PETALING JAYA: This is the full text of CIMB Group chairman Datuk Seri Nazir Razak’s speech at the launch of the Moderation book.
Assalamualaikum and good afternoon.
When Chun Wai asked me to launch a book about moderation, I had to agree instantly because I’m a huge fan of The Star's campaign to promote moderation. I must confess though that after I got a copy of the book “Moderation” and saw that 28 leading lights had penned their opinions on moderation, I wondered why I wasn't chosen to contribute.
Maybe I was number 29 on Chun Wai’s list of moderates so I only get to launch the book.
How this really came about, only Chun Wai knows. But with all sincerity, thank you. I’m extremely grateful for this honour and the opportunity to be associated with this important, and most timely, excellent collection of essays, and to be given this platform to add a few words to the discourse.
Ladies and gentlemen
This book nicely complements the successful 2016 Merdeka-Malaysia Day collaboration between CIMB and Astro themed "Diversity is Our Strength", featuring four original documentaries and the multi-channel showing of the movie “Ola Bola”. Last month, there was also the Star-EcoWorld Anak-Anak Malaysia Walk that attracted 6,000 Malaysians.
I’d like to think that the phenomenal response to these and other similarly-themed initiatives in recent times is a reflection of the growing realisation among the moderate, yet largely silent, majority of Malaysians that we need to assert ourselves and be heard. We need to recapture the discourse, re-frame the narrative and re-stitch the colourful, but tattered social tapestry, of this multi-cultural, multi-racial and multi-religious nation that we all love and cherish. This book will certainly help our cause.
The writers in this book discuss many definitions, experiences and perspectives of moderation, but there is an easily discernible shared concern about the socio-political state of the nation. I would add that although the country has done very well economically, the nation is like a three-legged stool - if the social and political legs wobble, it won't be long before the economic leg starts tottering as well. Socio-political pressures drive away talent and capital, life bloods of the economy.
If the economy deteriorates, socio-political pressures rise even further. The reactionary rhetoric gets even more rancid, the "blaming the other" mindset tightens its grip on society and the national discourse becomes ever more acrimonious. These, in turn, hasten the economic deceleration. It's a vicious circle, yet one that usually happens behind the protective veil of proactive fiscal and monetary policies by governments.
Economic historians have shown that when a government's fiscal and monetary policy options run out, it always seems sudden and shocking at first, and then some economist steps forward to explain how the rot actually set in a long time ago. Everyone should have seen it coming; it was all so obvious. And the children then ask their elders: Why did you let this happen? Why, indeed?
Ladies and gentlemen
I apologise if I sound rather alarmist. I don't mean to imply that our nation is teetering at the edge of the abyss. It isn’t. But I do worry, as expressed also in several essays in this book, that unless we, as a society, change our ways, we are slowly inching our way towards a point where the unthinkable starts to seem logical, even rational.
For Malaysia, given its unique mix of races, ethnicities, cultures and religions, as well as its system of race-based political parties, our future was always going to depend on how well we practice moderation when we engage on issues and manage polarities.
I think the book cover's sub-text for moderation - see with clarity, hear with an open mind and speak with kind words - is an excellent definition for the practice of moderation. We should undertake a campaign with this definition, to encourage all Malaysians to embrace these simple, but inherently powerful, traits. Too many people call themselves moderates, but are closeminded about the issues on which they differ, and even inflammatory in the way they express their disagreement. We should make it clear that having a couple of friends from different ethnic groups and not supporting ISIS does not make you a moderate. It's your behavioural traits that matter.
Moderate leadership, on the other hand, is about protecting and advancing moderation.
Ironically, it has been the lack of extremism in the defence of moderation that has caused many of the elevated tensions in Malaysia today. I agree with the writers who say that today's political calculations incentivise leaders to translate dissent and even simple questions into racial or religious terms. As a businessman, one basic lesson I learnt is that as soon as you diagnose a flawed incentive structure in the system, you must change it quickly or your fears will surely materialise.
Ladies and gentlemen
Given the increasingly polluted political atmosphere, diminishing trust in our institutions, a General Election in the next two years, a weak global economic environment and rising geopolitical tensions in the region, it’s too easy to paint a gloomy picture of what's around the corner for Malaysia. Surely it is time for pre-emptive action.
At the risk of sounding like a broken record, I’d like to take this opportunity to repeat what I’ve said ad nauseam - we need a national platform for reconciliation. Maybe even truth and reconciliation. And we need to discuss moderately, behind closed doors, the long list of sensitive issues that range from the state of our education system, affirmative action, the role of religion in national life, the integrity of the Federation, the issues of corruption and competitive politics - and, of course, rebuilding trust in our institutions.
Given the obvious similarities to the National Consultative Council of 1970, I’ve coined the term NCC2 for this platform. The conditions this time are different, of course. Maybe with the issues at hand and today's demands of governing and the governed, the NCC2 should be set up under the auspices of the Council of Rulers, with the support of the government, political parties, civil society, academics, religious leaders and businessmen.
Ladies and gentlemen
Our nation will turn 60 next year and we have come a long way, with much to celebrate and be thankful for.
However, it is time to ask if the system mostly designed in 1970 still works well enough. Even the engineers of the system thought we would need an overhaul in 1990. And in those 26 extra years, the rest of the world has changed almost beyond recognition. But for today, perhaps let's look at this idea from just one angle - are there ominous signs that demand a more unconventional national-scale initiative at this juncture?
To those who question the concept of the NCC2, I say: why not? What could be so wrong about a diverse group of the good and the great of Malaysia coming together to have conversations to recalibrate a system that is evidently under stress and strain?
If anyone has a better plan, let's talk. But please first look at my idea with clarity, and not with self-serving blinkers on. Then, let's discuss various options with civility and open minds. I would love nothing more than to have a robust discussion on this idea in the Malaysian spirit of moderation that we honour today.
Thank you and wasallam.
29 September 2016