Southeast Asian diplomats cited the Rohingya exodus and a recent battle in the southern Philippines in urging the United Nations to adopt a resolution introduced by Malaysia to fight extremism through moderation and peaceful dialogue.
Officials said 135 nations had accepted the “moderation” resolution, but the United States and Israel were the only countries that voted against it last week at the U.N. General Assembly in New York. There were no abstentions.
The resolution, submitted by Malaysian envoy Mohd Shahrul Ikram Yaakob for adoption by the General Assembly, encourages worldwide dialogue and tolerance to fight intensifying violent extremism around the globe.
It calls upon U.N. members “to support the Global Movement of Moderates initiative as a common platform to amplify the voices of moderation over those of violent extremism as and when conducive to terrorism.”
The United Nations said Washington had cast a “no” vote because the resolution “failed to distinguish” between the words “extremism” and “violent extremism.”
“While the United States universally rejected the latter, (it) expressed concern that nations or individuals might construe the resolution’s language to curtail freedoms of expression or belief,” the U.N. said in a statement, which did not shed light on Israel’s vote.
In Malaysia, Prime Minister Najib Razak welcomed the resolution’s adoption as a step in efforts to stop radicalism from spreading in the majority-Muslim country of 32 million people.
“Another historic success for #Negaraku,” Najib said on Twitter this week, referring to Negaraku (My Country), Malaysia’s national anthem.
Najib has staunchly advocated what he called “wasatiyyah,” or moderation, in his multicultural nation that supports a diversity of faiths.
Last month, while launching a website and two publications owned by the Global Movement of Moderates Foundation in Putrajaya, south of Kuala Lumpur, Najib said that moderation rejected all forms of evil, such as extremism.
During the past few years, his government has warned of an emerging domestic threat from militancy, particularly from the violent extremist group known as Islamic State (IS).
Since 2013, Malaysian authorities have arrested at least 349 people suspected of links to IS and other militant groups. The country says it has foiled nine IS-linked terror plots, but IS claimed responsibility last year for a grenade attack that injured eight people at a nightclub near Kuala Lumpur.
“We do not have to look far to realize the crucial importance of practicing moderation,” Najib said. “When we see what happened in Marawi City recently, we see the deadly effects of extremism.”
In late October, the Philippine military declared an end to a five-month battle with pro-IS groups that had seized parts of the southern city, after bombing Marawi heavily. The fighting killed more than 1,200 people, flattened the once-scenic city and displaced its 200,000 residents. More than 970 militants died, the military said.
Teodoro Locsin, Jr., the Philippine ambassador to the U.N., told his fellow diplomats that the “moderation” resolution reflected Manila’s road map to attain peace with Muslim rebels in the south.
He said a “peace caravan” involving religious leaders aboard a bus was traveling across the country, so officials could gather insights on creating avenues for dialogue and peace.
The caravan, which left the northern Philippines in late September, will end in Iligan City, about 38 km (24 miles) from Marawi.
“In a conflict misidentified as religious, it was important for all faiths to clarify what was religion and what was bloody ambition, what was prayer and what was rapine disguised as piety,” Locsin said.
Diplomats rally for resolution
During the resolution’s adoption on Dec. 8, Siti Arnyfariza Md Jaini, Brunei’s U.N. ambassador, said “the rising threat of terrorism and violent extremism across the globe was a grim reminder of the need for sustained efforts to combat those phenomena.”
“We must not allow the seeds of intolerance, hatred and extremism to take root,” she said.
Indonesia’s U.N. representative, Dian Triansyah Djani, said military measures alone would not be sufficient to combat or eliminate violent extremism.
It was critical to cultivate peace and stability, he emphasized, noting Indonesia’s various national initiatives, including interfaith dialogue.
Indonesia, the world’s largest Muslim-majority nation with 262 million people, is also dealing with a threat from militant groups like IS. The country was trying to eliminate the links between extremism and poverty through the creation of jobs and a reduction of inequality, the Indonesian ambassador said.
Myanmar’s U.N. ambassador, Hau Do Suan, mentioned attacks against security forces by the militant group Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) in Rakhine State that spawned a massive exodus of Rohingya Muslims into Bangladesh this year.
He rejected extremism as harmful to any diverse and tolerant society.
An estimated 655,000 Rohingya fled Myanmar’s Rakhine state and crossed into Bangladesh during a military crackdown that began after deadly attacks on police outposts by Muslim militants on Aug. 25.
The U.N., the U.S. and rights groups have accused Myanmar’s military of committing atrocities against the Rohingya Muslims in what officials described as “ethnic cleansing.” Myanmar officials have denied the allegations.
Towards ‘a more harmonious world community’
The Malaysian envoy to the U.N., Mohd Shahrul Ikram, said Malaysia had presented the resolution to urge the United Nations to declare 2019 as The International Year of Moderation.
“The obstacles that prevent a culture of peace from taking root are many, but they are not insurmountable and moderation be seen as the bedrock of international relations in the global world where peace remained elusive,” he told BenarNews.
Recent faith-related issues that bordered on intolerance have spurred controversy in Malaysia.
In September this year, the owner of a “Muslim-only” laundromat in Malaysia’s Johor state dropped his policy excluding people of other faiths, when the local Sultan ordered him to apologize and be inclusive.
A board in front of the man’s shop had proclaimed that it was “Muslim-friendly.”
“This launderette only serves Muslim customers due to issues of purity. Any inconveniences are deeply regrettable. Please leave your shoes before entering,” the sign said.
In September, Malaysian police cancelled a beer festival following objections from Muslim leaders, who claimed the event would encourage immorality and lead to criminal acts.
Nasharudin Mat Isa, chairman and CEO of the Global Movement of Moderates Foundation (GMMF), the Malaysian group that lobbied the government to push for the U.N. resolution, said its adoption underscored the foundation’s goal of inculcating global peaceful co-existence.
“The message of moderation as propagated by Malaysia can be the answer and counter-narratives to the development of violent-extremism and terrorism through moderation, which will help create a more harmonious world community,” he said in an interview last month.