Keeping Malaysia on the moderate path is key to our economic progress, says the "economist" of the eminent G25. Interview with Tan Sri Mohd Sheriff Mohd Kassim I'M not a lawyer, nor am I a constitutional expert, says former Treasury secretary-general Tan Sri Mohd Sheriff Mohd Kassim, "But I know my rights. If I am convinced my rights have been violated, I will challenge it."
As one of the 25 "prominent" Malay personalities, who, three months ago, sent an open letter to the moderate Malay Muslims to reclaim Malaysia from what many are describing as the "growing extremist religious and racial elements", Mohd Sheriff is all too aware of his critics and doubters.
"Religion is good but if you use it to create various kinds of restrictions, it will affect our growth prospects. That is bad, and the poor will suffer. That is why I continue to speak up," says the 75-year-old who is also a regular contributor to The Star's "Letter to the Editor" column over the years, writing on social and human rights issues.
"If you look at what I've written you will see that I offer no new knowledge, but I feel that it is my responsibility to remind people about their basic and democratic rights."
After dedicating almost half his life in service to the country, Mohd Sheriff is resolved to stand up for Malaysia's stability and prosperity.
And he strongly believes the way to do this is to defend the nation's moderate stance, within the context of the Federal Constitution.
"We are blessed to live in a country that is diverse and rich in natural resources like Malaysia. We cannot take things for granted."
"I'm confident that if we make our policies right, if we don't become too radical in our economic, social and religious views, this country can become one of the most successful countries in the world," he notes.
"But if we go in the wrong direction, it will be very difficult to reverse."
What do you think of the momentum set by G25 in rallying moderate Malays in the country to speak up?
I think we can say that we are quite happy with the response we have got from the public and the number of groups who have come out to speak out on moderation, including two alumni groups of St John's Institution (one is the Class of 75 of St John's). And there were messages of encouragement, including from students studying overseas, from Sabah and Sarawak and from the non-Malay community. Many feel that the open letter by the G25 has given them hope that the voice of the majority is now being heard loud and clear and I'm sure we can expect more to come out, spontaneously on their own.
Is this voice of moderation loud enough?
I think so, we don't want to go down to the streets. We don't want to organise demonstrations. We feel that a clear voice is what is required to get the message across,
And frankly, I believe the Government is listening. That's encouraging.
Of course, now that the momentum has built up, we cannot rest on our laurels. We should go and meet the important personalities, and I'm glad that they have agreed to see us and we have had quiet discussions with them. Naturally we don't want to publicise who we have met and what we have discussed but as long as we know that we are reaching out to the right people, we are quite happy.