Always a moderate and proud to be one - that's how Tun Musa Hitam describes himself. Till this day, the 80-year-old former Deputy Prime Minister does not hold back when it comes to hitting out at politicians who incite racial and religious tension. He states bluntly that only "bankrupt politicians" use race and religion to gain political mileage.
Looking relaxed at his Bukit Tunku home in Kuala Lumpur last Friday morning, Musa, who stepped down as DPM in 1986, offered the writer a cup of tea and suggested that we adjourn outdoors for the interview.
Once he got going, Musa addressed delicate issues relating to extremism and freedom of speech and shared his thoughts on how Malaysia can achieve great things - in politics or business - by being moderate and liberal.
Q: What does moderation mean to you, Tun?
A: First let me say this emphatically and very firmly - I have aways been a liberal and a moderate and am proud of it. I have been brought up from young until now as such.
My family, my parents, my elders brought me up that way, and in my more grown up days since I entered politics, my political party Umno adopted the stance of moderation from the early days that we gained Independence. But I don't know what's happening there now.
Secondly, as far as things against moderation, such as extreme views based on sentiments relating to religion and race, I have always said, and I am going to say this again - both have been hijacked by politicians.
Only bankrupt politicians use race and religion in promoting their cause and in trying to get political support. The third point is that I am very sad to note that during this particular instance in Malaysian history, it seems that the hijacking process is going on. And what's worrying, is that it is intensifying.
There seems to be a very clear-cut position where the moderates here condemn the extremists, and the extremists condemn the moderates. Sometimes, I hear very high-powered, responsible politicians say that moderation and liberalism are dangerous. I suspect they do not know what they are talking about.
Q: Are the lines between politics and religion becoming blurred?
A: When we talk about moderation and liberalism in the Malaysian context, in most cases it deals with race and religion.
Too many politicians want to become religious leaders and too many religious leaders want to be politicians. And that line has been vague.
Added to that is of course what seems to be a popularity contest based on their own perception and understanding of which side of the divide they want to be on, or support.
Within the context of politicians, I have been seeing a very strange phenomena where many, in order to project an image of religiousness, start learning quotations from the Quran and making themselves sound to be very learned.
Whereas they only learn these few sentences in order to impress people. This makes it very difficult because the non-experts are dealing with very complex issues yet trying interpret these things in a religious manner.
The essence of this all is that in Malaysia, because we are a multi-racial, multi-religious country, only if you are liberal and moderate will you be able to establish genuine linkages between one another.
Very early on in my political career I saw so many attempts for popular support using racial and religious issues.
I hate to use this example but I have to - the May 13 incident was the result of it all. But we were supposed to have learnt and corrected ourselves after that. Yet now, after so many years we seem to be back to the old days.
The basic ingredients are the same, the approach is the same, even the statements are the same in many respects. In the historical perspective, it brings a very eerie reminder of the bad old days.