JULY 28, 2004 WED

Malaysia's rulers 'can help curb extremism'

As 'custodians of Islam', the nine Malay rulers must make their voices heard on key issues, says Perak Crown Prince on visit to Singapore

By Salim Osman

During a visit to the Singapore Botanic Gardens, the prince (left) was presented with a pink and white orchild named after him - called Dendrobium Raja Nazrin - by the gardens' director, Dr Chin See Chung. -- BERITA HARIAN
MALAYSIA'S monarchy, far from being a relic of the past, plays a key role in present efforts to curb Islamic extremism, the Perak Crown Prince said yesterday.
'The monarchy, by its very nature, is a force for moderation over extremism,' said the prince, Raja Nazrin Shah Ibni Sultan Azlan Shah, at a public lecture on The Monarchy In Contemporary Malaysia at the Raffles Hotel.
Raja Nazrin expressed disappointment that many middle-class Muslims had chosen not to speak up since the Sept 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States cast a shadow over the Muslim world.
'Unfortunately, the moderates, who form the vast majority, prefer to remain a silent majority and shy away from speaking out about how they configure their Islamic identity,' he said.
'It is unfortunate and can be perilous because, in the vacuum, more strident voices dominate.'
Describing the nine Malay rulers as 'custodians of Islam' with their wide powers and discretion over religious matters, Raja Nazrin said they must make their voices heard on important issues affecting Muslims.
One example of this, he said, occurred in the 1980s, when groups of Muslims from Umno and Parti Islam SeMalaysia, or PAS, started accusing each other of being un-Islamic and infidels.
'The rulers told the government of the day to stop a planned public debate between representatives of the two parties over the issue because such an event would endanger public security and be very divisive for the country,' he said in response to a question.
While fielding questions, Raja Nazrin was described by some in the audience as a 'scholar prince'.
Indeed, he holds a bachelor's degree in philosophy, politics and economics from Britain's Oxford University and a PhD in political economy and government from Harvard University.
He is in Singapore as a distinguished visitor in the Eminent Visitors' Programme of the Singapore International Foundation.
His lecture, organised by the Institute of South-east Asian Studies (Iseas) and the Perak Academy, was attended by not just academics, diplomats and business leaders, but also several sons of Perak, including some who are now Singapore citizens.
One of them was Mr K. Kesavapany, the former Singapore high commissioner to Malaysia, and current director of Iseas.
The Malaysian High Commissioner to Singapore, Datuk N. Parameswaran, was another son of Perak at the lecture, along with Defence Minister Teo Chee Hean and Perak Menteri Besar Tajol Rosli Ghazali.
Raja Nazrin told them that the monarchy, once perceived to be an essentially Malay institution, was now accepted as a unifying factor by all Malaysians.
'Far from remote, the rulers are an integral part of public life and a highly visible one at that, contributing often to the civil order,' he said.
Malaysia's monarchy, he said, could certainly play a proactive role in forging further the sense of one community and one nation to which it aspired.
But it has to face a major challenge: the generation gap.
'The challenge here is to reach our young citizens,' the prince said.
'Here the litmus test of ongoing legitimacy is best applied to the youth - the so-called Generation X, the inheritors of the future and with it the present system of monarchy.'

Parent site: "Focus on Malaysia"