Moderation: The New Modernity

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Mohd Najib Razak, prime minister of Malaysia, discusses the Global Movement of Moderates that he established to oppose extremist ideology in all faith traditions.

ZAKARIA: Ladies and gentlemen, sorry to keep you waiting. I think it is -- it is a tribute to the New York Police Department that with 80 heads of state or government in town this week, they still managed to keep things moving pretty well, but they were not keep it well enough that we were able to start bang on time. We'll go five minutes over just for those of you who are making plans need to know.

This is an enormous, enormous pleasure for me. I think that we've been though housekeeping, so you know all the things you're supposed to know -- cell phones off, et cetera, I say as I turn my own cell phone off.

The prime minister probably doesn't have one. I remember that when I first got a BlackBerry, I was very excited and I was at a dinner -- this was years ago, a decade ago. And I -- maybe more than a decade ago -- and I showed it to one of the people at the dinner party, Richard Holbrooke, who was at the time ambassador to the U.N. And I said to him, "Look at this, it's extraordinary; you can put your calendar on it; you can get your e-mail; you can get your contacts."

And he said to me, "Very good." I said, "You should get one of these." He said, "No, I've got something better. It's called staff."


So I'm guessing that the prime minister has staff.

The prime minister needs no introduction, but I will give him a very brief one.

He's just been reelected, with a thumping majority, I should say, and has managed...

RAZAK: In a modern democracy.

ZAKARIA: In a modern democracy. Exactly, exactly.

RAZAK: Although we're used (ph) to higher levels (ph).


ZAKARIA: And has been, I think it's fair to say, generally been regarded as a reformer in Malaysia. He has a number of initiatives that -- that we'll talk about.

Prime Minister Najib is a great Malaysian. He is the son of Malaysia's second prime minister. He is the nephew of Malaysia's third prime minister. And, you know, if you are thinking of making some dynastic joke, remember that Hillary Clinton is currently the leading candidate for the presidency in 2016.


RAZAK: And you got Chelsea next to her (ph).

ZAKARIA: Exactly.


ZAKARIA: So, it's all in the family all over the world.

No, it's a great, great honor and pleasure. We've had the chance to -- to have these conversations over the years. I know the prime minister is going to make a brief statement to start. Then we'll have a little conversation, and then we'll open it up.

Prime Minister?

RAZAK: Well -- I can talk about many things, but there's one particular initiative that I'm very passionate about. And that is the global movement of democracy. Because we believe that the problem in today's world is not between Christians, Muslims, or Jews, but it's really between the extremists and democracy. And if you allow extremists to take center stage, and to dominate the matrix (ph), and take over the events in many parts of the world, then you will allow conflicts to continue. And this will actually lead to what I call the circle of violence, which is happening in many parts of the world as we speak.

Moderation is, you know, based on certain principles and very sound values, like justice, a sense of fairness, and choosing dialogue over confrontation. Negotiations over conflict. And if you choose moderation and reject fanaticism, militants, or militancy, and extremist thinking, then there is every chance that we can work towards a more peaceful world.

Because you have to ask yourselves what is the endgame, if you like. What is it that you want to achieve in Malaysia, and any society, for that matter? And that's basically what we want to see. We want to see peace, prosperity and harmony. And how do you go about that then? And I believe that if we subscribe to the whole concept of moderation, and use it as part of our action and our policies to be predicated on moderation, then you have much more just and inclusive society. You know, you don't marginalize anyone.

But if calls for us to be bold enough to occupy the center stage, and the moral high ground. And you do have the strong moral case to do so, but it requires us to be more vocal, to be -- to be articulate, and -- and not allow the extremists to drown the voices of moderation, and not allow racism, bigotry. That you occupy the voices of the world, or in this world.

And I thought that I could start with making that statement. And I think I'd like to see a kind of alliance, if you like, between people who believe in the concept of moderation across all faiths. And if you can strengthen this alliance, there is hope that, you know, what we want to see -- a more peaceful and more just world. I think it's quite possible to see that emerging in the future.

ZAKARIA: So, let me just take -- take up that very thought, and -- and press you -- in just one sense.

