Malaysia is an oasis of tolerance and freedom
AS you are reading this, a signally important conclave is gathering in Kuala Lumpur, the launching of a "Global Movement of Moderates", with the all-out backing of Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak.
Let me start by noting a personal prejudice. As a senior at Stanford University I had the honour of welcoming, and hosting, the visit of the then deputy prime minister, Tun Abdul Razak Hussein.
I was deeply impressed how this obviously tough guy radiated a sense of moderation, coming from a region rocked by extremism -- the rise of the Communist Party in Indonesia, insurgency in the Philippines, and of course the impending Vietnam War and the Emergency in Malaysia.
I expected, correctly, that when Tunku Abdul Rahman stepped down, Razak would continue wise ways in governance. So I come by my admiration for his son naturally, just as, more importantly, he comes by his sense of balance honestly.
The next year, 1964, the Republican presidential candidate in America, Barry Goldwater, stated famously that "I would remind you that extremism in the defence of liberty is no vice. And let me remind you also that moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue."
Cicero had said it in a more moderate context, but in any case Goldwater lost by the largest popular vote gap in our history -- before or since. Then at least America preferred moderation.
The golden mean moderation in all things, so famously made central to philosophic literature ever since by Aristotle, 2,400 years ago, is easier to say than implement. In the first place, it doesn't mean "moderation in vice" or moderation in evil, it means a real and whole stance of moderation.
The distinguished strategist Filipino General Jose Almonte, wrote me on this subject. "For any 'moderation movement' to have some credibility, its participants must accept a basic premise: that no political ideal no matter how high has the right to take away life, or destroy the soul of anyone."
Yes absolutely, but like Barack Obama in his Nobel acceptance speech, one sometimes has to take an armed response to extremism, I countered. Almonte has, after all, fought and won wars, for the sake of democracy.
Now the real problem about attaining moderation is that the international system, now more than ever, enables non-state actors, and off-balance state actors, to butt into what sometimes is a smoothly running international order. Every great international conference in history has had the objective of attaining, or restoring, a sense of order, without which moderate governance is impossible. If you are on the out, you have an incentive to be immoderate to get in. It can be pushed, all the way to the Strait of Hormuz, by two sides misunderstanding and miscalculating, to the brink of an international conflict.
In Iran, for example, had the Revolutionary Guards not come to such extraordinary power, it would have been possible to settle with the ayatollahs. But the Guards have no interest in that, unless they're fully running the state. So they have every interest in immoderation.
But moderate states like Malaysia can soften the edges of the conflict. There are several thousand Iranians in Malaysia attracted by the virtues of moderation; they didn't leave Iran for love of another country, but because Iran had become intolerant and Malaysia is a relative oasis of tolerance and freedom.
In Bali, I live in a culture where all good Hindus try to find their inner balance, every day in prayers and ceremonies. But that didn't prevent a bloodbath in 1965, when they killed off around five per cent of their own people, 50,000-100,000, who had allied themselves with extremists. They righted the balance, but at appalling cost.
Right now we are watching what would be amusing, were it not too scary, of a fringe movement in the United States gaining enough power to pull the ancient Republican Party off its right-of-centre moorings. Their view of the world is so distorted, but their attractions in a country of evangelists so powerful, that the supposedly most powerful country could dangerously lose its balance after November's election.
A movement of moderates is a good step in the right direction. It's the first time I ever recall that a government has ever got out in front of a march in the right direction, for the good of all.