Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Tolerance in a People-Centred ASEAN by Syed Hamid Albar

Didik Arianto from OIC, Professor Nimmer Senior advisor of KAICIID, Debbie Stothard of Altsean Burma, colleagues from Humanity Malaysia and distinguished guests, friends.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Good morning to all of you and welcome to Kuala Lumpur. I am very happy to see you at this Roundtable discussion on Tolerance in a People-Centred ASEAN. I wanted to have a discussion on this subject of tolerance because I have seen so much suffering, so much injustice. I then started to discuss with the OIC, who offered full support for the project. In fact the idea of having this discussion in the form of a Roundtable came from the OIC Secretary General. I agreed with him and started working on it. I spoke to Debbie, my good friend from ALTSEAN Burma, who suggested that I should organize this event under Humaniti Malaysia. Humaniti is a new organization which I had formed. Prof. Mohammad Abu Nimmer from KAICIID also had the same idea of organizing an interfaith and intercultural discourse.

We decided all of us should work together and cooperate under the name of Humaniti. Debbie then started to put the whole thing together. I would like to express my gratitude to Debbie. Our original plan was just to have a Roundtable of 15 Muslims, 15 Buddhists, 15 Christians from Myanmar. Ultimately due to so much interest we ended up with about 50 participants. I was told it wouldn’t be productive to have 50 people to have a Roundtable, but due to the interest shown in the Roundtable we proceeded. I’m very happy today all of you come together; each of you being an expert in your own field. I also would like to thank Ambassador Kobsak from Asian Peace and Reconciliation Council (APRC) for his presence.

The motto of Humaniti is “putting the pieces together”. Previously there were many seminars, discussions and meetings about the subject, but usually it ended without any action plan. For this Roundtable I decided it would be best not to make speeches or take photos. Instead the deliberations should be interactive. We should speak from the heart. We should finish the first session at 1pm. After lunch, we would recap and then break into three groups. We hope the Roundtable session will result in constructive discussion for a better ASEAN region.”

Today we are living in a world full of conflicts and wars. There are active war theaters where full scale wars and civil wars are taking place based on ethnic, religious and sectarian considerations creating tensions between communities and nations. Conflict does not bring happiness, prosperity, stability to any country.

Tolerance literally means an attitude to accept or tolerate other people’s beliefs or points of view to create an environment of peace and harmony in society. This is the most cherished and desired goal. The absence of tolerance or in other words “Intolerance” brings conflicts and sometime wars to society. Whenever there are conflicts or intolerance, interethnic and interfaith relations can be badly fractured and even relations between different sects within the same religion creates so much frictions. People take up arms and kill due to differences in the interpretation of the same religion.

Why there is so much intolerance or disharmony? The short answer can be attributed to sheer ignorance and lack of understanding of the true spirit of the religion by the followers of different faiths and community leaders who drive their ignorant followers to do things which have nothing to do with the tenets of the religion. But yet this Intolerance is being used and even spread in the name of religion.

HUMANITI Malaysia is taking upon it-self to spread the message of Tolerance, Love, Brotherhood and Inclusiveness. We intend to spread this message across national, regional, racial, ethnic and religious boundaries. ASEAN is a region with more than 630 million inhabitants with diverse cultures, races, religions and languages and has been relatively calm and peaceful. This region has tremendous potential for economic growth provided there is peace and political stability. Recently we have been witnessing conflicts erupting in different parts of the region which is causing instability and violence particularly in the Rakhine State of Myanmar affecting the Rohingya.

When we understand what bring peace, we know where to direct our efforts. No matter how vigorously we stir a boiling pot of soup on a fire, the soup will not cool. When we remove the pot from the fire, it will cool on its own, and our stirring will accelerate the process. Stirring causes the soup to cool, but only if we first remove the soup from the fire. In other words, we can take many actions in our quest for peace that may be helpful. But if we do not first address the fundamental issues, all other actions will come to nothing.

The use of force and violence, even to the level of killing, never solves anything. Killings generate fear and anger, which generate more killing, more fear, and more anger, in a vicious cycle without end. In the Quran (49:13) Allah commands “O mankind! We (Allah) have created you from a single (pair) of a male and female and have made you into nations and tribes, so that you may come to know one another.”

In the Buddhist scriptures not only human life but all living beings are sanctified “Whoever settles a matter by violence is not just. The wise calmly considers what is right and what is wrong. Whoever guides others by a procedure that is nonviolent and fair is said to be a guardian of truth, wise and just.” (Dhammapada 256-57)

These two tenets clearly advocate for moderation and for us to live in peace. Under the circumstances our role as “Peace Builders” is extremely challenging though not an impossible one. We must find the light of peace and harmony at the end of the tunnel. Democracy is often described “Government of the people, by the people, for the people”. Therefore people are going to be the key for the change in the ASEAN region. People shall be the centre of gravity to pull the governments in the region to adopt policies towards peace and reconciliation and to effectively participate in the conflict resolution and peace building process.

As Dwight Eisenhower the 34th President of the United States from 1953 until 1961 observed, “I like to believe that people in the long run are going to do more to promote peace than our governments. Indeed, I think that people want peace so much that one of these day governments had better get out of the way and let them have it.”

I have been thinking a lot about conflict and ways of dealing with various types of conflict. Max Lucade describes there are 5 causes of conflict:
  1. Differing values 
  2. Making assumptions 
  3. Differing expectation 
  4. Differences in the way you were brought up 
  5. Knowledge and ability to deal with conflict

He also prescribes 5 main conflict resolution scenarios:
  1. Ignore the conflict (avoid conflict)
  2. Smooth over the conflict 
  3. Use your authority to settle the conflict
  4. Negotiate a resolution to the conflict (diplomacy)
  5. Use collaboration to resolve the conflict. (need trust)

Some of the lessons we can learn from the past is to understand the messages conveyed by different leaders of the past. Nelson Mandela himself observed, “If you want to make peace with your enemy, you have to work with your enemy, then he becomes your partner.” John F Kennedy is quoted as saying, “Peace is a daily, a weekly, a monthly process, gradually changing opinions, slowly eroding old barriers, quietly building new structures.”

The fact remains that peace will take not just months, but in many cases, years and generations, as sustainable economies and governance is developed combined with education and a generation who follow with a new shared momentum. Mahatma Gandhi said “If we are to teach real peace in this world,”…and if we are to carry on a real war against war, we shall have to begin with the children.” We have a long and difficult road ahead of us let start our journey by taking our first little step.

We are here for one and half day to deliberate on the way forward to drive the culture of tolerance in a people centred ASEAN. Let us do that together.

Delivered by Tan Sri Syed Hamid Albar
in conjunction of the Roundtable, Hotel Istana on 6th-7th April 2015

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