There is, I think, a special challenge for Muslims. Because so much of the extremism in the world that is violent extremism is perpetrated not just by Muslims, but in the name of Islam. So that if you just look at the last week, you have the al-Shabaab attack in Kenya. You have the Pakistani church suicide attack. And many others. I mean, and the tragedy of the Islamic world right now is that if you kill less than 10 people, it actually doesn't -- nobody notices, because there are so many of them.

Isn't there a -- a special bonus on leaders of the Musilm world and Muslim communities to denounce this kind of thing and to be outraged by it? I mean, if you were to have, you know, in Christian countries people walking into mosques, blowing themselves up and killing 100 people, I think there would be a great -- a sense of outrage.

RAZAK: I agree with you. And that's why I've gone on record -- when I spoke at the session in Oxford University, I've been on record to say that Islam is against suicide bombing, number one. And number two, in -- in Islam, you're not allowed to kill innocent civilians, even during war. And that's a strong statement. And -- and I hope, and I wish more leaders would do so.

And the other thing is, it would be helpful if these acts, which are not consonant with -- with Islam -- we do not describe those actions under the name of Islam. And these people are trying -- they are hijacking Islam to achieve their narrow and selfish political objectives.

But it would be helpful if these people are not described as Islamic terrorists, or Jihadist, if you like. Because, for example, during the Irish problem, they're not described as Protestant terrorists, or Roman Catholic terrorists. They're just -- they're described as IRA, or whatever group.

And even as recent as last week, when the -- the group that took over -- or took over some parts of Zamborga (ph), including some -- quite a number of hostages, they were described by one of the television channels as Islamic terrorists. But why can't we say that they are the MNLF? They are the renegade group, who have been shut out from the peace process, and they have their own selfish interests to pursue.

That would help, because there is a danger in fueling this Islamophobia in the West, which is not helpful. And giving them too much credit, because they have hijacked the name of Islam for their narrow ends.

So, I agree with you -- Muslim leaders should speak up and condemn such acts, and I'm willing to do so as a Muslim leader. But at the same time, it would be helpful if the media in the West would be more discerning in describing them as what they really stand as. And they are not -- they are just terrorists. Or they belong to certain organizations, but they should not, you know, be described as Muslim terrorists.

ZAKARIA: You know, after 9/11, there was a great deal of concern about violent movements in Southeast Asia, because the first major terrorist attack after 9/11 was, of course, in Indonesia. And that led to a focus on the Jemiflamio (ph), on these groups around there. And I remember going to the region a few months later. It was a great deal of concern. A lot of fear that actually, these movements were on the rise, that they were doing well.

Somehow, that hasn't -- it hasn't -- the threat hasn't materialized in quite the way that many people thought. Was it that people were exaggerating the -- the fears? Or was it that the governments from Indonesia to Malaysia to Singapore have been able to do a very effective job? And if so, what -- what did you do?

RAZAK: I think it's a combination of, you know, several factors. Number one, you know, if you look back, the genesis of Islam in Southeast Asia, it's never associated with violence. To begin with, it was a peaceful conversion to Islam that -- the rulers at that time, they embraced Islam. From Hinduism, it becomes Muslim, and it was -- and the subjects followed them. And it was a peaceful transition to Islam.

So, Islam has never been associated with violence. So, that was fundamentally different (ph) from in other parts.

But, you know, after September 11th, when there were incidents of suicide bombings, and so forth, the -- the governments of both Malaysia and Indonesia and to some extent, Singapore -- well, we took immediate steps to identify those responsible and we were very effective in dealing with that. But we didn't describe it as a war against extremism or a war against terrorism, because when you describe it as a war, you confine dealing with the threat by military means alone, which I think was an important use, the instruments of force. It's equally or if not more important to look at the underlying reasons and causes of such action.

So if you address the -- some of the legitimate reasons why those acts were committed or were carried out, then you are more effective in dealing with such threats. And that's who we've approached the whole challenge.

