IT was the first formal gathering of moderates since a moderation campaign was recently launched by The Star and those present made their voices heard loud and clear.
Topics on racial, religious and national unity were discussed passionately but in a calm and rational manner at the National Unity Forum themed “Strengthening the Voices of Moderates, Moving Forward Together” on Thursday. But what came as a breath of fresh air was the voices of the young, from a segment in the forum titled “Next Generation Leadership – Perspective on Unity from the Younger Generation”.
The discussion saw many spirited and budding opinion leaders sharing their views, including a great granddaughter of the country’s first Prime Minister Tunku Abdul Rahman. Writer and The Star columnist Sharyn Shufiyan, exhibited traits of the Tunku, when she said true unity was when Malaysians stood together for fundamental issues like transparency and justice.
The multi-racial make up of the speakers and delegates also embodied the spirit of the event, which was to fortify the voices of moderates for a united nation.
The one-day forum, held at the Palace of the Golden Horses, was organised by the Asian Strategy and Leadership Institute (Asli) and the Centre for Public Policy Studies, with The Star as media partner.
The event kicked off with the national anthem and a recital of the Rukun Negara.
Some were heard remarking that the last time they stood up to recite the Rukun Negara’s five principles was during their school days. Setting the tone of the event was Cabinet minister Tan Sri Joseph Kurup who hit the nail on the head when he identified mistrust, created by racial and religious bigotry, as Malaysia’s biggest stumbling block to unity.
“We must not condone extremist voices and actions. The time has come for us, the Government, civil societies and citizens to up our responsibility to ensure we don’t allow them to flourish,” said the Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department.
Asli chief executive officer Tan Sri Dr Michael Yeoh said moderates must speak out more fervently.
“Let this message go out to all politicians and political parties – that we Malaysians reject extremism in any form,” he said.
The forum also gave room for youthful and vibrant speakers, including talent development trainer Michael Teoh and Kluang MP Liew Chin Tong.
Sharyn noted that unity was not just about “getting together at open houses” or about Merdeka or Hari Raya ads.
“Unity is when we stand together in issues that concerns us,” she said.
Her opinion that race-based politics could not be applied in the 21st century drew applause.
Universiti Malaya law lecturer Assoc Prof Dr Azmi Sharom had his listeners in stitches when he poked fun at his own Sedition Act charge. The crowd laughed when he said that he would try to talk about his legal opinion but “that can be dangerous nowadays.”
Sisters In Islam founding member Zainah Anwar shared a heartwarming account, whereby non-Muslim women had stood up for their Muslim sisters when there was an attempt to exclude Muslims from being protected under the Domestic Violence Act.
Among others present were former Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia vice-chancellor Prof Tan Sri Dr Sharifah Hapsah Syed Hasan Shahabudin and Malaysia Crime Prevention Foundation exco member Tan Sri Robert Phang.
Phang, who commented on the forum, said the country’s top leaders must always be careful of the things they say, otherwise, they could confuse the people.