Pak Lah: Voices of reason can prevail

  • Nation
  • Monday, 11 Aug 2003

Speech by Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi at the closing of the World Peace Conference yesterday. 

ALLOW me to first thank Tan Sri Lim Kok Wing and his committee for inviting me to the closing of this conference. I would also like to officially record my congratulations to Tan Sri Lim and the World Peace Foundation on the success of this inaugural conference which is timely given the state of affairs the world is in. 

I am further gratified that taking on the great challenge in promoting peace in a world which is besieged by war, turmoil, conflict and uncertainty has fallen to Malaysia and Malaysians, symbolising the Government’s commitment to peaceful resolution of conflicts and the promotion of a just world order. 

I am sure that I also speak on your behalf in once again congratulating the eminent statesmen honoured at this conference.  

WARM RECEPTION: Abdullah being greeted by some of the participantof the World Peace Conference after giving the closing keynote address in Kuala Lumpur, yesterday.

To His Excellency President Jacques Chirac, who received the inaugural Kuala Lumpur Peace Award a few weeks ago, and to His Excellency Vaclav Havel of the Czech Republic, who will be receiving the lifetime achievement award, may I extend the heartfelt respect and admiration of the people and Government of Malaysia. 

These statesmen have inspired us with the courage of their convictions and commitment to moral principles. They reassure us and remind us that voices of reason can prevail over the calls for war. For this Malaysia is proud to honour them. 

On a more personal note, I would also like to record my admiration for another eminent statesman who deserves our honour and recognition. When leaders from other small countries were falling in line with the decision to attack Iraq last year, he stood defiant. But this was not a defiance borne of stubbornness, far less connivance with so-called rogue states and terrorist networks.  

It was a defiance based on principle and the desire to uphold the sanctity of international law. It was moral resistance in its highest form. Malaysia could have stepped aside onto the sidelines of history and allow the invasion of a sovereign state without objection. Instead we stood for what was right, risking the chagrin of the powerful. 

We stood for what was right because my Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Dr Mahathir Mohamad, would have it no other way. His courage to speak up for humanity inspired an unprecedented mass movement for peace in Malaysia. He spoke out in a manner which many world leaders wanted to, but could not.  

Malaysia is not a major power. We do not wield a veto at the United Nations Security Council. There are no major chips for us to bargain in diplomacy. We are not an isolated nation. We are an open economy, greatly dependent on trade and investments from the West. By vehemently opposing war, we had much to lose. 

This did little to deter our resistance. Were we going to forsake the lives of innocent Iraqis and allow international laws and institutions to be sidelined just so that we could remain in the good graces of the powerful? There was clear unanimity in Malaysia in answering that question.  

Of course, neither Malaysia nor the millions of people who marched, petitioned and lit candles against the war succeeded in preventing it. But history ought to record that this war was not our war. And history ought to record the courage demonstrated by Dr Mahathir and the people of Malaysia in standing up for principle and justice. 

Ladies and gentlemen. 

If you take the steps down from the Malaysian permanent mission on 43rd Street in Manhattan to the United Nations, you will come across an inscription in the wall. It is a passage from the Bible that  

reads: “They shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.”  

When I was Minister of Foreign Affairs, I walked by this wall many times and I was often reminded about the spirit of peace that illuminates my own religion.  

In particular I was reminded of a passage from the Holy Quran which means: “O mankind! We created you from a single pair of a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, that ye may know each other, not that ye may despise each other. The most honoured of you in the sight of God is he who is the most righteous of you. And God has full knowledge and is well acquainted with all things.”  

These two passages are unequivocal testaments to the commonality of the teachings of these great faiths. It is reflective of the respect for diversity and the imperative for diverse peoples to come to know one another in peace.  

The history of civilisations has shown anything but the spirit inherent in these passages. Instead of celebrating and respecting our differences, we have repeatedly fought one another. Crusades were launched, pogroms were unleashed, and bombs were detonated. Far from coming to know one another in peace, we have consistently tried to dominate and conquer one another. 

It is for this reason that any vision for sustainable peace must address the way in which we view one another. For as long as we view each other as a threat and as an enemy, conflict will be mankind’s natural condition.  

I am happy to note that at this conference, a special panel was convened to discuss the issue of inter-faith understanding. We need to find our common ground and defend it against those who use the powerful imperative of religion to create conflict. 

As I said earlier this week in my speech to the Asia-pacific roundtable – in the Muslim world, the fundamental teachings of Islam that are progressive, tolerant and peaceful must prevail. We must not surrender to the extremists who promote an exclusivist and violent agenda, at complete odds with Islam.  

Similarly in the west, we call for voices of moderation to prevail. People in the West must guard against forces that cast the world in the simplicity of good and evil where, to creatively paraphrase, if you are with us you are good and if you are against us you are evil. Without the prevalence of progressive intellectualism on all sides, we will succumb to what has been called a lash of fundamentalisms. 

Therefore, a key ingredient in the promotion of durable peace – in addition to addressing the root causes of conflict and creating a more just world order – lies in the promotion of the values of tolerance and moderation.  

These are challenges for all of us, individually and collectively. For me personally, it lies in ensuring that extremism and radicalism do not take root in Malaysia. This will be an important task in the years to come.  

We have seen how increasingly religion has become the most important imperative for people to do things – good or bad. By extension, religious teachings can be abused to incite people into violence and conflict. 

Do not underestimate the role values play in promoting peace. If we fail to counter radicalism in our midst, if we fail to inculcate our youths with values that can promote peace, if we fail to live by these values at home with our families, our own personal threshold against conflict is considerably lowered. 

Ladies and gentlemen. 

Before I end, allow me to appeal for perseverance. Let all these efforts that have been undertaken in response to current events not dissipate once the drumbeats of war have long gone silent. The past has taught us that we need to work at preserving peace just as much as we need to bring it about. 

I give my highest assurance that Malaysia will continue to play a leading role in efforts to promote peace. We will continue to speak on matters of principle and protect laws and institutions that govern the conduct of nations. Where called upon, Malaysia will offer our assistance in building confidence and in finding resolutions in areas of conflict. 

We have a well-respected diplomatic service with wide experience in conflict resolution. We bring to international diplomacy a unique perspective that is reflective of the great Asian civilisations that make up the peoples of Malaysia.  

That we have managed to successfully live as one people at home, given our differences in faith and ethnicity, enables us to understand international conflict from a much broader and textured perspective. 

Under Dr Mahathir, Malaysia has earned the respect of other countries – especially from the Muslim world and the south. These factors, together with our chairmanship of the Non-Aligned Movement and later the Organisation of Islamic Conference, puts us in a leading position to promote peace among nations and civilisations. 

If the Malaysian Government is to be able to successfully play this role on the international stage, we will need the continued support of non-governmental actors like the Malaysian World Peace Foundation.  

Global public opinion against war must be sustained. People’s power may not have prevented the war against Iraq, but it is today holding accountable some of the governments that decided to support the war. We must recognise people’s power as a profound deterrent against conflict. 

I therefore hope that the initiative started by those present here today will continue. The Malaysian Government will continue to support your initiatives, as I hope that you will also continue to support Malaysia in standing up for what is right.  

It gives me great pleasure to close the inaugural Kuala Lumpur World Peace Conference. Thank you. 

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