How to define moderate


The moderate person knows that you don’t need to comment about every single thing just because you cannot be an expert in everything.

Marina Mahathir, The Star

OF late, there’s been a lot of talk about how moderate Malaysians need to rise and speak up against the extremists in our country. While this is certainly a much-needed call, we find that definitions tend to get in the way.

For example, everyone denies being an extremist and claims to be moderate. It seems that in this country, as long as you don’t pick up a gun and go and shoot someone, you’re not an extremist.

Those who certainly spout violent and hate-filled language are not yet defined as extremist even though their talk may spur some followers to do the worst imaginable one day. After all, if they can make the effort to go join a band of brigands who have no qualms about chopping off heads and burning people alive, why wouldn’t they be as motivated at home?

If everyone is now claiming to be moderate, there is a need to further define what would be the true characteristics of such a person. There are indeed differences between true moderates and those merely pretending to be one.

For one thing, a true moderate respects another person’s point of view even when those views are patently abhorrent. For a moderate, freedom of speech and expression is a very important value.

A non-moderate however can barely tolerate any viewpoint that is contrary to theirs and would rather they were not allowed to speak at all. If they had to engage with another group, it would only be to convince the others that they are wrong and must immediately convert to the non-moderate perspective. No middle ground there.

Secondly, the non-moderate believes that there needs to be a law for everything. Without punitive measures, they believe that people will simply all go wild and do all sorts of crazy things. For example, according to them, people cannot be trusted to not walk the streets naked if there was no law against it.

True moderates on the other hand trust that an average human being in our country has quite a bit of common sense and will not simply be anti-social just because they can. Malaysians, like most Asians, do care what people think of them and that acts as a major deterrent to any sort of bizarre behaviour. For example, gathering a large group to go and shake posteriors in front of someone’s house cannot, by any measure, be considered a common sense act and, therefore, anyone who does that cannot rightly be called moderate.

Moderates tend to speak in a careful way. Every word is considered well before spoken or written and tends not to be overblown or exaggerated because that would be immodest and therefore immoderate.

On the other hand, a non-moderate person tends to shoot his mouth off, verbally and in writing, refuse to apologise, organises people to show support with unoriginal slogans and then sits back while his boss gives a lame excuse for his bad behaviour. It stands to reason that many non-moderates are a bit lacking in the integrity department.

It might be fair to say that maturity is also a hallmark of the moderate person. The moderate person knows that you don’t need to comment about every single thing just because you cannot be an expert in everything. You especially cannot spend all your time making police reports about everything other people say and do, not least because this may give the impression that you have plenty of time on your hands and have no need to earn a living like other people.

The non-moderate, however, thinks nothing of filing multiple police reports in a single day on anything that comes to mind that they can spin as insulting to themselves. In this way they keep our already harried police force busy trying to work out what precisely their complaints are and not out chasing all manner of crooks, including those stealing public money.

In fact, perhaps we can define extremists as those who spend their time wasting taxpayers’ money by making all sorts of facetious police reports, especially those that are not actually crimes. And we should also ask why they have the luxury of spending all day at police stations, sometimes wearing outrageous costumes, without the need to have any sort of job. How DO they pay for their daily nasi lemak?

There may be other ways to differentiate the true moderate from the false one. There aren’t, for example, many publicity hounds who can convince anyone they are actually moderate in their views. They understand very well that extreme views make for good TV. So virtually anyone you see too often in the mainstream media is probably suspect.

Meanwhile, the rest of Malaysia is trying to get by on their increasingly less moderate incomes.

Marina Mahathir is a human rights activist who works on women, children and HIV/AIDS issues. Her column in this newspaper goes back 25 years and has likewise evolved because, in her own words, “she probably thinks too much for her own good.” Marina continues to speak out and crusade for causes that she passionately believes in. The views expressed here are entirely her own.