Speakers at an international counterterrorism conference in Malaysia called on followers of Islam to practice moderation in their faith in helping to stem the scourge of violent extremism.
Some 1,000 participants from 20 countries – including Indonesia, India, Pakistan, Turkey, France and Britain – took part in the two-day gathering, which emphasized “holistic soft approaches” to combating terrorism as well as more conventional ones like education and cutting terrorism financing.
“We believe we cannot fight the war of terrorism through force or punitive measures alone,” Malaysia’s Home Ministry Secretary General Alwi Ibrahim told the conference Saturday, before reading out its final statement.
“We need to have two-prong approaches to defeat the threats of extremism and terrorism. We must attempt to win the hearts and minds of each and everyone who engaged in, or is prone to engage in the terrorist activities.”
The 12-point final statement called for “a new language of moderation” to promote tolerance of differences and to combat the “ideology of takfiri” in which some Muslims quickly accuse others of straying from the faith.
Many speakers at the event, pointed to the role of religion in combatting extremist ideology.
In his closing speech, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak cited two verses from the Quran that, he said, commit all Muslims to moderation, “a crucial shield against extreme ideologies.”
“Together they imply that being named a ‘Muslim’ and belonging to a moderate people are the same. They further imply that, as the Prophet witnesses our efforts to be both Muslim and moderate, so must we bear witness to fellow believers that if we are Muslim we are also moderate,” he said.
Malaysia, which touts its multi-religious society as an example of peaceful co-existence, sponsored a resolution on moderation at the United Nations encouraging worldwide dialogue and tolerance to fight violent extremism around the globe. The resolution was adopted in December.
At the Putrajaya conference, Najib underlined the ongoing need for vigilance against terrorism.
“Daesh continues to pose a serious and potent threat in Malaysia as well as in the wider Southeast Asia region, despite the weakened state of the group in Iraq and Syria,” Najib told the gathering, using an alternate name for the so-called Islamic State group.
A total of 95 Malaysians had joined IS in Syria and Iraq, Najib said. Of these, 34 were killed; eight returned to Malaysia, and were arrested; and 36 adults and 17 children were still there.
Najib in Saudi Arabia
One day after the close of the conference, co-hosted by Malaysia’s Home Ministry and the Saudi Arabia-based think-tank Rabitah Al-Alam Al-Islami (Muslim World League), Malaysia’s Foreign Ministry said Najib would be making a five-day working visit to Riyadh beginning Monday.
“During the visit, the Prime Minister is scheduled to have an audience with the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, His Majesty King Salman Abdulaziz Al Saud and His Royal Highness Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman Abdulaziz Al Saud in Riyadh respectively,” the statement released said.
The three would discuss a range of issues including the establishment of the King Salman Center for International Peace (KSCIP) in Putrajaya, which the Saudi monarch announced during a state visit to Malaysia in March last year, the statement send.
The Saudi-backed center will work to counter terrorist narratives. The Malaysian government has a two-year timeline for building the center, which is to be housed at a 40-acre site in Putrajaya.
Malaysia already has an online counter-extremist messaging center overseen by the Royal Malaysia Police. It also has the Southeast Asia Regional Center for Counter-Terrorism, operated under the Ministry of Foreign Affairs with assistance from the U.S. State Department.