ZAKARIA: What about the problem of Islamist fundamentalism, which is in some senses distinct, or you tell me if they're related. But in Malaysia, you do have many groups and individuals with some sway trying to get very strong action taken against so-called "heretics" or "infidels" or, you know, applying a very strict interpretation of Sharia. How do you deal with this problem?

You know, you're trying to -- I know one of your goals is to make Malaysia a modern nation. How do you deal with this -- this impulse on the other hand?

RAZAK: We have to explain to the people what, you know, Islam stands for. Because Islam is (inaudible) with program. Islam, you know, stands for social justice. Islam has a very high priority for education, for example. And Islam encourages people to achieve economic gains, for example, provided it's done in a just and fair manner.

It's never against the acquisition of wealth, for example. In fact, the prophet himself was against a few of his followers who did nothing but spend days and nights in the mosque. He said, "Stop doing it; you have to go and earn a living; you have to, you know, support your family."

So Islam is a balanced religion. So the way we've explained and taught Islam in Malaysia is in that manner. So, while I agree with you that there are people who have misunderstood Islam or misinterpreted Islam, but because we have taught Islam and because we have practiced Islam in that -- in an approved manner of Islam, the vast majority of people in Malaysia understand, you know, what Islam is all about.

ZAKARIA: Let me ask you one more question and then open it up.

You've -- you face in Malaysia another particular challenge, which is familiar to people around the world, which is to try to create a genuinely inclusive, harmonious society made up of different parts. About 30 percent of the country is Chinese, of Chinese origin.

There is -- there has always been this issue over the last two decades of what to do about the reservation policy or the quotas or the affirmative action, depending on how one calls it, but it's more than affirmative action. It's a fairly strong preference for Malays. There have been efforts to do something about it and to create genuine equality of opportunity, but you don't have it yet.

And it feels as though it's difficult to both imagine, again, Malaysia becoming truly modern, but also frankly Malays to genuinely move up if they are constantly provided with these external supports. Why has it proved so difficult to move forward on that?

RAZAK: Let -- let me just state the facts. It must be recognized that 67 percent of the population in Malaysia are -- or constitute the Bumiputera. And when I mean Bumiputera, I'd like to define it in the context of that includes the non-Muslim Bumiputera as well in (inaudible). They are about 60 percent Muslim, Bumiputera, and if you include the non-Muslim Bumiputera, they are 67 percent.

Now, in any country if 67 percent of the population are left behind, what does that tell you? It's going to lead to a long-term instability for that country. You can't afford it. And it's also not good politics as well because (inaudible) the bulk of the population.

So what we want in Malaysia is to see, you know, a fair, equitable and inclusive society. That is what we want to achieve, so that wealth is fairly distributed. We don't want an egalitarian society. It will not work. But we want a society that is inclusive and that's a fair share of the country's wealth.

And that is our objective. And, you know, by having our affirmative action, we've noticed that the non-Bumiputeras' income level have increased a lot faster than the Bumiputera. In other words, the affirmative action has not held them back. And if you look at, you know, some of them -- you know, just a cursory glance in Malaysia, you know, the people with the big homes in Malaysia, the people with the big cars, the people who are the billionaires in Malaysia. And you can see what I mean.

So, if we do not...


ZAKARIA: What you mean to say is they're all Chinese.

RAZAK: Basically, most of them are, yes.

So, if you don't take corrective action, you will get a society that will be seen as the divide will get a lot worse in the years to come.

So, the only thing I'd like to mention about the affirmative action is that it is -- it's not a handout. Maybe it's been that in the past, but our new approach to it is based on merit. In other words, if you are a Bumiputera and you deserve the help, then you will be helped. But if you don't deserve to be helped, you won't get it.

So that's -- that is the, you know, philosophy of our -- our approach to what's affirmative action.

ZAKARIA: One more question before I turn it over. China -- the rise of China over the last two or three years has caused a lot of countries in Asia to worry a little, to ask themselves, "What would it be like to live in a Asia that is dominated by China?" And we saw the Philippines and Vietnam, South Korea, Japan, all in various ways reflect this anxiety and reflect it rather directly to the American administration, which is part of the genesis of the Obama administration's pivot to Asia.

