KUALA LUMPUR - The recent spate of horrific terrorist attacks around the world drew strong words from Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak at the opening of the 27th Asean Summit on Saturday (Nov 21).
At the gathering of top leaders of all 10 Asean countries, Mr Najib, who is chairing this weekend's meetings, blasted terrorists behind these attacks for their perverted ideology and their cowardly and barbaric acts that do not represent any race, religion or creed.
"There cannot be a person in this hall who has not been shocked and shaken by the sickening disregard for human life and the devastation visited on families and communities. Our countries are in mourning, we all share in this grief," he said, referring to the terror attacks that had happened in France, Lebanon and Mali, as well as the bombing of a Russian passenger jet over the Sinai desert last month.
Malaysia was not untouched by such actions, he added, with the beheading of a Malaysian hostage in the Southern Philippines earlier this week.
"Malaysia stands ready to provide any help and support that we can, and be assured that we stand with you against this new evil that blasphemes against the name of Islam," he said, adding that terrorists should be confronted with the full force of the law.
At the same time, Mr Najib presented an alternate vision for the world that has worked for Asean and a region once called "the Balkans of the Orient", a cultural and political fault zone which some scholars had estimated was doomed to wars of separation because of its diverse populations.
The region was indeed driven by conflict and instability half a century ago, but countries in the region chose not to go the way of antagonism or economic warfare.
"Instead, we did something remarkable: we chose another way," he said.
"In 1967 our forefathers formed a new association that has grown to our ten nations today. And we have advanced, and risen together - the Asean way."
As a highly diverse collection of faiths and ethnicities, Asean countries have had to work together to overcome their differences, and to choose moderation and harmony over conflict. But in transcending such differences, Asean has become a unique example of how 10 different nations can form a shared vision, he added.
The same is required to defeat the ideology being spread by ISIS extremists, he added.
"Understandably, many will want to fight the so-called Islamic State out of the lands they have stolen from millions of Syrians and Iraqis. But a military solution alone will not be enough," he said.
"It is the ideology propagated by these extremists that is the cause of this sadistic violence; and in this time of tragedy, we must not lose sight of the fact that the ideology itself must be exposed as the lie that it is, and vanquished."
Calling moderation - or Wassatiyyah - the "heart of Islam", Mr Najib said it was a quality in dire need around the world today that has been the key to non-violent solutions to conflict throughout history.
"There is nothing easy or wimpish about moderation," he said. "It is a concept deeply embedded in the Asean Way, and one which is close to our hearts here in Malaysia, where our unique mixture of faiths and ethnicities could have divided us, but instead our diversity has strengthened us."
On the eve of the declaration of the Asean Community - a project to closer integrate the 10 members in the bloc economically and socially - Mr Najib said that Asean has not only preserved the security of the region, but has had a direct financial impact on member countries.
The grouping has managed to keep unemployment low by attracting substantial foreign direct investment over the decades, while the Asean Free Trade Area has reduced tariffs to virtually zero on most goods since it was formed in 1992.
Further liberalisation under the Asean Economic Conmmunity is expected to raise overall Asean GDP by seven percent by 2025, he added, which will translate into economic gain of billions of dollars.
"This is Asean's time - this is our time. Asean can and should play a major role in shaping the Asian century and work with our partners across the continents to shape a world of prosperity, peace and progress," said Mr Najib.
"A world in which the carnage wrought by terrorists has been replaced by tolerance, moderation and a true recognition of our common humanity."