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Speech at the University of Nottingham, Malaysia, 2012

David Cameron (Conservative)

Location: Semenyih, Malaysia

Thank you, Prime Minister Najib. Ladies and gentlemen, as-salamu alaykum. Thank you for inviting me to join you today, and thank you for speaking about our shared interests, our shared values, our shared history.

Prime Minister, ever since your visit to London and your speech in Oxford last year, I’ve been keen to share a platform with you on the Global Movement of Moderates. So I’m very pleased to do so as part of my visit to Malaysia today. We are here to discuss something that we feel very strongly about as your powerful speech just now has demonstrated. I think it’s great that we’re able to do this at the Nottingham University campus here in Malaysia; the first full campus of a British university overseas. A really pioneering partnership that sees the full breadth of the academic study and research here in Malaysia. It represents the best of British and the best of Malaysia. I’m very proud to be here today.

I know, Prime Minister, that developing this campus has long been an urge of yours when you were Education Minister. So I’m grateful to you, Prime Minister Najib, for your vision and your support over many years in helping to bring this about.

Now of course, there are many huge challenges facing our world that we could discuss today: tackling climate change; securing sustainable economic growth; how we cope with the aftermath of the financial crisis. But one of the biggest challenges of all is how we tackle the rise of Islamist extremism: young men who follow a completely perverse, warped interpretation of Islam who are prepared to blow themselves up and kill their fellow citizens in the process.

And that extremism is what I want to talk about today. We need to be, as you were, sir, absolutely clear about the nature of the threat we face in order to address it correctly. So let me first be absolutely clear what I’m not saying. I’m not saying that terrorism is linked exclusively to any one religion or ethnic group. It is not. In Britain, in my country for example, we still face threats from dissident groups, terrorist groups in Northern Ireland. And I’m also not suggesting that Islam is the same as Islamist extremism. It is not: they are completely different and we should be absolutely clear on this point.

Islam is a religion of peace observed devoutly by over a billion people across the world. Islamist extremism is a warped political ideology. It is vital that we make this distinction between religion on the one hand and an extremist political ideology on the other. Because time and again, too many people equate the two. They think whether someone is an extremist is dependent on how much they observe their religion. So, they talk about moderate Muslims as if all devout Muslims must be extremist. This is profoundly wrong. You can be a devout, faithful Muslim and not be an extremist. And the idea that extremism means passion whereas moderation is for those weak in their faith, is also a dangerous myth. We need to be absolutely clear. Religion and political ideology are not the same thing. The real divide, as you said Prime Minister, is not between East and West or between the developed or developing worlds or between Muslims and non-Muslims, the real divide is between political moderates and political extremists.

Now, having made that distinction, let’s be clear about the reality of the threat that we face from Islamist extremism. From 9/11 and 7/7 to the bombs in Madrid or in Bali, we have seen our security interests intertwined as never before in the face of prejudice, persecution and sickening acts of terror and violence. These killings have been indiscriminate. Indeed, there are more Muslim people in the death toll of these bombs than any other religious group. As you have said so powerfully, Prime Minister, the terrorists who carried out these attacks do not represent Islam. And such vile misrepresentations of Islam, as you said again today, are source of great anguish to the vast majority of Muslims. And your powerful and moving condemnation of suicide bombing in your speech in Oxford last year, repeated again today, has rightly won you plaudits and admiration. Together, we must defeat this ideology. And I believe that we can. So, let me turn to how we do so.

Part of the answer has to be a security response. There are people who have tried to kill and maim and who have to be stopped. And thanks to counter-terrorism efforts and thanks to the cooperation of like-minded states, this can happen. But this, as you’ve just said, can only ever be a part of the answer. We can stop many of the terrorists through counter-terrorism measures: policing, intelligence, prosecution, conviction. And another important part of defeating extremism is to tackle all the issues of grievance, whether it is the treatment of the Palestinians or the poverty of so many Muslims in the world.

But while that can drain the swamp, we should be clear that nothing justifies terrorism. And as the Prime Minister has said, some of the terrorists indeed come from middle income or even wealthy backgrounds. So ultimately, as you have argued, as I argue today, we need to defeat the idea on which that terrorism is based. And this is where the Global Movement of Moderates is so vital. As you have said, it is for people who cherish moderation, dignity and justice everywhere to stand firm, to stand proud and to dissipate the pool of terror and deny those at the margins a foothold in this middle ground. That is what your movement is all about and it is why I’m so pleased to support it.

Now, since your speech at the UN in September 2010 this idea has captured imaginations around the world. And we very much welcome the new Global Movement of Moderates foundation and have been thinking about how we can help support a European dimension for this work. And it seems to me the most crucial question is: how do we inspire people, particularly young people that this is the right approach?

For some time many people claimed that the way to tackle extremism and to maintain security, stability and moderation was to enforce it with strong, authoritarian leaders. This was the argument that gave support – including, I have to say, from the West – to leaders like Mubarak in Egypt, Gaddafi in Libya or Assad in Syria. But the reality is that authoritarianism builds up resentment by denying people the rights and the responsibilities and the freedoms of citizenship. It denies them dignity. It feeds rather than negates the narrative of Muslim and Arab victimhood. It weakens the legitimacy of the state and fails to address the very emotions and frustrations that can drive people to extremism in the first place. So, authoritarianism cannot be the way to defeat extremism or to bolster moderation in the long-term.

The right way to foster this moderation is I believe to build the building blocks of democracy. The independence of the judiciary, the rule of law, the rights of individuals, a free media and association, a proper place in society for the army, strong political parties and a strong, rich, civil society. These democratic foundations are the greatest threat to extremism and the vital foundation for moderation.

Why? Well, because democracy, real democracy – not just where you vote every four or five years, but where you have a real voice, real rights, real freedoms – that is the foundation of dignity. The Islamist extremists claim they provide a route to dignity through the supposed purity of their world view but they’re wrong. Their denial of individual rights and freedoms are in fact the denial of true dignity. The extremists want to impose a particular and very specific form of Islam on society to the exclusion of all others. So, they reject debate and democratic consent. They argue that Islam and democracy are incompatible and they deny rights to people who don’t share their particular view. Democracy requires people to respect the rights of others and to make their case reasonably in a democratic debate. It demands that everyone enjoys the same freedoms, rights and responsibilities as citizens together, whether or not they subscribe to any one specific version of religious faith. And as I’ve said, most crucially of all, democracy gives people the power and dignity to choose; the ability to take decisions over your own lives, not to have someone else’s will imposed on you.

That is a vision that has inspired people throughout history, and the struggles for freedom – whether in North Africa or in Burma today – show it still inspires people in our modern world. Democracy and moderation go hand in hand. And that is what countries like Malaysia and Indonesia are showing. It is possible to develop a democracy and a modern economy that neither compromises people’s security nor their ability to practise their religion by guaranteeing democratic citizenship for all. A citizenship that means access to justice and the rule of law is available to everyone. A citizenship that means every individual has the same fair access to services. A citizenship that means that everyone has a fair chance to play a role in shaping their own society.

As I said in Jakarta this morning, there is a great global opportunity right now to demonstrate that democracy doesn’t endanger stability, moderation and prosperity; but is indeed the best foundation for it. That democracy offers an alternative to both dictatorship and extremism. And that following the example of the Global Movement of Moderates, young people across the world should be inspired to chose democracy as their future. This would be the greatest defeat that al-Qaeda and its affiliates could ever suffer. They fear democracy, they fear choice, they fear young people being inspired by that vision more than anything else. And that to me is what the Global Movement of Moderates and your leadership, Prime Minister, can help us to bring about.

Thank you very much for listening.

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