How do you think about this? And do you feel that the Obama administration has handled this pivot correctly?

RAZAK: We welcome the -- the U.S. administration -- the Obama administration policy which you discussed -- pivot towards Asia -- because the United States has always been a Pacific power. And we're glad that, you know, the rise of Asia has resulted in America looking at a new strategy towards Asia.

In fact, I keep on saying that all major U.S. corporations cannot afford not to have an Asian strategy. Because the growth -- global growth, so much of it is coming from Asia.

At the same time, you know, we have to take into account the rise of China. And the rise of China also means that it is a big market for us. You know, we can sell more -- far more (inaudible) to China. We can sell more of our products to China. We can attract Chinese investment to Malaysia. So we can benefit, you know, from the rise of China; equally, we can benefit from the rise of India as well, you know.

But there are some issues that we need to manage because does the rise of China mean that China will be more aggressive, or China will be more assertive. And I think that's -- that's a question ASEAN countries are asking. And, you know, we are negotiating or, well, we have not started negotiations, but we are engaging in this dialogue with China to say that, "Look, we have conflicting claims in Southeast Asia, but let's handle it between friends; let's handle between nations that have got to much to gain from each other, rather than seeing this as, you know, zero-sum game that we must always be in conflict with one another."

That surely is not the way to approach it within friends. And that's the message that I'm sending to the Chinese.

ZAKARIA: And is it your impression that the new administration in China is more understanding of this? Or they're still sorting things out?

RAZAK: I think it is early day yet. I think they are grappling how to handle the issue. We're getting mixed signals from China, to be frank with you. But I think they will come to realize that they also need friends. You know, they can't afford to alienate. They have problems with Korea. They have problems with Japan. They have problems with Vietnam. They have problems with the Philippines. And if they problems in Malaysia, then the will begin to wonder. I mean, all these countries cannot be wrong, you know.


So, I think it's to China's interest to realize that, you know, that their position has to be tempered with the need to get along with their neighbors as well because this will be to the long interest -- long-term interest of China as well.

ZAKARIA: All right, let me open it up so that I'm not monopolizing things.

Would you identify yourself then ask a question? The only thing I insist on is that it in fact be a question, which means brief and that there be a question mark at the end of it.


QUESTION: I am Dan Altman (ph) with New York University and Foreign Policy Magazine.

There's often theorized a connection between economics and extremism. We see it even in Europe these days, that in areas that have a lot of privation now, there's more sympathy for extreme political parties.

But sometimes when we actually examine the histories of perpetrators of terrorism, they seem to be quite middle class or even upper class in their backgrounds.

Do you have any insight to share about the connection between economics and extremism?

RAZAK: I believe that the -- not all extremists are those people who have been marginalized. I believe it's the wrong interpretation of a religion, actually, that has led them to take very extremist views.

If you look at some of the -- the problems, like, take for example, you know, the problem between the -- you know, the Palestinians and -- and -- and -- and the Jews.

Over -- over -- you know, over the centuries, when the Jews were persecuted in Europe, by the pogroms and all that, all those actions that were taken against the Jews, they took refuge in Muslim countries, in North Africa.

So for centuries, Islam and Judaism, or Muslims and Jews, could co-exist in a harmonious way. Even when they were persecuted in Europe, they took refuge in Muslim countries.

So the problem is not between Islam and -- and Judaism. The problem exists when, you know, land was taken away from the Palestinians in an unjust way. And when people feel that they have been deprived of the basic human right, and they've been oppressed and that they're not getting, you know, a fair deal, that's when, you know, they would -- they would take action in -- in -- and some of them will do desperate acts, because there's no hope for them.

So what I'm trying to say is that you have to identify the causes of such acts, whether they are based on legitimate needs or whether it's just plain hijacking a religion, you know, to -- to serve their narrow ends or their narrow interests.

