Najib’s ‘Global Movement of Moderates’ is a failure

SEVEN years after its creation, Najib’s Global Movement of Moderates (GMM) has been spectacularly unsuccessful – being neither global, a movement nor moderate.

At the Najib-sponsored GMM Foundation’s, there are also no mission or vision statements, no quantitative or qualitative targets to reach, no quarterly or annual progress reports, and no financial reports to show how GMM is spending Malaysian taxpayers’ money. 

It attempted to start a journal with the purpose to “encourage and stimulate serious thinking about aspects of moderation in public policy and related issues of current public interest,” but is still stuck on Volume 1, Number 1, 2014. The foundation’s last newsletter was also published in 2012.

Instead, GMM’s primary purpose seems to be the financing of its CEO Mat Isa to rub shoulders with high-level international dignitaries, shake hands, deliver a couple of half-hearted speeches, sign some non-committal memoranda of understanding where nothing and not much else happens.

The research section of the GMM website is hilarious. To date, it still hasn’t conducted any research in any of the areas that it has delineated, and instead carries a couple of vague statements about a half-dozen areas of research.

There is nothing global here.

There was a 2012 conference with about 500 attendees and a couple of “engagements” in Thailand, Jordan, France, Japan, and a handful of other countries (not exactly hotbeds of extremism), but what is missing is the difficult work of engaging in dialogue with hardliners, radicals, and fundamentalists. Because it’s all too easy to preach to the choir. 

After seven years of operation and probably millions of dollars spent, the foundation seems to have meaningfully collaborated with representatives from less than 50 out of the world’s 193 countries, and not even enough of the conservative Middle Eastern ones that should be priorities.

There is no movement here. There is no mass social organising of everyday people in the service of interreligious dialogue, de-radicalisation, peace-building, or social inclusion. 

Sure, there is a list of “programmes,” consisting of “conferences, distinguished lectures, roundtable discussions and stakeholder engagement programmes” (whatever that means), but there is no policy influence. Neither is there any moderating influence on other countries’ more conservative people.

The GMM website also has a series of awkward-looking “courtesy call” photos of Mat Isa’s meet-and- greets with a number of foreign ambassadors and VIPs. However, these photo-ops only seem to directly benefit other countries’ elites— who are peripheral actors not even involved in the conflicts in regard. Worse, these photos are not accompanied by even the briefest of explanations of what was discussed, nor the policy outcomes.

All the GMM seems to do is publish a couple of obligatory press releases every time a terrorist attack occurs, showcase a fatuous, grandstanding “Langkawi Declaration” which has yet to be
implemented by anybody, and organide a few conferences where nothing happens.

There is no moderation here, either.

Under Najib’s watch, Malaysia has backslidden further into extremism and ethno-religious tensions.

In fact, neither Mat Isa nor Najib are role models for moderation. In all of the policy arenas that the foundation claims to influence— “peaceful coexistence, democracy and the rule of law, international finance and the economy, education, and conflict resolution” – the government of Malaysia has been no exemplar in bridge-building.

Malaysia is one of the most divided societies in the world. Indeed, 22% of Malaysians do not have any friends from ethnic groups other than their own. Of those who do, 60% rarely or never take meals with their friends from other ethnic backgrounds, according to the Merdeka Centre’s Ethnic Relations Perceptions Poll. Roughly two thirds of young Malaysians’ close friends are primarily from the same ethnic group or religion as them, as the Centre for Public Policy Studies’ Minda Muda study found.

In addition, 60% of Malays see themselves as being Muslim first, and only 27% of Malays identify as Malaysians first, calling their patriotism (and Najib’s vaunted “1Malaysia” concept) into question.

As the Atlantic Monthly reports in an article titled Fatwas Galore, “In Malaysia, councils outlaw everything from dog-petting to yoga.” 

Malaysia is also still at risk for terrorism, and for creating terrorists. Malaysia still has over six times the rate of Muslim citizens leaving to join Islamic State as Indonesia has, 62.4% of Malaysians regard Osama bin Laden as a freedom fighter, and polls also show a higher percentage of Malaysians than Indonesians are sympathetic to IS and suicide bombings. 

As the government of the United Kingdom’s travel website warns tourists about Malaysia: “Terrorists are very likely to try to carry out attacks in Malaysia. Attacks could happen anywhere, including in places visited by foreigners. Be vigilant, monitor local media and follow
the advice of the local authorities.”

As if the idea of Asia’s most extreme prime ministers lecturing others about moderation isn’t laughable enough, Najib also attended the opening of the hypocritical Centre for Combating Extremist Ideology in Kuala Lumpur, funded by Saudi Arabia, the largest state sponsor of terrorism worldwide, including the September 11 attacks, which killed over 3,000 people in New York alone. The mental gymnastics required to establish vanity projects like this and the GMM are incomprehensible.

A number of key leaders have also resigned from the GMM since 2015, perhaps not wanting to be associated with its failures. At present, Wong Chun Wai, former ambassador Redzuan Kushairi, CEO Saifuddin Abdullah, and others have all resigned. As AsiaOne reported, the new CEO is former PAS deputy president Nasharudin Mat Isa, “whose appointment has met with some criticism…His criticisms of the G25 comprising eminent retired Malay civil servants and personalities, who are seen as moderation advocates, had not helped him to improve his image.”

Najib’s egotistical “Global Movement of Moderates” can continue to sign a couple more forgettable MoU with other like-minded elites who are disconnected from conflicts on the ground, publish another simplistic newsletter that nobody downloads, translate Najib’s hypocritical speeches to yet another language, and organise another
“distinguished lecture” or self-congratulatory conference in Putrajaya about moderation – all while rising extremist violence and intolerance intensifies in Malaysia and overseas.

Or, it can meaningfully build substantive multifaith bridges through grassroots outreach to both extremists, moderates and liberals alike, promote social inclusion by mainstreaming tolerance into both Malaysia’s education system and National Service programme, do the challenging but necessary work of promoting Jewish-Muslim relations to create international peace (Malaysia is one of the most anti-Semitic countries on Earth), weaken the radicalising effects of fundamentalist Saudi Wahabbism on Malaysian youth through teaching reforms, and finally, reduce fundamentalism by learning from more moderate, inclusive governments like Tunisia, Indonesia, and Nigeria.

Only then can a true “Global Movement of Moderates” even begin to form.

* Athena Angel reads The Malaysian Insight.

* This is the opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of The Malaysian Insight.

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