Alia Aishah Shahrir

Alia Aishah Shahrir is the ­daughter of a Penangite father and Muarian mother. As a result, she believes she has inherited the bark of the north and the bite of the south. Law student by day and documentary enthusiast by night, she is a realistic optimist with a soft spot for comparative theology and philosophy.



POINTING out the obvious is a true Malaysian stereotype: If you read the newspapers often enough, it will tell you that the cure to extremism is moderation.

This narrative is pronounced, but most have shied away from the true crux of the matter – by which faction of society shall moderation be defined, and subsequently imposed on the masses? When push comes to shove, whose yardstick shall prevail? Who are the extremists?

In a utopian world, there is a universal template for moderation. But the reality is, we all have deep-seated beliefs in some sphere of our lives that will simply not uproot itself nor bend to any amount of “rational” or “intellectual” persuasion. As we often say, to each their own.

PAS’ call for the banning of Oktoberfest may have been considered inconsiderate and “extreme” by some quarters, yet those who called for the banning felt it was a reasonable, “moderate” proposition as the right of non-Muslims to imbibe on a celebratory, public scale ought to be weighed against “Muslim sensitivities”.

Ironic, is it not?

“Wisdom ceases to be wisdom when it becomes too proud to weep, too grave to laugh, and too selfish to seek other than itself.” – Kahlil Gibran.

It has to be stressed that operating independently from society’s conditioning is conduct which shows the person is wise. We must remember to try and approach any situationtabula rasa (Latin for “on a clean slate”), or fail to derive a correct conclusion about it.

For a nation that has been propagating the appreciation of diversity in race, religion and food, we sure have not walked the talk when it comes to dissimilitude of world views.

What is unity within diversity without acknowledging and embracing the differences in our psychological make-up?

Interestingly, the “Volksgeist” doctrine by Friedrick Karl Von Savigny recognises that each particular nation has a continuity and uniqueness of experience all on its own, and it is this common consciousness which they feel ought to be reflected in their laws and way of life.

In a pluralistic society such as ours, we simply cannot afford to be bitterly entrenched within our respective viewpoints – for every blood, creed and colour have their own postulations as to how life should be. It depends on us the extent to which we wish to embrace such differences.

Yet this is precisely why we are always at an intellectual impasse, because there is nothing easier than to condemn an ideology, and nothing more difficult than to understand it.

I proffer an example: The tendency for secular audiences to examine Islam (a view) through the prism of “secularism” (another view). Any look at Islam from a secular point of view reduces it to a personal affair, an individual moral code and set of ethics with little to say about life’s affairs, which is a failure to appreciate this world view in its correct context. The same applies vice versa.

It is the greatest folly of man to think himself as being self-sufficient. Lest we forget, to err is human. Thus when criticised, take it in stride.

Wiser still is to bear in mind that while our conflicting positions may be irreconcilable, our interests may be concordant – progress, be it of the self or of the nation.

Sometimes we get so carried away with wanting to convert people to our way of thinking that we overlook the equal importance of mobilising dissenting parties to a better way of acting.

“He who is straightforward beyond consideration offends.” – Confucius.

Fast forward to the most recent tragic event. The reality of freedom of expression has again come to light in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo incident.

The conundrum is whether to speak one’s mind despite that it may offend the other and to what extent. If we feel we are moderates, religious or simply people possessing universal values, I query, where is the conviviality in carte blanche?

Neutrality is a tenet applicable at both individual and institutional levels. An independent media has always been the cornerstone of any government worth its salt, and since the pen is mightier than the sword in shaping society’s value judgments, professional integrity is paramount.

To be moderate is to conscientiously observe the demarcation line between news reporting and journalistic advocacy. If we wish to move away from the herd mentality, sensationalism must be dispensed with and the values of all sides to a matter be examined and represented fairly, but without imposing.

It simply does not help that in an age where information is literally one click away, many of us have been guilty of “loose fingers”. The moment a headline of an article catches our attention, we jump to conclusions, and click the share button with no bearing on its genuineness.

The Cadbury fiasco, where the halal status of Cadbury chocolates became an issue, was a classic example of this damaging tendency, and how oblivious people can be about the repercussions of their actions.

It’s all well and good to indulge in blissful ignorance within your private domain, but there are rules of courtesy to abide by when you wish to opine aloud in public. Such is the price of an interdependent civilisation as ours.

In our quest for a panacea to cure the “terminal” version of extremism (when violent thoughts transcend into violent actions), we have overlooked its prevention, and the grey nature of moderation.

The reality is sometimes, WE are the extremists. What separates us from those we read about in the newspapers, is just semantics; if your strong views are not religious or political, you are passionate.

Extremism is entailed in different aspects. Like fascism in Nazi Germany, what makes sense to many, moving with the times, will not be applicable to all – so use the term sparingly and let us strive to be the change we wish to see.

Originally published on The Star on Wednesday January 25, 2015 MYT 12:00:00 AM

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