In New York City this past weekend, discussion surrounding the US-ASEAN summit has inevitably turned to the topic of moderate Islam, and what role nations like Malaysia will play in the future as relates to the foreign policy interests of the United States. I've written about this issue before, and it's worth noting the remarks made by Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak in his maiden address to the United Nations General Assembly today, in which he called for a "Global Movement of the Moderates" to reclaim the public square from, as he sees it, radicals and extremists who misrepresent the ramifications of their faiths:
"It is time for moderates of all countries, of all religions to take back the centre, to reclaim the agenda for peace and pragmatism, and to marginalise the extremists.
"This Global Movement of the Moderates will save us from sinking into the abyss of despair and deprivation," he said.
Expressing concern with the increasing trend in some parts of the world to perpetuate or even fuel Islamophobia, the prime minister said it had intensified the divide between the broad Muslim world and the West.
"The real issue is not between Muslims and non-Muslims but between the moderates and extremists of all religions, be it Islam, Christianity or Judaism."
He said all religions had inadvertently allowed "the ugly voices of the periphery to drown out the many voices of reason and common sense".
Najib is staking some progressive ground here in making this call for stability and moderation, and he's one of the few leaders in the Muslim world who can do so. The question that this raises, assuming you agree with his view, is how this public square might be reclaimed without rough tramping over free speech and other individual rights. It is far more appealing for the news cameras, after all, to talk to the lone pastor who wants to burn books than the thousands who do not.
Finding this balance is important. The fact that such a call can be made now - not by the West, but by a key Muslim political leader - is at least a positive sign.