Moderation is not easy to define, particularly because its meaning is so often relative. A new volume of essays, however, seeks to demystify the term by looking at it through a Malaysian lens.
Aptly titled Moderation, the book continues the campaign that the Star Media Group embarked on in 2014 in response to rising political, racial, and religious tensions in the country.
Featuring a series of essays by 28 prominent Malaysians from various industries and backgrounds, the book solidifies the abstract notion of moderation by linking it to personal experiences, thoughts and stories.
Edited by one of The Star’s executive editors, Soo Ewe Jin, Moderation contains pieces by, among others, Datuk Seri Idris Jala, Zainah Anwar, Anas Zubedy, Lyana Khairudin, Tan Sri Johan Jaafar, Sharyn Shufiyan and Datuk Dr Shad Saleem Faruqi. Alongside them are essays by Star Media Group editors and journalists Dorairaj Nadason, Brian Martin, Dina Murad, Phillip Golingai and Michelle Tam.
Law lecturer and The Star columnist (he writes the fortnightly Brave New World column) Azmi Sharom jokingly says in his essay, “... moderation: you’ll know it when you see it”, before rightfully pointing out how complex it is to define the term.
The writers in the book, however, do know what moderation looks like; for while they may approach it in different ways, they all agree that they want a Malaysia that is tolerant, compassionate, reasonable, and open-minded. They also agree that to counter the increasingly extremist views being espoused in Malaysia, it is vital for moderate voices to speak up.
A strong call
Speaking at the book’s launch last week, guest of honour CIMB Group chairman Datuk Seri Nazir Razak said Malaysia’s future depends on how well its people “use moderation when we engage with issues and manage polarities”.
In a clever twist, he suggested that “there’s been a lack of extremism in the defence of moderation” in the country.
Activist and The Star columnist (the fortnightly Musings) Datin Paduka Marina Mahathir, whose piece is featured in the book, agreed.
“Nazir was quite correct, we need to react ‘extremely’ to attacks on moderation. We can’t moderately talk about moderation,” she said. Doing so, she added, gives voice to the majority of Malaysians who are moderates.
“What we should do is push these people with extremist views into their tiny little corners and keep them there, because with the rest of us standing our ground, it will be a bigger space for everyone.”
According to Star Media Group’s chief executive officer and group managing director Datuk Seri Wong Chun Wai, reclaiming space in public discourse for moderate views was the aim behind the moderation campaign and the eventual publication of the book.
Speaking at the launch, he said: “Public debate has taken a turn for the worse. We do not seem to be able to engage in a discourse that can be considered intellectual. We cannot seem to disagree without being disagreeable. In short, we are pretty bad at having a discourse, at having different views,” said Wong, who also wrote an essay for Moderation.
The views expressed by the 28 contributors in the book, he said, would “make more people aware of what we have done in dealing with forces of extremism”.
Asli (Asian Strategy and Leadership Institute) Centre of Public Policy Studies chairman Tan Sri Ramon Navaratnam, who also contributed an essay to book, said moderation need not be seen as passive.
“Moderation is a strong, emotive term, which in itself makes a big, loud cry for understanding tolerance, appreciation, and the promotion of values that are against extremism of any form,” he said.
“The very small minority of extremist thinkers seem to be monopolising the discussion; I think we have to counter it, and this book helps a great deal.”
For G25 member and former MP Tawfik Ismail, a moderate approach is the only way for Malaysians to come together to decide on a brighter future.
“Many are worried about the issues happening in the country. We have to have a national dialogue. Only through that can we build a consensus on what is good and right for the country,” he said.
Countering extremist views, for Bernama chairman Datuk Seri Azman Ujang, means thinking as a Malaysian first.
“If everybody thinks and acts truly as a Malaysian, we wouldn’t be talking about this. After all these decades, it should not be an issue anymore. The fact that it still is shows we really have some work to do.
“Efforts such as publishing this book is a major step forward.”
Moderation attempts to present a diversity of voices. Alongside articles by experienced thinkers and activists are the essays of a young crop of hopeful Malaysians who have each interpreted moderation as it applies to their country today.
Lawyer and founding member of youth NGO ONE (Organisation For National Empowerment) Hannah Kam defines moderation as mutual respect, acceptance and understanding.
“It does not mean conformity or uniformity as some think. Instead, it’s about being able to have a dialogue and be tolerant despite the fact that you may have different views.”
Alia Aishah Shahrir, meanwhile, suggested also looking to Malaysia’s own traditional values for lessons on moderation.
“We have always had this concept of ‘saving face’. We were not out to expose a person’s moral weakness, and I feel that is slowly chipping away.
“Now, everyone is constantly trying to be on the lookout for people’s flaws, and are in a rush to expose weaknesses. ‘Saving face’ is one of the more subtle and underrated courses to moderation,” Alia explains. Alia is one of a group of young people who contributed essays to the Voices Of Moderation column in The Star and also contributed to the book.
Another contributor to the book, Danial Rahman, who is press secretary to the Higher Education Minister, uses his own mixed family in his essay as an example of moderation put into practice.
“I think the younger generation is a little bit more open to differences, and there’s also a lot more curiosity. Moderation starts with understanding that people are different, and then figuring out how to react to that.
“Differences don’t have to lead to animosity or friction. To me, moderation means trying to find happiness within those differences,” he said.
Moderation, retailing at RM48, is available at all major bookstores.