Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen,
1. The major convulsions that have gripped the worldand that have been dominating the media headlines for the last two decades share a common link. They all point to either individuals or organisations that are Muslim or at least they claim to be so.
2. But on closer examination, we find that much of the instability and violence, the destruction and the killings have less to do with Islam as a religion and more to do with staking out spheres of power and influence.
3. It is true – these individualsand organisations invariably claim that they act according to the commands of Islam and that when they kill, they do so in the name of jihad.
4. But we know it is a lie. Their actions are, in fact, not related to religion or to holy war or are really committed in the name of Allah or for the cause of Islam even though they try very hard to make it look that way.
5. The barbaric killings, bombings, kidnappings and other acts of violence are also not related to Islam as a civilization. Contrary to what was predicted in the past, there is no civilizational clash between the Muslim world and Christendom.
In fact, there is no clash between or among civilizations at all.
6. Indeed, what we are witnessing is the wholesale hijacking of Islam for worldly gain. With increasing rapidity, religion is being exploited to take over territory with rich resources.People are kidnapped for ransom. Women are captured and turned into sex slaves or pawned as bait to men as reward for joining in the fight.
7. In this renewed quest for more power and influence, the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham has now overtaken al-Qaeda and the other terrorist groupings in the race to show who can wreak more havoc and create more terror. As events in the last month have shown, ISIS has demonstrated that it too can operate beyond geographical boundaries.
8. The recent ruthless attacks and brutal massacres in Paris must be condemned categorically and the perpetrators must be brought to justice.
9. Nevertheless, while we must condemn all forms of senseless killing, what tend to be glossed over are the equally inhuman acts and depredations inflicted on other innocent peoples as well.
10. The plight of the Palestinians appears to be all but forgotten until another incident erupts for which the Western controlled media will always ensure that equal if not total blame will be heaped on them.
11. The fact that they have been dispossessed of their homeland, and have to fight tooth and nail just to get by with the territorial prison they are being caged inis somehow lost in the narrative.
12. And there is Myanmar. While we rejoice in the electoral victory secured by Aung San Suu Kyi and the National League for Democracy, we remain concerned that the plight of the Muslim minorities such as the Rohingyas has not been resolved.On the contrary, we are witnessinga rise of extreme bigotry towards minorities particularly the Muslims and unchecked violence inflicted on them.
13. There is also a real and bloody clash that is happening within the Muslim world itself with Muslims murdering Muslims in the name of Islam. Sectarian strife between Sunni and Shia continues to claim thousands of lives.
14. Across the Middle-East and Pakistan, the inability or sheer refusal to look beyond parochial interests and sectarian beliefs has resulted in a culture of intolerance and hate, a deadly one-dimensional outlook with extreme and violent consequences.
15. The fact is that these turbulent happenings and events are detracting us from our main focus as Muslim democrats.
16. Leaving aside all other extraneous factors, the Muslim world continues to be plagued by the problem of widespread poverty and economic backwardness.
17. The statistics paint a sad picture. While the Muslim population is less than a quarter of the world total, more than half of global poverty is in the Muslim world.
18. There are no positive signs to show that the trend is about to be reversed any time soon. What it means is that the host of problems associated with poverty continue to plague the umma.
19. Employment, education, health care and housing which form the fundamental determinants of societal progress – these are all sorely lacking in Muslim societies. And when we factor in the social inequities between the rich and the poor and the overall political situation, it begs the question:
How much capacity is there left for the questions of freedom, democracy and justice? Will issues of rule of law and an independent judiciary be relevant at all?
20. I have no doubt that the answer to all these questions remains a resounding “yes”. Indeed, we cannot dismiss these issues or set them aside with the hope that they will just disappear.
21. Issues of freedom and democracy are fundamental and together with the questions of proper governance, they hold the key to resolving some of the major problems that beset poverty stricken Muslim countries.
22. Widespread corruption and kleptocracy are definitive features. Tied with this is the length of rule – typically, either the same individual or the same political party will remain in power with no signs of handing over power. Accountability and transparency of governance are essentially brushed aside.
23. So, while the world at large is focussed on the “war against terror” and while we are clear on which side we stand in this war, the underlying fundamental problems of the umma must never be forgotten or even neglected.
24. The situation is not entirely hopeless. The Arab Spring may have most unfortunately turned into a winter which promises to be protracted and harsh.
25. But over here in this part of the world with the largest number of Muslim inhabitants is living testimony of what a nation can achieve when political will meets the umma’s aspirations.
26. I believe that Indonesia’s successful transition from decades of autocracy to democracy since the Reformasi of 1997 should be a showcase of why the fight for freedom and democracy does not end just through the ballot box.
27. That in fact is just the beginning. It is a long hard struggle to have democracy institutionalised – the most challenging being the reconstruction of the constitutional structure and ensuring the separation of powers.
28. In spite of the huge challenges, Indonesia is very fortunate to have had a well-entrenched civil society. This essentially translates into civil Islam and that is the key to the future success of Muslim nations in the quest for freedom and democracy.
29. The lessons of 1965 and the winter of democratic suppression and dictatorial controls that set in with the New Order (OrdeBaru) in a deep sense moulded the emergence of civil Islam.
30. There was no need to craft an Islamic Weltanschauung for it has evolved by natural selection.
31. Today, with Reformasi already 16 years behind us, what can Muslim democrats learn from the legacy of the likes of Gus Durand Nurcholish Madjidin terms of giving the Muslim world the new impetus to deal with the multifarious challenges?
32. I believe we need to revisit the inclusivist concepts within the framework of the foundational themes for Muslim-majority nations.
33. Surely, any signs of a revival of “Islamic puritanism”, or “religious conservatism and social exclusivism” are tell-tale indications of slouching towards militancy, fanaticism and terrorism.
34. This forum will therefore have to address these issues boldly. I make no apology for advocating civil Islam in its widest conception and, to borrow the expression of Robert Heffner, in order to create “a civilized and self-limiting state”.
35. In other words, “the state must act as a guardian of public civility as well as a vehicle of the popular will.”
36. Previously, the prevailing myth was that Muslim societies desire less freedom and democracy. We can safely bury this fallacy. We need greater democratization.
37. At the same time, religious intolerance, fanned by right-wing racist groups will continue to put stress on multi-racial and multi-religious coalitions. We need to be constantly vigilant against that.
38. Let me conclude with a quote from the convener and co-founder of the Forum, Anwar Ibrahim:
“There are no two ways about it. The growth and strengthening of civil society committed to the advancement of democracy and freedom, the establishment of rule of law, and the safeguarding of human dignity, will continue to serve as the bulwark against the forces bent on derailing them.”
Mohamed Azmin Ali
Dato’ Menteri Besar Selangor