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Moderates unite


Power in unity: We live in a multiracial and multireligious society, where the interaction between people of different faiths cannot be avoided.

Power in unity: We live in a multiracial and multireligious society, where the interaction between people of different faiths cannot be avoided.

In the coming weeks, more like-minded Malay moderates are expected to step forward to keep the Voice of Moderation alive.

IT’S heartening to kick off 2015 with the Voice of Moderation gaining more momentum. As I write this article, Datuk Noor Farida Ariffin, the former Malaysian Ambassador to the Netherlands, had just sent out an e-mail to the media to inform them that more eminent Malays have joined the Group of 25 to make their stand against extreme racial and religious views.

The latest group of respectable figures to join the Group of 25 are former Public Services Department director-general Tan Sri Alwi Jantan, former Universiti Malaya vice-chancellor Tan Sri Rafiah Salim, businessman Datuk Seri Nazir Ariff, former Ambassador and Asean deputy secretary-general Datuk Ahmad Mokhtar Selat, former Petronas Dagangan Berhad CEO Datuk Anwaruddin Osman, former Defence Ministry deputy secretary-general Datuk Baharuddin Musa, Universiti Malaya Faculty of Medicine dean Professor Dr Adeeba Kamarulzaman, former Universiti Malaya Economics faculty dean Professor Dr Ariff Abdul Kareem, former MP Mohamed Tawfik Tun Dr Ismail and former Commerce International Merchant Bankers Berhad corporate finance executive Shazal Yusof Mohd Zain.

The 10 all share the same concerns over recent developments regarding race relations, Islam and the rise of extremist behaviour in Malaysia. The group of 25 prominent Malays had, on Dec 7, called for a rational dialogue on the position of Islam in a constitutional democracy.

“Given the impact of such vitriolic rhetoric on race relations and political stability of this country, we feel it is incumbent on us to take a public position,” Noor Farida Ariffin, a lawyer, had said in a statement when the group released its letter to the media.

I believe that in the coming weeks, more like-minded Malay moderates will be stepping forward to keep the cause alive.

These are the concerned citizens who will openly make their stand even though they are aware that they will be called all sorts of names for doing so. Many have already declared their support to the group, including CIMB group chairman Datuk Seri Nazir Razak and former deputy Prime Minister Tun Musa Hitam.

Nazir, in an interview with The Edge in its Dec 22, 2014 issue, said, “it was refreshing to read the recent public statement by 25 prominent senior Malaysians calling for a dialogue on religion and political stability. I could not agree more.”

In the article, he was also asked whether there was anything that he reckoned Malaysians should be thinking about more.

His reply: “National unity. Why do we allow the racial paradigm to dominate us when there is so much power in unity and leveraging diversity?”

Meanwhile, Musa, who proudly proclaims himself “always a moderate and proud to be one,” said in an interview with this newspaper on Dec 22, “I was very happy to see the statement made by the 25 prominent Malay personalities. To me personally, that was a very good symbolic statement made by them in that they triggered thinking, arguments and conversations.

“Then there were the responses, which I compliment also because they are not calling names. They are not arguing based on irrationality but arguing on an almost point-by-point basis.”

The highly-respected Tan Sri Munir Majid, a visiting senior fellow at LSE Ideas Centre for International Affairs, Diplomacy and Strategy, wrote in his column in The Star yesterday that “The great – and main – contribution of the 25 prominent Malays who wrote that open letter calling for rational dialogue on the application of Islamic laws in the country, is to highlight there is a serious existential problem over the political system to which Malaysia subscribes – which is being loudly and evidentially challenged.

“It cannot any longer be avoided or swept under the carpet. It could lead to violence and violent change. It needs management through strong political leadership.”

Supporting the calls for dialogue, Dr Munir also pointed out that “In any such discussion, the two groups should be mindful of the sensitivity of re-opening issues in the constitution which touch upon inherent rights, especially of the non-Muslims.

“It has to be borne in mind that the minorities in multiracial Malaysia are not insubstantial and that there is an intermingling among the races which can raise issues – and there are numerous cases of this – which affect fundamental civil rights guaranteed in the Federal Constitution.”

All of them have hit the right chord about the need for rational discourse. This is in fact in line with the politics of consensus that has been pivotal in the governance of this country.

The Alliance and subsequently the Barisan Nasional, by bringing together different political parties representing different interests, has been able to rule this country since independence because it subscribes to the winning formula of consensus-building. Compromises have to be worked out to ensure that all races are represented in the Government to ensure its legitimacy.

It is a winning formula and there is no reason for any party within the coalition, even if it represents a particular group, to only focus on the interest of that group and forsake the interests of others.

What has troubled many Malaysians is that of late, a small group of individuals and a few organisations have been emboldened to make endless racist and seditious statements. They have no credible track record but continue to be in the limelight because they seem to be able to get away with their rantings, giving the impression that they have the perceived approval of the authorities. A terribly dangerous signal has been sent off.