And if you want to deal with such, then you have to address if there are legitimate concern, or a legitimate struggle, I believe you have to address the legitimate struggle. But if it's because they have a wrong interpretation of Islam and they've got narrow, you know, interests that they want to serve, then they have to be dealt with in a different manner.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) Frank (ph), I'm a journalist from the Daily Beast, with and other outlets. And I can't think of a better person to ask this question: As a world leader and a diplomat, why is it important -- and is it important -- what the leaders of Iran say about the Holocaust?

RAZAK: I just watched briefly what he said about the Holocaust. And the Holocaust was something that was not justified. In Islam, you cannot kill any innocent individual, you know, under -- you know, the person can -- can be of any faith, and there's no justification.

And, certainly, we would condemn what happened against the Jews during that period. So there's no justification for Holocaust.

But at the same time, you know, taking land from the Palestinian people in an unjust manner is also unjustified.

So we just need to -- to have a balanced approach to it whilst you're trying to solve one or other to at least redress the unjust of the Holocaust, you shouldn't create another unjust problem for the Palestinian people.

What we need today is a fair solution, fair, you know, to the Jews and fair to the Palestinian people. And that's why I call for the movement of the moderates. You see, if you are moderate in your views, then you can find solutions to this problem.

We believe in a two-state solution, for example. That was a good basis for us to work on resolving this, the almost seemingly intractable problem, you know, between the Palestinian people and Israel.

QUESTION: My question is about the current state of the relationship between Malays and Chinese in your country, maybe more specific, between the government and the Chinese community.

As Fareed said that they're a quarter of the population; 85 percent voted for the opposition. There's no elected officials in parliament. And there are some reports that anti-Chinese sentiment is on the rise.

So could you just comment on that?

RAZAK: I am a great -- you know, when I -- when I took over office, I advocated this concept of 1Malaysia. You see the badge that I'm wearing is (inaudible) one, there's no big number one in the country, but it's 1Malaysia.

And 1Malaysia calls for an inclusive society. And it's on a basis that we don't not necessarily just focus on the general election, but we're talking about nation, national building -- nation-building, which goes beyond a general election.

And although the majority of the Chinese didn't support the current government, but we hope they will do so in the future, realizing that the future of Malaysia is -- can only be a success if the Malays and Chinese forge, you know, a closer working relationship between these two communities, the Malays and Bumiputera (ph) forming 67 percent.

So if you can imagine 67 percent of the population and 27 percent of the population work closely together, in every sphere, then you get a more united, more resilient nation. And that's the message that I'm sending.

They may be swayed or persuaded to vote for the opposition, for a certain reason, but looking beyond the last election, I'm -- I'm, you know, reaching out and saying, "Look, let's find a common ground; let's find policies that would be not just Chinese-centric, but Malaysian in nature, so that we can develop a truly united Malaysia."


QUESTION: Thank you. Patricia Rosenfield (ph), Rockefeller Archives Center.

Mr. Prime Minister, I think the global movement for the moderates is responding to a felt need in many parts of the world. And I think it's a wonderful initiative. I wonder if you could just describe a little bit more about it for those of us who aren't as familiar with it. And in particular, how you might be building on some of the other initiatives that have taken place over the past decades -- the Alliance for Civilization, many of the interfaith dialogue initiatives we have (inaudible) here. So, how you will bring them together in this -- in this effort to give voice to the moderates who don't yet have that kind of outreach.

RAZAK: Yes, I'd like to take it, you know, to the global stage for it to really be a meaningful concept. We've got to find like-minded people. In America, for example, I think we've got to find like-minded people in the United States that believe in the concept of moderation.

And I'd like to see them coming forward, actually, among the Americans who believe in this concept. And if they can step up to the plate, if you like, and indicate that they are -- you know, they're willing to be the voice of moderation among the Americans of all faiths. Then, let us join together and we can do many things together in programs, initiatives, even a loose kind of confederation, if you like, between people who believe in the concept of moderation across -- across the different faiths of the world.

I -- that will be a good start because it can snowball to a global, really a truly global movement that will -- will occupy the center stage. And this what I like, because that would support our national government in pressing for them to take the -- the line of moderation, the middle path, to see solutions to global problems.

