Sustaining Malaysia’s Greatness

This is the text of the speech presented by Anwar Fazal on his Conferment of the Doctor of Law Degree by the University Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM) at the Convocation Ceremony held on 13 July 1997 at Bangi, Malaysia.

I wish to thank the University authorities for this honour. I wish to thank VB Datuk Prof. Sham Sani whose scholarly but assertive leadership of the environment movement in Malaysia and of this University I have long admired. And I wish to thank Prof. Mehrun Siraj, a fearless advocate of justice and good laws, for her very kind words.

Thank you too for recognising and honouring the work of all of us who have sought to build the consumer, environment and the human rights movements. Thank you for recognising and honouring all those who are working to develop the kind of civil society that will make Malaysia a just and caring civilisation as well as an economically successful one.

In the 13th Century, the great Persian philosopher, teacher and poet, Jalal AI-Din Rumi told the story of a special envoy whose Emperor had commanded him to seek a very special tree. This many branched tree, the Emperor had heard, was unique in all the world and its fruit was the substance of the Water of Life itself. The envoy searched the world over but could not find it.

One day, this envoy met a wise man who told him that he could not find the tree because the envoy had eyes that did not see, ears that did not hear and a heart that did not feel.

The tree, the wise man said is inside us - it is the tree of knowledge - very high, very large and very wide spreading. Because the envoy abandoned the reality, he could not find it. The wise man said remember sometimes it is named “tree”, sometimes “sun” and sometimes “cloud”. It is one thing yet it is many. It has one name but many manifestations.

Rumi's message was that whoever searches only the name or only the form and not the Essence or the Reality will not find true knowledge.

Today's reality is unfortunately too much information and too little knowledge.

Today's reality is also a very cruel world.

We have a global politics that's dominated by insincerity and double standards.

We have a global environment that is in a critical state,

We have s global economy that is dominated by greed and speculation and has been described as a global casino.

This century saw 200 million deaths just from wars between nations.

There is a worldwide struggle by good people to strengthen civil society to fight against the kind of violence, manipulation and waste that dominates the global system.

This good people seek a world that promotes balance and harmony, fosters the idea of trusteeship of our planet. It also seeks accountability, politically through good governance, legally through just laws and practices, and spiritually through our beliefs.

My wife, Mahmuda who is a historian has shared with me many insights about the past and from those insights, I have developed five “natural laws” about bad civilisations:

  • Every civilisation that does not make peace with the environment has no future.
  • Every civilisation that does not ensure equity and social justice will suffer its own cruelty.
  • Every civilisation that does not ensure good governance through full participation of the people will be silenced by its own brutal dictatorship.
  • Every civilisation that does not celebrate its diversity, its cultural and spiritual traditions will end up with a soulless and purposeless sterility.
  • Every civilisation that does not nurture the concepts of family and community and; respect and support the special role of women and the needs of the child will be devoured by its own lack of caring and social irresponsibility.


You are the generation that will manage this nation in 2020. What can you do? I suggest five principles - a “Panchasila” for action:

  • On Leadership - Society is like fish, it rots from the head down - ensure that if you are in any position of leadership, you set an example and be accountable
  • On individual Activism - Never underestimate the power of one. Everyone of us individually can make change for the better. Begin with yourself and start with your commitment. Faith in oneself is a very powerful thing.
  • On Lifestyles - Engage in voluntary simple living - materialism and greed have destroyed many people, families and communities.
  • On Ecology - Go Green - live an ecological life style. There are books like “99 Ways to Save the Environment”. Join the environment movement. The Future depends on it.
  • On Developing a Critical Faculty - Never be afraid to speak out on injustice in our society but also build a culture that where good is done, speak out about it too.

Malaysia is at a very special threshold. We have achieved in a decade, a greatness undreamt of. But that greatness has a reality and that is a heavy price in economic, ecological  and social terms. We can see and feel the stress of our newly achieved greatness. The challenge is for us to remember the lessons of history, of the five natural laws of bad civilisation, and remember the “panchasila” of action.

With that knowledge, I believe we can continue to show the world a Malaysia that is a model for economic success, social justice, cultural vitality, ecological sustainability and good governance.

Its going to be hard work but with eyes that see, ears that hear and a heart that feels, “Malaysia Boleh”

Thank you.

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