October 23, 2005

Malaysia could help bridge Islam, US – Bush envoy

KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) - U.S. goodwill envoy Karen Hughes
appealed on Sunday for Malaysia, an Asian melting pot of
religions, to use its influence in the Islamic world to help
bridge a gulf of misunderstanding about U.S. policies abroad.

"I do think that Malaysia can be a very important part of
our outreach, the civilised world's outreach, in confronting
terror," Hughes said in Kuala Lumpur, her last stop on an Asian
tour that also took in Indonesia, the world's most populous
Muslim nation.

"I think Malaysia is uniquely placed to help with that,"
she told reporters after opening a collection of books on U.S.
history and culture at the city's main public library.

She described mainly Muslim Malaysia as an example to the
rest of the world -- "like Iraq for example" -- of how
different cultures and religions can live together in

Malaysia's official religion is Islam and is currently
chair of the world's largest grouping of Islamic nations, the
Organization of the Islamic Conference. But almost half of
Malaysia's people practise other religions, including Hinduism,
Christianity and Buddhism, or beliefs such as Confucianism.

Since race riots in 1969, which killed around 200 or more
people, Malaysia has strived above all to keep the peace
between its different cultures and religions. Its current prime
minister, an Islamic scholar, has been pushing within the OIC
and at home for Islam to be more open to new ideas.

Hughes has so far visited five Islamic countries, including
Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Turkey last month, since U.S. President
George W. Bush hired her at the end of July to polish America's
image overseas as undersecretary of state for public diplomacy.

She has come face to face with Muslim anger over the
U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in a series of public forums during
her travels. In the most recent, in the Indonesian capital, she
came under fire from a group of mostly female Indonesian Muslim

Hughes, a Texan and formerly a close political aide to
Bush, is due to meet Malaysia's Deputy Prime Minister Najib
Razak on Monday before flying back to the United States.

"I will be pursuing that with him," she said when asked if
she would look to enlist Malaysia's support to her cause.