Coupled with this is the insistence of PAS to push for hudud laws in Kelantan and this has put Umno in a spot, with religion now becoming a central agenda in Malay politics. If both parties support it, an unprecedented political development would be set off. It would certainly trigger off reactions from the non-Muslim component parties in both the Barisan and Pakatan Rakyat.

There will be no turning back if Malaysia, starting with Kelantan, takes on a different route – one which was never on the plan of our founding fathers, who clearly stated that Malaysia is to remain secular.

It is the height of naivety for non-Muslim citizens of this country to believe that this is strictly an issue for the Muslims – that hudud laws would not affect them, as PAS wants many of us to believe.

We live in a multiracial and multireligious society, where the interaction between people of different faiths cannot be avoided. How will the laws be applied, say in a rape case where the victim is a non-Muslim woman and the perpetrator is a Muslim man? How do we reconcile the weight of evidence required to prove rape under hudud and our existing Penal Code?

And what about a business contract involving Muslim and non-Muslim parties going awry? Which court will arbitrate and how will justice be dispensed?

Many Malaysians are deeply concerned over the state of the nation and the direction this country is heading towards. In the words of Noor Farida, she fears that Malaysia would end up like Pakistan and Afghanistan, where the religious authorities would reign supreme.

Moderates like Noor Farida and many others have had to pay a price for standing up against the extremists.

Perkasa chief Datuk Ibrahim Ali has filed a suit for RM500,000 against me and Star Publications.

I have no intention of paying him a single sen, and I am waiting for the papers to be served on myself so we can get down to the formal stage of filing my statement of defence. Hopefully, the court will strike off this frivolous suit, which is nothing more than just intimidation.

Ibrahim has also threatened to sue Noor Farida, and it is good that the latter has urged Ibrahim to go ahead with the legal threat, so the matter can be settled in the courts.

Many personal threats and insults have been made against this writer by other like-minded extremists. In their inability to argue their case rationally, they resort to political and racist bullying. By now, most of us are pretty tired by simplistic arguments like, “go back to your country of origin if you don’t like Malaysia.”

This is unlike the rebuttal by the Group of 32 to the Group of 25, whose letter was also published in this newspaper. Their point-for-point response is the kind of civil discourse that we want to see, so that Malaysians can study the views that are put forth.

For the moderates, the biggest challenge has always been about their ability and willingness to point out, even criticise, the flaws of their own communities and religions.

I have been accused of not making criticisms against groups like the Chinese education group Dong Zong and the Opposition, to cast aspersions on me as a true moderate. Can they just Google my past writings? Stop being lazy.

In 2012, in a Tweet, I strongly criticised the Chinese group for their outrageous suggestion that non-Mandarin speaking teachers be transferred out of Chinese primary schools.

Earlier in Nov 5, 2000 I questioned Dong Zong, in my column, on its objection to the Vision School concept, where three schools of different mediums of instruction – Bahasa Malaysia, Chinese and Tamil – would occupy a common compound and share facilities.

“These schools have been totally integrated under the Vision Schools but their characters have remained unchanged. It would do a lot of good to the Dong Zong if it emphasises less on ethnicity,” I wrote. And these are just two examples.

I am a product of the English-medium school system and I will be among the first to tell off groups like Dong Zong that it cannot operate like a communist cell group.

The same line of attack has been made against Noor Farida and other moderates to make them go on the defensive. But the moderation movement does not belong to any one individual or group. It has become the People’s Movement.

Ordinary Malaysians – fresh faces and voices – have emerged. Names like Lyana Khairuddin, who initiated the #iam26 social media movement, and moderate advocates like Hannah Kam, Dina Murad, Firdaus Zulkifli, Alia Aishah Sharir, Michael Teoh, Sunildave Parmar, Tan James Anthony and Kanyakumari Damodran. They may not be household names but they dare to stand up and be counted, and make their voices heard.

If what started as the Voice of Moderates initiative by The Star in August last year – ahead of the National Day and Malaysia Day – has snowballed into an awakening with more moderates joining in, then I believe this spontaneous movement will grow larger, on its own.

Certainly, the court case involving me will add more spark, but more critically, ordinary moderate Malaysians must come together to send out a loud message to our leaders.

We will not let the extremists hijack Malaysia. Let no one be cowed, bullied or intimidated by those uncouth mouths, as we unite to keep Malaysia moderate.

The views expressed are entirely the writer’s own.

Wong Chun Wai

Wong Chun Wai

Wong Chun Wai began his career as a journalist in Penang, and has served The Star for over 27 years in various capacities and roles. He is now the group's managing director/chief executive officer and formerly the group chief editor.

On The Beat made its debut on Feb 23 1997 and Chun Wai has penned the column weekly without a break, except for the occasional press holiday when the paper was not published. In May 2011, a compilation of selected articles of On The Beat was published as a book and launched in conjunction with his 50th birthday. Chun Wai also comments on current issues in The Star.

   

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