ZAKARIA: Prime Minister, we are now -- our American faith is in technology. We have people in Washington watching this, and you can see them. And so we're going to now take a couple of questions from Washington on the assumption that this technology is working and that they can hear me now.

RAZAK: It seems to be working.


ZAKARIA: So we'll...

(UNKNOWN): Thank you, Fareed. Thank you, Fareed. We have a question from Chris Faulkner McMillan (ph).

QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. Prime Minister, for coming and taking our questions, taking time of your very busy schedule.

I guess I have maybe a slightly different question, and that is you -- one of the more exciting developments in Malaysia recently has been the government's attempt to really ramp-up infrastructure and to expand out a lot of programs. And you see a rebound in private investment activity in Malaysia.

At the same time, too, Fitch recently issued warnings about the amount of government guaranteed debt that seemed to be taken on as part of that process. Do you have some insight that you can share with us on how your government plans to navigate the -- the -- the course going forward between the need to continue to catalyze private investment and infrastructure in Malaysia and also fiscal consolidation?

RAZAK: Yes, the national debt and the fiscal deficit went up in Malaysia because of the Asian financial crisis. You know, we had to do quite a bit of pump-priming after the financial crisis so that the economy would not take such a big hit. And by doing that, by increasing government spending after the financial crisis, to prevent the worst of it, had the effect of increasing our national debt, as well as our fiscal deficit.

And, of course, there's huge -- a lot of demand for spending -- infrastructure spending in Malaysia. We have quite a large rural sector, especially in Saba (ph) and Chara (ph). And that has resulted in our fiscal deficit increasing.

But since I took over office in 2009, at that particular time, the deficit was 6.7 percent. But last year, it was 4.5 percent. And this year, I've seen the latest numbers before I left and I think I'm quite positive we will touch 4 percent by the end of this year, negative 4 percent. By 2015, we will touch 3 percent negative. And by 2020, it will be a balanced budget.

So, what is important is the trajectory, as long as we move along the right trajectory and the fiscal deficit is falling progressively. The markets will feel confident that we're moving on the right track. But we can't do it overnight, because if you do it overnight, there will be a backlash against it. So the key to it is to do it gradually.

Of course, there are some measures we have to do, which may not be all that politically popular, like weaning off direct subsidies, increasing the price of petrol and diesel, for example, which is reducing the subsidy for petroleum products in Malaysia. It's the right thing to do because subsidies are wasteful, as you know, but we have to do it gradually.

And we are committed towards fiscal deficit reduction and managing our national debt. So in the next few years, you will see significant improvement in that direction.

ZAKARIA: Let's take another question from Washington. I see one more place card up.

(UNKNOWN): Yes, we have a question from Shard Duffer (ph).

QUESTION: Yes, Mr. Prime Minister, thank you again for making time today. Keeping the same theme, can you give us your thoughts on the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the negotiations that are underway?

ZAKARIA: This is the -- the proposal by the Obama administration for a Asia-wide, Pacific-wide free trade agreement.

RAZAK: I am a great believer in free trade and open regionalism. That's why we decided to take part in the TPPA negotiations. You know, the reason that -- for the creation of APEC is to promote trade and investment. And as a result, APEC is in this Trans-Pacific Partnership.

If you look in the context of increasing trade and investment, that's going to be a great thing for the whole region, and including for the United States as well. The only difficulty we have with the TPPA is that it doesn't stop at trade and investment. It's got other components in it.

ZAKARIA: Such as?

RAZAK: Such as interstate dispute settlement, state-owned enterprises, which have to be open in terms of their procurement and so forth. So there are issues that impinge on our domestic interests, as well as the constituency that we have to serve.

So as being an elected member -- elected, a leader elected by the people of Malaysia, I need to address their concern as well. Because if I don't do that, you might not see me again.


So, we need to do both. We want -- we want an agreement that will stimulate trade and investment, certainly, for the whole region, but you need to ensure that those agreements will -- will have the backing of the people of Malaysia. And in the case of the United States, the Congress will support it as well.

So the next few months will be -- appear rather tough negotiations, but the key to it is being -- is being flexible. And if you are flexible, I think at the end of the day, we will get an agreement.

