Thursday, April 5, 2007

Raja Nazrin's keynote address

Here's the full text of the speech for which I want to give a standing ovation:

Full text of Raja Nazrin's keynote address at the Bar Council


DATE: 3 APRIL 2007
TIME: 8:45AM

Ladies and Gentlemen:

1. It is my pleasure to be here to deliver the keynote address at this
Roundtable Discussion on National Unity and Development in Malaysia:
Challenges and Prospects for Nation Building. I am always happy to take
part in an event where there are many young informed Malaysians. I find
that this is time well spent. Not only does it give me a chance to
share my thoughts, but it also lets me do a bit of opinion research
among the younger generation. We like to say that our youths are the
future of this country, but then we proceed to ignore or marginalise
them. We want our future generations to be able to think and act
wisely, but then we do not give them sufficient opportunities to do so.

2. In my view, this is not a good way to prepare those who will take
our place. If the young are to be good leaders and citizens, they must
be exposed to more than just abstract concepts. Even those nation
states which have failed miserably have had great political ideals. I
believe that good and upright leadership must be demonstrated. It has
to be both taught and observed at work. Then, those who are found to be
able must be mentored by those who are capable. In this way, success
can be learned and replicated. Finally, the young must be given
responsibilities they can handle. They should be allowed to make
mistakes along the way as part of their overall learning process. If we
do these things, our actions will echo loudly into the future.

3. My address this morning is on the challenges and prospects of nation
building, a topic that is of the greatest and gravest importance.
Nation building is essential to national unity which lies at the heart
of what this country was, is and will be. With the passage of time, it
seems that we are starting to forget this and it is imperative that we
do not. In the time available, I hope to say enough to provide some
fuel for the discussions to follow. It is my earnest wish that you will
gain some further perspectives on the nature of nation building and
that you will also deliberate on specific actionable ways to further it
in this country.

4. Confucius insisted that language must be properly used if things are
to get done, if justice is not to go astray, and if people are not to
"stand about in helpless confusion." He disapproved of those who
misused words to hide their true intentions and actions. So what
exactly is nation building? Not surprisingly, there are many
definitions, some which differ by a little and others by quite a lot.
In his book, The Making of a Nation,
for example, Professor Cheah Boon Kheng defined it as "both economic
progress and socio-political integration of a nation, i.e. prosperity
and national unity." This captures what are hopefully the two end
results of nation building, but it makes no mention of its nature and
process. I prefer the more common understanding, which is that it is
the use of state power across different dimensions to ensure that a
country is politically stable and viable in the long term. These
dimensions include ethnicity and religion.

5. As a brief footnote, it should be noted that nation building is a
heated and even hated notion in some parts of the world. The main
reasons for this are, first, that it is taking place in the midst of
great domestic turmoil and, second, that it is primarily initiated and
managed by foreign powers. Trying to cobble a functioning state by
papering over deep social and political rifts is, of course, easier
said than done. History has shown us time and again, that it is much
easier to break down, rather than build up, nations.

6. In the case of Malaysia, nation building has occurred in generally
peaceful circumstances. It was not imposed by another country. And it
is undertaken mainly by collective choice rather than compulsion. The
fact that we have been able to forge a nation without resorting to the
rule of the gun has made us something of a rarity and a case to be
studied, if not emulated. It has allowed a relatively effective system
of governance to develop. Our track record at development and resolving
problems such as illiteracy, poverty and poor health has been good.

7. There is, of course, much more that can be done. Our institutions of
governance are far from perfect and quality improvements will probably
occupy us for at least the next fifty years, if not longer.
Nevertheless, for all the criticisms that have been made, it is only
common sense that we could not have survived, let alone prosper, these
last 50 years if government institutions had not been responsive or

8. So what are the central challenges to nation building going forward?
Let me speak first more generally about the world, and then move
specifically to Malaysia. To my mind, there are many challenges, but
the one that stands out most is that of having to balance the need for
change with that of continuity. Globalisation, in particular, has
unleashed sweeping economic, political, social and cultural
transformations that have weakened national institutions, values and
norms. It is as if all the boats on the ocean had suddenly lost their
anchors, rudders and compasses overnight. Naturally, this has produced
a strong reaction in the form of a desire to preserve identity,
character and tradition. These are among the strongest motivations
known to mankind and have been at the foreground or background of
practically every conflict that has ever been waged. Add to this, a
deep sense of deprivation, powerlessness and injustice, both real and
imagined, and the tension between change and continuity mount greatly.

9. Managing change on a national level is never easy, and certainly not
on the scale and speed that we are witnessing. Multi-ethnic countries
have to be especially watchful, and particularly if they have a weak
sense of national collective identity. In the absence of a strong
binding nationalism, they are prone to polarisation and competition
along ethno-religious lines. The state, which may well start out by
being a relatively honest broker, can become increasingly pressured to
act in ways that favour the interests of one group over another. If the
pendulum swings too far in one direction, dissatisfaction and
frustrations will inevitably result. These can be expressed in ways
that range from passive non-cooperation to active opposition and even
violent conflict. To a large extent, this has led to the fragmentation
of states.

10. Countries need to recognise the larger macro forces at work and
understand their implications. They have to engage creatively to ensure
that there are sufficient investments in social capital and cohesion.
They must create and capitalise on co-operative systems within
societies. In recent times, it has become usual to try and place the
blame for the disintegrating state of world affairs on the doorstep of
religion. This is a misunderstanding of the first order. Religion is
not the cause of societal dystrophy; it is the antidote. It is a social
stabiliser that allows believers to reconnect to values that are fast
being lost in today's ever more materialistic and self-centred world.

