The Heritage Foundation

Lecture #763 on Asia

October 4, 2002

October 4, 2002 | Lecture on Asia

Strengthening the U.S.-Malaysia Friendship

It's a great pleasure to meet with such a distinguished group this evening, and I would especially like to thank Dr. Edwin Feulner for hosting this event. I would also like to express my appreciation to him and to The Heritage Foundation for their leadership on Asian issues and their interest in Malaysia in particular.

After representing Malaysia at the United Nations General Assembly session in New York last week, I chose to make a visit to Washington as well, for a very specific reason: I wanted to continue the momentum of improving U.S.-Malaysia ties that Prime Minister Mahathir and President Bush have so auspiciously begun. Following their successful meeting here in Washington in May, and Secretary Powell's visit to Malaysia in July, my visit this week is testament to the importance Malaysia attaches to maintaining stable, friendly relations with the United States.

Your presence here tonight signals that Americans are willing to reach out and meet us in this effort. For that I am grateful. Particularly in this post-September 11 environment, we share several vital interests. Since we meet tonight informally, I will not speak at length. However, I would like to take this opportunity to touch on just three key points: our common fight to eliminate terrorism; the importance of promoting the true, moderate face of Islam; and good governance as a key element to peaceful, successful, modern Islamic nations.


First among our mutual interests--which includes a wide range of areas such as trade, education, and security--is our commitment to defeat the terrorists who threaten our very way of life. Not just the American way of life, but the way in which free, peace-loving people all around the world live. Having just come from New York, the scene of the most devastating attack last year, I would like to take this opportunity to reaffirm that Malaysia stands solidly with the United States and all those who are fighting the scourge of terrorism.

To this end, Malaysia continues to offer our full cooperation with the U.S. on the security, diplomatic, financial, law enforcement, and intelligence fronts. We have acted swiftly and decisively to thwart the proliferation of terrorist cells and networks. And to help maintain the necessary level of vigilance, we have also embarked on a new program of collaboration with our partners in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations to deal with the issue at the regional level. In fact, the declaration on combating terrorism between the United States and ASEAN at the ASEAN regional forum recently was based on the declaration between my country and yours. At the international level, we are in full support of all U.N. actions to address this global problem.


This brings me to my second point this evening, and that is Malaysia's concern about the future and image of Islam in the world community. This has been said countless times in the past year, by President Bush and others the world over, but I would start by saying that Islam is a religion of peace. Those who believe otherwise--extremists who distort and highjack the teachings of Islam to suit their own politically motivated agenda--are a threat to us all.

How, then, do we promote the moderate, modern version of Islam?

There is no easy answer, but in Malaysia, our experience has shown that the key to a modern and successful Islamic state is political leadership that upholds the virtues of tolerance, pluralism, and moderation.

Ours has not been an easy struggle. Until just a decade ago, our government battled a communist insurgency that threatened our democratic and economic development. After 30 years, though, we can proudly say, democracy and free enterprise have prevailed.

In addition, we have also promoted a progressive and liberal Islam that values substance over form. We believe that Islam is a dynamic religion that stays relevant throughout time. Our Islam is one that is compatible with modernity, that values progress, and that coexists in peace and harmony with other civilizations. We set ourselves apart from those who hold a dogmatic and literalist view of Islam; those who hark back 1,400 years for their so-called ideal of an Islamic state. They wantonly ignore that there have been great political transformations, sociological change, and technological progress in the history of civilizations.

If Muslims are to remain relevant to these changes, we have to interpret our faith and its teachings in the right way. Islam does not teach us to attack innocent civilians; Islam does not teach us to hate those of other faiths; Islam does not teach us to live in poverty; Islam does not teach us to reject democracy and progress. Muslims who think in such a manner are a travesty to Islam.

For the progressive and liberal Islam that I represent to prevail, we need to demonstrate that it is in countries like Malaysia--where this form of Islam is prevalent--that Muslims live true to the teachings of our faith. We participate fully in rapid economic development. We encourage our children to excel in modern sciences and embrace the new economy. We live at peace and harmony with other great civilizations. When Muslims see that their brothers and sisters in Malaysia are successful, modern, and tolerant, they too may increasingly disavow misguided and outdated interpretations of Islam.

Today, however, we are faced with a threat from religious extremists who seek to replace our moderate, democratic Islamic governance with their skewed interpretation of a theocratic state. Again, this is not a battle for the faint of heart, and one we must fight on a number of levels--from capturing or containing those who threaten our security, to maintaining the principles of democracy and good governance.


That brings me to my third point, and this is one Malaysia will continue to make as we assume leadership of the Organization of Islamic Conference next year. Our message is, when fighting any type of extremists, whether based on ethnicity, religion, or ideology, one of the most important determinants of stability and peace is human development. When a government ensures economic opportunities for its people, when it respects their inalienable rights to political participation, when it is able to educate their children and care for their elderly, then the disease that spawns terrorism will find it difficult to take root. Conversely, in the absence of good governance, when corruption, oppression, and a lack of democracy prevail, terrorism finds fertile ground to root and grow.

We have not perfected this formula for success, but it is one which we strive to uphold--in fact, you can see in Malaysia something of a microcosm of the challenge the world at large is undergoing right now. And so I would invite anyone who is interested to come and visit Malaysia and see for yourself how we are meeting this challenge head on.

Again, I very much appreciate the benefit of our conversation this evening, and I hope our dialogue will continue in the months and years to come.

--The Honorable Dato' Seri Abdullah Haji Ahmad Badawi is the Deputy Prime Minister of Malaysia.