ZAKARIA: Yes? Two of you, the one in front, yes.

QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. Prime Minister.

So going from the TPPA, I wanted to bring it down to, and ask a question on your relations with Singapore and if you could comment on sort of the state of those relationships and, you know, will we ever see a new causeway built, for example, you know, in our lifetime. Thank you.

RAZAK: You will see a high-speed rail between Malaysia and Singapore, interconnecting Kuala Lumpur to Singapore, for example. And that's -- that's going to be great. You know, it will reduce the time travel to about 90 minutes between Kuala Lumpur and Singapore, and that's a huge game-changer.

You know, what we have between Malaysia and Singapore...

ZAKARIA: When will that happen?

RAZAK: Well, it's supposed to be within six, seven years. That's the plan, anyway, although some people say I am underestimating the difficulties. But we're trying to achieve it within that timeframe.

What you have in Singapore, two leaders who dare to look forward, and not to be caught up in the legacy of the history of Malaysia and Singapore. If you're caught up in history, you know, then it's like it's difficult to be on good terms with your ex-wife, for example.


That's the analogy in most cases. But...

ZAKARIA: I won't ask who was the husband.


RAZAK: But if you look at it in, you know, what we can do together that will benefit Malaysia and Singapore, then you'll be in a positive -- more positive mindset. And I think Prime Minister Hsien Loong and I, you know, we are in that sort of mindset and we take a more positive perspective for how we can do things together and how we can enhance our relations by benefiting both the people of Malaysia and Singapore.

(UNKNOWN): Yes sir, back there?

QUESTION: Thank you very much. Akmad Fadyy (ph>. I'm a foreign affairs correspondent at the United Nations for various Arabic news media.

Mr. Prime Minister, you said it very eloquently at the start of this meeting that today's problem is not between Muslim, Christians and Jews, but rather, between moderates and extremists.

If I may ask -- ask you, what is your vision and your strategy, if existing, how to treat with this current dilemma, moderates and extremists, within inside the Islamic face itself? And how can be transferable such containment to other parts of the Muslim world?

Thank you very much.

RAZAK: Well, the -- if you talk about the Muslim faith, you -- you -- I mean, it's intertwined with, you know, what's happening in certain countries, like Egypt, for example. You know, the situation there saddens us (inaudible) to see the internal conflict in Egypt, and particularly in Syria, and tearing up -- tearing apart the whole country, with so many people killed and so forth.

But what we need to do is, we need to identify, you know, moderates from both sides, and be able to sit down and -- and try to negotiate a political settlement.

It's complex. I'm not underestimating the challenges. And there are interests within the region and beyond the region as to what's happening in those countries, which complicates the situation. But if you talk in terms of a particular settlement, the only way that you can get settlement -- if you -- if you find moderates from both sides, and -- and take a realistic view as to finding a political solution, which will be, I think, the only way to find resolution to the problem.

And secondly, is the underpinning. Underpinning is the Sunnia-Shia sectarian problem, which is very serious.

You know, I -- I like to use this analogy, that if you are a Shia, if you are a Suni, you are like along a highway. You are on a different lane, but you want to get to the same destination. For as long as you don't cross over to each other's lane, then you will reach the destination safely. It's when you consider each other as your enemy -- that's when the real problem starts.

So, I think it's also incumbent upon the Sunni and the Shia to realize that we want to get to the final destination, if you like. But, you know, don't get at each other in the process. And if that can be the attitude, then I think a large chunk of the problem in the Middle East will go away.

ZAKARIA: We started on moderation. We end on moderation.

Mr. Prime Minister, thank you very much. Thank you.

RAZAK: Thanks a lot (ph).


Top Stories on CFR


President Biden's comment on Taiwan independence is a break from his predecessors.


The death of Mahsa Amini has sparked large-scale protests in Iran. But President Raisi’s speech at the UN General Assembly signals that the regime is not likely to soften its stance toward the Iranian people nor toward the West.


Russia’s moves to mobilize thousands more troops and to annex more of Ukraine’s territory signal a new, potentially more dangerous phase of the war.