This is what an influential American online news portal the New Ledger wrote about our prime minister:-
It is perhaps common for citizens of the Western world to look out in despair upon the panoply of Muslim-majority countries in the world for a ruling government whose understanding of history and world affairs is not warped and distorted by paranoia of Israel and the West. The average exposure the Western citizen has to a Muslim leader’s understanding of world affairs is doubtless limited to the rantings of demagogues like Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran and others. Many of these leaders publicly see the world through the prism of Holocaust denial, Jewish conspiracies, and plots by the Great Satan to oppress Muslims.
Some of these leaders come by these beliefs honestly; others doubtless espouse them in order to deflect their own citizens’ discontent away from their government and onto a handy target. In either case, a common theme arises – while many majority-Muslim countries have governments that are very wealthy, their citizenry is often horribly poor and disconnected from any sort of meaningful and unbiased news source. And so men like Ahmadinejad grab Western headlines with their inflammatory headlines and here in the United States we are left to wonder: Are there no leaders of Muslim countries who have any understanding of how to guide their country into a prosperous partnership with the rest of the world?
To any who are thus concerned, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak’s remarks at the 10th International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) Shangri-La Dialogue should provide a welcome antidote. Like many majority-Muslim countries, Malaysia is a multi-ethnic country. Although the majority of Malaysians are Malay Muslims, a non-trivial portion of Malaysia’s population consists of Chinese expatriates (who are heavily Christian), along with countless other smaller minorities of various faiths. Many majority-Muslim countries in today’s world respond to their minority populations with brutal oppression; Najib’s government has eschewed this path in favor of peaceful cooperation with Malaysia’s minorities, allowing them a meaningful voice in a truly functional democracy. It is perhaps not surprising that the result of this is that Malaysia has a modern economy that interacts peacefully with the world around it.
In his Keynote Address at the Shangri-La Dialogue, Najib demonstrated that this fact was no accident, but rather was the result of the leadership of a government with a keen understanding of its region and an ability to view the world through the prism of its trading partners, even favorably invoking Henry Kissinger’s “long arc of history,” an unthinkable prospect for many leaders of majority-Muslim countries.
The cynics thought that Asia and the West could never truly come together as a cohesive whole, that we had too little in common, that life in Surabaya was simply too far removed from life in San Diego. The last 10 years have proved them wrong. Yes, we come from many cultures and we speak many languages but, as US Defence Secretary Robert Gates – and I wish him well in his retirement – said in this room last year, the Pacific Ocean is not a barrier that divides us but a bridge that unites us.
Next month will see the 40th anniversary of Henry Kissinger’s secret mission to China, ahead of President Nixon’s historic visit in 1972. Coming in the midst of the Cold War, Nixon’s visit shocked many in the United States. How could the fervently anti-communist leader of the Western world possibly sit down with his ideological adversary? The answer of course is that the United States saw in China the potential to become a counterweight to the Soviet bloc, but this new alliance went much further than that. Nixon’s visit was not just about the United States opening itself up to China; it was about China opening itself up to the United States. It is a relationship that has benefited both countries ever since, but such productive dialogue can only take place if there is an openness to engagement on both sides.
It is likewise welcome to find a leader of a majority-Muslim country confronting the problem of extremism head-on and unsolicited:
In Islam, we have a concept wasatiyyah, which means moderation or justly balanced. It is this spirit of moderation that has made Malaysia the country it is today, and that I believe will now be the key to overcoming the challenges we face together as a region. That is why, at the United Nations last year, I called for a new global movement of the moderates that would see government, business and religious leaders around the world face down extremism wherever it is found. Just as you cannot make the world a better place by passing a law proclaiming that it will be better, you cannot rid the world of extreme views simply by making them illegal. I have no doubt we can best foster tolerance and understanding not by silencing the voice of hatred, but by making the voice of reason louder and louder.
As responsible leaders, we cannot and should not squander the opportunity before us to help build a new world order, where a just and equitable peace predicated on the rule of law is the norm, rather than the exception. We know that governments that do not practice good governance are existing on borrowed time. We must ensure peace and stability at all levels – national, regional and global.
Najib’s speech as a whole displays the kind of regional leadership that has for too long been lacking among Muslim leaders. And the actions of his government bear it out – unlike many governments, Malaysia does not have a token democracy, but rather Najib’s governing coalition faces a real threat from Anwar Ibrahim’s coalition (which harbors within it the only true Muslim extremist party in Malaysia). And what this demonstrates to us is that when a Muslim leader must actually be responsive to his population and ensure their prosperity (or risk electoral defeat), then there is hope that perhaps things are not as bleak as we have supposed.