Moderation does not mean acceptance of evil. Moderates have a duty to stand up for truth and justice but in a non-violent manner.

LATELY there have been several seminars on moderation and tolerance and I wish to share my views with The Star readers.

Semantics: As with most concepts, “moderation” cannot be defined precisely and objectively. Any judgment that someone is a “moderate” or an “extremist” is bound to be subjective and afflicted by the problem that words are like amoebas and change shape all the time. Whether “being a moderate” is commendable or condemnable is also a matter of subjective judgment. Note how some noble citizens who believe in tolerance and inter-racial accord are criticised by their brethren as “traitors to their race and religion”.

Attributes: Moderation is a necessary way of thought and action in a multi-hued society and a globalised world.

> Moderation is the absence of extremism in all aspects of life, whether politics, economics or religion. It is the quality of being temperate, restrained, controlled, measured, mild, gentle, fair, soft, sober and disciplined.

> It is about balance and reconciliation between conflicting interests rather than a militant, uncompromising, all-or-nothing attitude.

> It is abhorrence of violence, whether in the name of religion, politics, economics or any other ideology. The bogus Muslims of the so-called “Islamic State” in Syria and Iraq, the Boko Haram in Nigeria and militant groups in Somalia are guilty of extremist and abominable practices.

  • Equally culpable are the leaders of Western nations who in the name of democracy massacre millions of people in countries such as Syria and Yemen.
  • Moderation requires respect for human rights – not just ours but also those of others. The first function of freedom should be to free someone else.
  • Moderation entails a willingness to be objective. Dag Hammarskjold, the former Secretary-General of the United Nations, in his book Markings, said that to be truly objective, one must be prepared to be subjective from the other person’s point of view!
  • Moderation is an attitude of humility and accommodation that recognises that disagreements are natural. Truth is multiple. Everything we hear is an opinion, not a fact. Everything we see is a perspective, not the absolute truth.
  • Moderation is acceptance of the plural nature of our society and recognition of diversity as an asset. It is, as Datuk Azlina Aziz says, about engagement, listening and cutting the invisible barbed wires that separate “them” from “us”. It is about extending a hand over the divide to those who may disagree with our views but have as much a stake in the country as we do.
  • It is recognition that unity does not mean sameness. It has to be a unity in diversity.
  • Moderation is the fine line between racism (which is hatred for others) and community-consciousness, which is a positive desire to uplift a community, not necessarily one’s own!
  • Moderation is recognition that love for God must manifest itself in kindness towards all His creations.

Caution: Moderation does not mean acceptance of evil. Moderates have a duty to stand up for truth and justice but in a non-violent manner.

A pacifist but powerful protest against tyranny like that of Mahatma Gandhi (in South Africa and India) and Martin Luther King Jr in the United States is within the borders of moderation.

Cultivating moderation: Moderation is not something we are born with. It has to be cultivated – at home, in the school, mosque, church, temple, office and neighbourhood. All of us have a role to play, big or small. For example, in February I was invited by the predominantly Malay-populated Serenia Gardens Owners and Residents Association to a Chinese New Year Dinner at their community hall. What was remarkable was that the hall rests below a surau. After isyak prayers, dinner was served; a troupe of lion dancers arrived; firecrackers lighted the firmament. The spirit of muhibbah glowed late into the night.

Education: We need to reformulate our education system. National schools must be truly national in their syllabi and in their ethnic composition of pupils and teachers. They must promote interfaith studies. Most prejudices are born out of ignorance.

Law and politics: We need a Declaration on Religious and Racial Harmony to supplement our Rukun Negara. Through a National Harmony Act, the law must provide a statutory framework for reconciling race and religious conflicts.

The Internet and social media are often abused to fan hatred. No special dispensation can apply to this form of free speech. However, what is important is that in initiating prosecution, there should be equal treatment and equal harassment.

Media: Instead of highlighting pernicious acts of bigotry and demagoguery, the media should celebrate acts of inter-communal harmony. There is heroism everywhere. Every day thousands of ordinary citizens perform extraordinary acts of love and compassion that transcend race and religion.

Religious faith: There is in every religion enough to unite as well as to divide. The choice is ours. The Bible says: “Do unto others as we wish to be done unto us.” Likewise the Prophet of Islam says: “Shall I not inform you of a better act than fasting, alms and prayers? Making peace between one another: enmity and malice tear up heavenly rewards by the roots.”

Let us then build bridges and dismantle walls; heal and reconcile and treat each other with mutual respect. As we walk through the meadows of our mind, let us emulate Kofi Anan’s advice to “confront ignorance with knowledge; bigotry with tolerance; and isolation with the outstretched hand of generosity”.

Shad Faruqi, Emeritus Professor of Law at UiTM, is a passionate student and teacher of the law who aspires to make difficult things look simple and simple things look rich. Through this column, he seeks to inspire change for the better as every political, social and economic issue ultimately has constitutional law implications. He can be reached at [email protected]. The views expressed here are entirely his own.

Columns, The Star
14 May 2015

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