In a speech at the East-West Center, Malaysia’s Prime Minister called for a global “movement of the moderates…to drown out the extremists,” and said his country will kick off such a movement with an international conference in January.
“On one side are the handful of misguided Muslims acting under the false assumption that their faith justifies conflict and violence,” said Prime Minister Najib Razak, a Muslim who leads a country where Islam is the state religion but religious freedom is protected by the constitution. “On the other are those who allow themselves to believe that all terrorists are Muslims.”
For far too long, Najib said, a lack of collective action on the part of the moderate majority has ceded the floor to the extremist minority.
“We must ensure that our voices are heard — not just the voices of moderate Muslims but those of moderate Christians, moderate Hindus, moderate Jews and even moderate atheists,” he said. “If these voices are to become loud enough to drown out the extremists, they need to be heard from every corner of the world.”
However, he warned that leaders “must take real actions, deliver real change. And we cannot do this if we ignore what the majority are saying, because if you fail to understand what troubles working men and women, they become easy prey for extremists who are adept at offering simple but dangerous solutions.”
Najib is among the leaders of the 21 Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation economies that who gathered in Honolulu, Hawaii, this week.
He said an inaugural International Conference on the Global Movement of the Moderates will take place in Kuala Lumpur Jan. 17-19. Last year, he called on the United Nations General Assembly to join a global moderates’ movement.
Najib stressed that Islam is a religion of peace. “Islamic scholars have been very clear that those who commit acts of violence are not true Muslims — their twisted ideology is not grounded in any theology,” he said.
In the two years he has been prime minister, Najib said, he has set about “charting a moderate course for Malaysia, steering us away from the dangerous extremes — social, political and economic — that could cause the nation lasting damage.”
Referring to the Arab Spring revolutions, he said half the world’s population is below 25, and the majority of them live in Africa and Asia. “These young people represent the first truly global generation and they will not be satisfied with the ways of the past,” he said. “Separated by oceans but connected by Twitter and Facebook, young people from every corner of the earth have seen what the world has to offer…it is not enough to reform just our politics and our economies — we must reform the very way we think.”
Asked about students and other Malaysians who organized a large rally this past summer and have been making Arab Spring-style demands for more freedoms, Najib said this was a “sign of a mature democracy.” He said his administration would “deal with all voices in the political process” and not stifle dissent. “We have different views, but we must be responsible and respect the rule of law.”
Najib said social and political reforms are underway, including:
- Replacement of the colonial-era Internal Security Act with modern anti-terrorism legislation modeled on international best practices.
- Elimination of a requirement for newspapers to renew publishing licenses every year.
- Review of censorship laws to “protect our traditional values without compromising freedom of speech or stifling political debate.”
- A bipartisan panel to respond to calls for electoral reform.
He emphasized that his administration has also worked to produce economic growth that will benefit all Malaysians, including liberalizing industries, cutting red tape and making it easier for foreign companies to invest and Malaysian companies to grow. As a result, he said, an annual growth rate of 5-6 percent should bring the country’s national debt down dramatically by 2020.
“If you have growth, all problems can be resolved in due time,” he said.