By Wan Saiful Wan Jan. First published in The Star on 23 December 2014
As we step into the new year, let us do more to promote the positive values of freedom, liberty and moderation.
We are coming to the end 2014 and once again we are in the festive season. Let me start by wishing everyone Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.
This year has been a troubling year to me. If I had to find one incident that made me really cringe, it was the arrest of some 150 members of the Penang Voluntary Patrol (PPS) Unit on Aug 31.
These volunteer crime fighters were arrested by our paid crime fighters on Merdeka Day, soon after the PPS members finished their Merdeka Day parade. If you want to talk about absurdity, the timing of this arrest was taking it to a new level.
I personally feel that the incident was a sign that the country has gone haywire.
It was as if the people with guns on their belts want to tell us lay citizens that they have the powers to do anything at any time.
Of course the most troubling issue over the last 12 months is the rise of extremism. This year has been the year in which extremist voices have become louder.
I am not sure which one troubles me more, the increasingly loud voices or the increasingly ludicrous messages that they spew. Perhaps both are equally troubling.
Conservative extremism has not just become louder. They are also given more public space and they seem to be dominating it.
The government has failed to handle this rise in extremism well. There are lots of lip services, but in terms of real leadership to bring the nation back to the rightful path, there is none.
Perhaps the Global Movement of the Moderates Foundation (GMMF), under the leadership of Datuk Saifuddin Abdullah, is one government organisation that deserves a pat on the back.
Saifuddin is clearly trying to bring the moderation agenda to the fore. But despite all the domestic work that they carry out, ultimately the GMMF is a foreign policy outfit that sits under Wisma Putra. This means their work remains outward looking.
The real government bodies responsible for curtailing extremism and promoting moderation domestically would probably be the Prime Minister’s Department and the Home Ministry. Let us pray that God helps us.
There are signs that more moderate liberals want to stand up, speak up and be counted. This is a most promising sign.
For too long the struggle to champion freedom and liberty as envisioned by Almarhum Tunku Abdul Rahman was taken up by only a handful. It is heartening to see more people rise up to the challenge.
After all, as I have said before, liberalism is not an alien concept for us in Malaysia. It was the founding philosophy of this nation.
The Tunku proudly announced this in his 1957 Proclamation of Independence and 1963 Proclamation of Malaysia. The Rukun Negara says that we as a nation want to guarantee a liberal approach to our rich and varied cultures and traditions.
Tun Mahathir in his Vision 2020 clearly said that we want to be a “society that is democratic, liberal and tolerant”.
So when entities like this newspaper started the moderate Malaysia campaign, or when groups like the Eminent 25 issued their celebrated statement, they are not inventing something new.
They are reviving the cause first initiated by the founding fathers of this nation.
The question now is, what next? Should the eminent individuals form a new NGO? Should there be protest rallies?
I think what we really need is a consistent and regular effort by more people to get involved in public debates.
For so long we have allowed people with half a brain to dominate our public space and newspaper column inches.
They fully exploited the opportunity to create a façade as if they are big in numbers when in reality they are just a small minority.
I really hope the moderate and liberal luminaries out there will not stop at issuing just one statement. Their voices carry weight and we need to hear more.
They cannot be reactive, responding only when things have become really bad. Instead they need to proactively call for freedom and liberty.
They need to turn the table and start shaping the debate. They should not dance to the tune set by others.
We the common people need to do our bit too. I guess the most important thing is for us to be more rational in our judgement, so that we are not duped into believing the divisive propaganda of the extremists. We should tell those who try to divide us that we do not buy into their fear-mongering tactics.
As we step into 2015, let us do more to promote the positive values of freedom, liberty and moderation. We should be clear in our message. We own this country and we are the majority.
The racist extremists are mere deviants and we must put them where they belong.
Here’s to a less troublesome and more free 2015!
Wan Saiful Wan Jan is the Chief Executive of IDEAS