11. What does Malaysia have to do to ensure that it continues to be
successful at nation building? Psychologists say that our short-term
memory can only hold seven items. Let me outline seven guidelines that
I think will have to be borne in mind in future national building

12. First, Malaysians of all races, religions, and geographic locations
need to believe beyond a shadow of a doubt that they have a place under
the Malaysian sun. Only when each citizen believes that he or she has a
common home and is working towards a common destiny, will he or she
make the sacrifices needed for the long haul. In Malaysia, the Federal
Constitution, the Rukun Negara and Vision 2020 encapsulate the rights,
hopes and aspirations of the population in a way that no other
documents do. The integrity of these documents must be defended and
promoted, especially the first.

13. Second, when we seek solutions to problems in nation building, we
must be careful not to assume away problems. Nation building is
required precisely because there are stark differences within society.
If we all walked, talked and thought the same, it would probably not be
needed. There will therefore be chauvinistic groups in this country,
just as there are in others. They will fight the idea of national
unity, block social change and try to be politically dominant. The
existence of these groups, however, does not mean that nation building
is a futile exercise. It does mean that we must be prepared to
negotiate our way through and around these differences. We can, for
example, create social movements that aim to enlighten and dissuade
popular support being given to them.

14. Third, nation building requires accommodation and compromise. In
our haste to be prescriptive, we should not be so idealistic that we
are incapable of also being practical. We should not allow perfection
to be the enemy of the good. Yes, we should seek the best solutions and
expect the highest standards of performance. But we should also be
prepared to sacrifice some part of our positions for the good of the
whole. The virtues of pure self-interest are largely a myth. What seems
to be a reality is that individuals end up worse off when they act out
of self-interest, as opposed to acting in their collective group

15. Fourth, if nation building is to be successful, enforced solutions
must be avoided. Nation building is effectively rendered null and void
by coercion or the threat of violence. 'Might' cannot and must not be
shown to be 'right'. If solutions cannot be found within the political
and social structures, there will be a strong temptation to resort to
illegitimate ways and means.

16. Fifth, nation building occurs when society is open, tolerant and
forward-looking. So important are these values that they are embedded
in Vision 2020's nine strategic challenges, as are those of mature
democracy, caring society and innovation. Only by being inclusive and
participative can the various sectors of our society be productively
engaged. It follows that all forms of extremism, chauvinism, racism and
isolationism must be guarded against. They must be soundly sanctioned
socially, politically and, if necessary, also legally.

17. Sixth, nation building is a process rather than an outcome. When
Malaysia started off 50 years ago, there were no examples to study.
There were no manuals to follow. Mistakes were made and, to a greater
or lesser extent, lessons have been learned. While a sense of
impatience is perhaps fully understandable, nation building takes place
over a period of time and only with persistence. Where there is no
trust, trust has to be built. Where there is no cooperative network,
one has to be established. Building on layers of foundation is the only
way to ensure that the process is solid and sustainable.

18. Seventh, the political, social and economic incentives must reward
good behaviour and penalise bad. I know that this statement is
virtually self-evident, but it is a fact that many countries are as
likely to punish good behaviour as to reward it. After all, if there
are benefits for corruption, then there is a real cost to being honest.
The incentives for building up a nation must be greater and more
compelling than breaking it down. The price of racial and cultural
intolerance must be made prohibitively high.

Ladies and Gentlemen:

19. I believe fostering national unity is the responsibility of every
Malaysian. However, schools, institutions of higher learning and sports
centers have a very special role to play. This is because the sense of
national unity is best inculcated in the young. Through textbooks,
sports and interaction, educators should eliminate ethnic stereo-types.
Through the imaginative teaching of the history of Islamic, Chinese and
Indian civilisation, educators could foster greater understanding among
different ethnic groups.

20. It is said that it takes a village to raise a child. I believe this
is true. To me the village comprises three main institutions - family,
school and community. From birth we should be taught to respect and
honour each other's culture and heritage. Learning to interact with
others is part of this process. Playing with children of other races on
the play ground and in friends' homes, we learn to go beyond the colour
lines early in life. In school we should be taught about other cultures
and beliefs under the same roof as others of different ethnic groups -
once again cutting through the colour lines.

Ladies and Gentlemen:

21. I am aware that there are many Malaysians who are deeply troubled
at the state of national unity in this country. What I have tried to do
today is disabuse you of the notion that there are any 'quick fix'
solutions in nation building. If you look closely enough at any
country, even ones that are regarded today as highly successful such as
Japan, you will find there have been episodes in its past where events
were very tenuous. I hope we will do our best to guard against cynicism
and hopelessness. And I hope we will all stay the course. Failure, may
I remind you all, is a costly option.

22. I wish all speakers, facilitators and participants a constructive and fulfilling day ahead.

Star Online


  1. oh!!!! Nazrin!!! I like him so much! LOL and last time we used to live just by his older uncle's house in Ipoh! (Azlan's older brother) and every other Fri, the royal family would gather there for dinner. I personally met him a few times at events..he's good looking! wow! this is a great speech!

  2. I actually kept a newspaper cutting of one of his father's (Sultan Azlan Shah) speeches on management from 20 years ago... until recently. Wonder where it went.