which contradicts all this the US can regain again its trustworthiness. Otherwise it is being a part of the axis of evil from Tel Aviv to Washington. But seeing that Obama is promising change but doing nothing substantial against Israel means that zionism is the master of US foreign policy. Please bear in mind that Rabin in his search for peace was killed by a zionist not a Muslim!! Maybe Obama is afraid of being killed by zionists too. But fear is no sound guidance, justice is. So please abandon the self-destructive Israeli mode and start thinking about your own interests and the interest of the whole human kind. The Muslim terrorist Osama is in a cave. The zionist terorist Lieberman is in the oval office!

  6. Dear Sir,

    right now Israel has imprisoned one of your former lawmakers and how about it? No one in the US political field or in the US media is concerned about this? How come? Why is it that the US is completely enslaved by Israel? Please regain your freedom to pursue your OWN interests!

    “Former US lawmaker Cynthia McKinney, who is in an Israeli jail for trying to take humanitarian aid to Gaza, says the White House has done nothing to secure her release.

    Speaking to Press TV from inside the Israeli jail, she said US taxpayers paid for Israel’s 22-day war on the Gaza Strip.

    “Operation Cast Lead was made possible by the US taxpayers’ gift to the Israeli war machine in the form of F16s, helicopters gunship, white phosphorous, depleted uranium, cluster bombs and anything that kills,” she told Press TV from inside the Israeli jail on Saturday. “

  7. Dear Mr. Ambassador,
    First, I would like to welcome you to blogosphere. It’s interesting that the Palestinian conflict should be given so much prominence when discussing US-Malaysia relations.
    And why is that? Is it that Malaysians are by and large the humane sort that shudder and are repulsed by the images of war and loss of life in the occupied territories. Then why does the state oil company has such a big presence in the Sudan?
    I don’t know. I posed the questions to my readers in one of my earlier blogs, when the Boycott USA campaign was being launched by a particular political leader.
    To me the relations between Malaysia and the United States of America is much larger than the issues of Palestine. Hundreds of thousands of Malaysians are employed in US companies, millions of households enjoy watching American television and a couple of us, myself included, speculate heavily on the Dow Jones. You should read my article on the Boeing Corporation
    Geopolitical issues are often hijacked by those with vested interest, who use the opportunity to embellish their Muslim credentials. Of course, they fail to communicate the fact that even the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has and still continues to purchase arms from American firms.
    So Mr. Ambassador, the question is, do you seek input from those whose views are coloured by what they hear from politicians? After all, by and large they are the Malaysian majority, because as you probably know, Malaysians don’t like to read too much.
    PS: I actually like W.

  8. Dear Mr Ambassador,
    Hello. I shall be studying in your country soon which means that I shall be going to your embassy to have a visa interview. Though I know about your country through the mass media, now I have the chance to know U.S.A. personally if my visa interview turns out to be successful. This visit is a miracle. As an ordinary Malaysian, I do not wish to see conflicts. However, conflicts are a result of humans’ weaknesses. There will always be conflicts but it is up to us to control them so that they do not go out of hand. I wish the best for your and my countries and may God Blesses this world.

  9. Greetings Ambassador Keith,

    I am a Fulbrighter and now General Counsel (Research & Intellectual Capital) at one of the local universities in Malaysia.

    President Obama’s outreach in his Cairo speech represents a fundamental shift in strategic US thinking vis-a-vis the Muslim world. While there will always be some sceptics whose minds cannot be changed, my sense is that this new initiative has been welcomed by the majority of Muslims worldwide (including myself ).

    From a historical perspective, the President’s Cairo outreach is a watershed event. We now have a major strategic opportunity for America and the Muslim world to start afresh.

    Malaysia is uniquely positioned to partner America in this new quest to reach out to the Muslim community. While there will always be differences on some foreign policy issues (eg the Middle East) between Malaysia and the US, we can focus on the deeper techno-economic opportunity for both Malaysia and the US to collaborate & jointly help transform the Muslim world into successful economies.

    I am a firm believer that when the Muslim world succeeds economically, when there is peace and a sense of comfort, religious extremism or worse blatant terrorism will find it hard to find a place in Muslim worldview.

    Malaysia today is the most competitive Muslim majority country in the world today (number 21 on the global ranking, World Economic Forum Global Competitiveness Index). Malaysia is also the most advanced developing economies and trying to move up the economic value chain to be the first developed Muslim-majority country.

    Malaysian economic success, I hope, could inspire other Muslim countries to adopt the same economic model. By partnering with the US, Malaysian institutions of higher learning, for example, can share our global best practices that I hope can be nuanced with an Islamic angle. For such a positioning to come from a country like Malaysia, I think the response from the less developed Muslim-majority economies would be good.

    I plan to write to you to explore possible strategic collaboration with the US through the US Embassy, to find a win-win model as part of our joint outreach to the other less developed Muslim majority countries like Indonesia. In the true ASEAN spirit, we should also involve the Muslim minority communities from Thailand and the Philippines.

    I am optimistic that we can seize this historic opportunity for Malaysia to support the US in this new nuanced approach to the Muslim world. Malaysia wants to move up the value chain and US industry certainly can play a role to accelerate our growth trajectory. The US, in turn, wants to redefine its relationship with the Muslim world in a way that would help strengthen economic development and promote world security.

    I wish the US and the Embassy the best in its endeavours.

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