DAP calls for the establishment of a full  Department for the Promotion of Inter-religious and Inter-civilisational understanding under the wing of the Prime Minister  as an important element of Malaysian nation-building

Media Statement
by Lim Kit Siang

(Petaling Jaya,  Thursday):  At the meeting of the Commonwealth Committee on Terrorism in London at the end of last month, preparatory to the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting  (CHOGM) in Brisbane next week, Malaysia proposed that dialogues between different civilisations should be included among efforts to combat terrorism. 

Foreign Minister, Datuk Seri Syed Hamid Albar, who represented Malaysia at the London meeting, said the proposal was endorsed as part of a draft plan of action to be submitted to CHOGM in Coolum, Sunshine Coast, Brisbane on March 2 to 5.

After the London meeting, Syed Hamid said the inter-civilisational dialogues would cover issues such as race, religions and cultures, and he expressed the hope that such dialogues would strengthen understanding between different civilisations, cultures and faiths.  

DAP fully supports the government proposal to elevate inter-civilisational dialogue as an important element to promote international understanding to help defuse the root causes of inter-religious and inter-civilisational suspicion,  mistrust and hatred as Malaysia is strategically placed to play a important role in this process with  the great religions, cultures and civilisations of the world having a  common home in the country.  

Unfortunately, the Malaysian government had virtually ignored the importance of inter-religious and inter-civilisational dialogues in the past two decades, including the United Nations Year of Dialogue among Civilisations in 2001, which came and went without any participation or interest by the Malaysian government - despite various reminders by the DAP.  

The statement by the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamad in London on Monday that Malaysia was not ready for an inter-faith organisation and dialogues is a sad commentary of one of the greatest  failures of the 44-year Malaysian nation-building process as far as  promoting inter-religious and inter-civilisational understanding in the country is concerned.  

In fact, Malaysia has gone backwards in this direction as during early years of nationhood, there was conscious promotion of inter-religious understanding among Malaysians, with the full encouragement of the government, as evident from the establishment of the Malaysian Inter-Religious Organisation headed by a senior Cabinet Minister. 

In the past two decades, the promotion of inter-religious understanding and ties have been neglected, leading to a polarisation of Muslim and non-Muslim relations - with opposition to inter-faith dialogues, understandings and organisation being strengthened instead of being  neutralised and resolved.  

The Government and the civil society should take a serious view at this neglect of inter-faith dialogues and understanding in the country, and as a first step, DAP calls for the establishment of a full  Department under the wing of the  Prime Minister for the promotion of inter-religious and inter-civilisational understanding as an important element of Malaysian nation-building. 

DAP hopes that Cabinet Ministers, regardless of race and faith, would take this important aspect of nation-building seriously and give it priority in the Cabinet agenda.


*Lim Kit Siang - DAP National Chairman