FOR the sake of convenience, whenever I travel to Kuala Lumpur for work, I usually stay near the KLCC twin towers, the iconic building complex that has come to symbolize the modern bustling urbanscape that is Kuala Lumpur. I can, in most circumstances, travel a short distance to meet the personalities I should be meeting in their downtown Kuala Lumpur offices, or even request them to come by the KLCC where we could talk perhaps over a cup of coffee or two in the numerous cafes there. I really enjoy the ease of access there.
Alas, as with many other iconic buildings around the world, the KLCC may also be a much sought-after target of attack by ruthless terrorists who ever lurk in dark corners (or sometimes perhaps quite in the open). The main point of a terror attack anywhere in the world, if there ever is such thing as a main point in such a brutally senseless act, is to create abject fear and resignation in the heart and soul of the general population in the area (most often country) concerned, such that the authorities may be pressured by popular sentiment into altering their policies of combating extremism into accommodating or even incorporating such horrific ideologies.
Such must have been what was in the mind of those terrorists who hijacked passenger planes and rammed them into the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon in Washington in 2001. Of course, in that case, it did not soften the iron will of either the combat-seasoned American populace (the military has always played an important role in the lives of the average American, the country being the world’s beacon of democracy notwithstanding) nor the American administration of the time. Instead, the United States launched an all-out attack to destroy the Taliban regime in Afghanistan which was then sheltering the arch-architect of terror Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaida terror group, although both the Taliban and al-Qaida still linger to create terroristic troubles in Afghanistan and around the world.
Such “striking fear into the popular psyche” mentality is perhaps also somewhat present in the many recent “lone-wolf” or “cell group” terrorists who carried out small-scale attacks apparently out of their own “self-inspired” initiatives and without clear-cut orders from centralized terror-group command and control mechanisms, ramming pedestrians, stabbing passengers, and randomly shooting passersby. In contrast to centrally planned, “one big shot” terror attacks of the 911 genre, this sort of scattered, medium-to-low casualty-rate attacks would prove correspondingly difficult to effectively diminish, and call for a more fundamental, change of heart at the societal level in countering extremism which often gives rise to terrorism.
Back to KLCC and other such prominently featured buildings. It goes without saying that while one would in the ordinary course of a day enjoy its various nice and convenient facilities, there is perhaps always a nagging feeling inside that wishes for a sense of security amidst the noisy shopping crowd. In recent years, perhaps in response to the worldwide heightened terror alerts, the authorities have taken to deploying squads of fully armed security forces (which, from their uniforms, appear to be composed of both police and military personnel) to patrol these crucial “assets”. I have seen these patrol squads in airport and railway (and also subway) stations too, and not only in Malaysia, but also in Western countries such as the United Kingdom and France. (The Italians, of course, even in the somewhat halcyon pre-911 days, have always stationed patrol cars and security personnel from any one or more of their myriad law enforcement units at the corners of almost every popular piazza in cities major or minor.) If these were relatively “peaceful” times, soldiers coupled with policemen patrolling in the streets would have created alarm or even outcry, as citizens would suspect the authorities of teetering toward martial law and abandoning democratic practices. But these are unusually turbulent times, and such ostentatious patrols of heavily armed security personnel actually have a calming effect on the general population, not to mention (and hopefully also) a stunning effect on any potential perpetrator of terroristic acts.
I read with alertness and sadness the ongoing armed conflict in Mindanao, neighboring my home state of Sabah. As the Philippine security forces are making significant advances toward defeating the armed elements that staked out segments of urban areas there, there were threats of spreading the conflict, and in particular terroristic acts, around the region. It once again demonstrates that terrorism in all its ugly forms is not an isolated problem confined to any single country in the region or indeed the world. All Southeast Asian countries should steadfastly stand by, and cooperate with, the Philippines in rooting out the scourge of terror not only from the Philippines, but indeed throughout the region.