New Beginnings: Malaysia and Moderation

Welcome to my first blog from Kuala Lumpur. It’s hard to describe the excitement that I felt when I was offered my dream job as the Counsellor covering foreign policy and security issues at our High Commission. I couldn’t think of a more stimulating posting. And I can’t believe that I have already been in Malaysia for over a month. It’s certainly been an explosive start (more of that later) and it’s well and truly lived up to my expectations.

What do I want this blog to achieve? Well, firstly, this will be one of the most exciting years in our bilateral relationship, culminating in a visit by the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. I think it is important to showcase the huge range of work that is taking place here to a wider audience. Secondly, my role is part of the Foreign Secretary’s commitment to strengthening our relationship with Malaysia. I want you to see how that commitment is translating into extra people making a difference on the ground. And finally, I want to show that the Foreign Office is truly representative of diverse, modern Britain and I hope that that this will act as catalyst for encouraging ethnic minorities in the UK to consider a career as a British diplomat.

This isn’t my first time in Malaysia. In 2000, after a year working as a teacher in rural Japan, I travelled around the country for several weeks experiencing the delights on Penang, KL and Malacca. That first visit ignited my interest in the country’s culture, heritage and food, and it’s great to be back here.

I have to admit that my first day on the job was not quite what I was expecting. I had been asked to go to the High Court to cover the verdict in a case involving the Opposition leader, Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, and as we were leaving the courthouse, an explosion went off 30 m from where we were standing! Thankfully, no one was seriously injured in the blast but it was still a shock to the system. My Malaysian colleagues said that this was unprecedented in modern times. My wife’s only comment was to question why these things always happen to me…

As the World Interfaith Harmony Week has just passed, I thought I would draw your attention to an important initiative taken by Malaysian Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak. Last month, the Global Movement of Moderates (GMM) conference brought together 500 participants of different faiths to discuss how moderates of all religions (and none) could combat the spread of extremism. Prime Minister Najib stressed in his opening address that moderation was the bedrock on which all of the world’s civilisations had been built and that moderation should not be confused with weakness or appeasement. The real divide is not between Muslims and non-Muslims, or between the developed and developing worlds: it is between moderates and extremists.

This chimes with speeches made in the last week by Her Majesty The Queen at Lambeth Palace and by Baroness Warsi during a historic visit to the Vatican. The Queen emphasised that faith plays a key role in the identity of millions of people, providing not only a system of belief but a sense of belonging. Baroness Warsi called on people to have more open confidence in faith and said that by recognising and accepting a person of another faith they can unite in fighting bigotry.

I have read that some people are sceptical about Prime Minister Najib’s initiative, but I think it needs to be applauded and supported. I look forward to hearing more about the GMM Foundation and how it will work alongside the UN’s Alliance of Civilisations.

My question to you is whether ‘moderates’ can influence governments’ domestic and foreign policy. Would moderates be able to provide a bridge for dialogue between Israel and Palestine? Can moderates succeed in encouraging the Iranian regime to comply with international obligations? Are the recent developments in Burma an example of moderation in action?

Once again, I’m delighted to be starting this blog and I really look forward to hearing your thoughts. And if commenting on blogs or on Twitter is not your thing, please look out for some exciting, exclusive content on our UKinMalaysia website and on our Facebook page.

6 Responses

  1. neale says:

    Interesting first day :-) hope you enjoy Malaysia as much as I did when I visited the same towns as you.

  2. zafi says:

    Interesting! Im in uk now and you are in my home country! Hope you enjoy it.

  3. Laura says:

    I like the idea of moderates setting the agenda, but not sure how easy this is. Can you get extremist moderates? If not, how exactly are moderates meant to seize the initiative?

    • Nikesh Mehta says:

      I agree it’s not easy for moderates to set the agenda but it is possible as events in north Africa and in Burma in recent months have testified. I would cite Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King and Aung San Suu Kyi as examples of ‘extreme’ moderates. What do you think?

  4. Badru Sentamu says:

    Hi Nikesh,

    I’m glad to know that your in a country that I love most, I have there more than six time and its one place I consider as a home away from home.Am also happy that you are a good.moderator because you created history in Uganda on the IIP programme and since then it has never been the same, trust me ifore see progressive results in Malaysia.
    God willing I will be coming there either late this year or early next year hoping to meet you then.

    Love from Uganda;
    Badru Sentamu.

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