The recently concluded German elections sent shockwaves through Europe and the world. The Alternative for Germany (AfD) with a far right ideology, emerged as the third largest party in the Bundestag.
The two major mainstream parties, the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and its Bavarian sister party the Christian Social Union (CSU) saw its vote share reduced to 33%; its worst showing since 1949.
The Social Democratic Party (SPD), which governed with the CDU/CSU in a grand coalition previously, saw its vote share drop to 20.5%, the lowest since 1933. Both major mainstream parties lost significant votes to the AfD. Despite overtly pro-Nazi views, the AfD won 13% due to a general frustration with the previous government’s immigration policy.
In Austria, the election of Sebastian Kurtz at the tender age of 31 captivated global imagination. Young leaders from France, Italy, New Zealand and Austria are winning but the rise of extremists’ movements has tempered this shift.
Kurtz will likely govern with the Freedom Party, who has views similar to AfD and it will be a fairly right wing government.
Malaysia too has been facing challenges to our moderate fabric for some time. It is indeed challenging because moderates generally tend to stay silent and extremists always speak louder and hence they generate greater publicity thus creating an impression of rising intolerance.
However, during the Malay Rulers Council meeting last week, the Malay Rulers took the unprecedented step of issuing a statement to reinforce our moderate ethos and it was an important reminder to all those who make extreme remarks that they are out of line and UnMalaysian.
The Malay Rulers stated that they appreciated the strict stance of His Majesty Sultan of Johor regarding the ‘Muslim-only laundry’ in Johor, as well as His Royal Highness Raja Muda of Perlis intervention in a similar case in Perlis.
The statement went on to say, “Unity among Malaysia’s multi-ethnic and multi-religious people is key to ensuring the country’s ongoing stability … The Rukunegara must continue to serve as a compass to all parties, be they leaders, government officials and citizens of our country,”
Gerakan has always advocated moderation as the way forward for the nation.
My party president, Datuk Seri Mah Siew Keong in his policy address during the 2015 National Delegates Conference remarked, “On the political front, there has undoubtedly been an increase in temperature in terms of inter-ethnic and even inter-faith relations … the Prime Minister had said emphatically in the United Nations recently “Malaysia has been and will always be a land where many faiths and ethnicities freely prosper and thrive.”
He added, “We can definitely agree with and fully support such a strong position of moderation. In fact, harmony in diversity has been the hallmark and the pride of Malaysia, and the envy of others. But as we preach moderation abroad we must also stand up and defend moderation at home as the world is watching how we deal with extremists and extremism domestically.”
However, we have to make moderation cool for the “silent majority” who I am certain are moderate in the words and deed. They need to stand up and be counted.
However, how do we define or give meaning to moderation. Moderation is about accepting a middle path. It is about balance and reconciliation between conflicting interests as opposed to a militant, uncompromising, ‘all-or-nothing’, ‘my-way-or-no-way’ attitude.”
In every human society inevitable conflicts arise in every sphere. Various demands and expectations compete with each other for recognition. Political, economic and religious ideas clash. History is interpreted in different ways. However, what is important is dialogue and conciliation. Moderation also entails eschewing dogma and coping with the complexities of the modern world.
For a start, we must start with younger Malaysians. Mandela said, “No one is born hating another person because of the colour of his skin or his background or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”
There is an urgent need to ensure moderation is made a subject in schools, colleges and universities. We need to entrench the values of moderation so people not only accept Malaysia as a moderate country but also work assiduously towards ensuring that extreme views do not gain a footing in Malaysia.
Second, we must not give space and face to extremists. I believe the media play a fundamentally important role in society. The media have a commitment to the truth which must always be unbending but I also believe they have a role to ensure that moderation and tolerance must always be given prominence over extremists and exclusive views.
Extremists generally say pretty outrageous things because they want to be sensational and find their way into the news. If they are not allowed into the news then they are robbed of oxygen and consigned to irrelevance.
I propose that the National Union of Journalists and other like-minded bodies look towards introducing a charter to promote and report on moderation and exclude extremists.
While I accept that they are other non-mainstream avenues like social media but even Facebook and Twitter accepted that some form of filtering is needed to prevent extremist organisation like IS or the Ku Klux Klan from using their platforms to foster hate and ill will.
A cooperative approach is needed to make moderation cool and I believe moderation is the only way forward to protect and entrench our multiracial nature because changing demographics also presents an added challenge to Malaysia.
All stakeholders must work together to ensure Malaysia remains a moderate and progressive country.