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Malaysian youths wave national flags during National Day celebrations marking the 56th anniversary of the country’s independence in Kuala Lumpur August 31, 2013. — Reuters picMalaysian youths wave national flags during National Day celebrations marking the 56th anniversary of the country’s independence in Kuala Lumpur August 31, 2013. — Reuters picPUTRAJAYA, Nov 11 — As the seams holding Malaysia’s racial and religious fabric together threaten to rip apart, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak today called on the country’s “silent majority” to drown out the voices of extremism, but without specifically naming groups.

He said diversity should be celebrated and the right to co-exist should be defended.

“We cannot afford to allow voices of extremism to dominate the political discourse.

“It is time for the silent majority to drown out the calls to violence, to reject extremism.

“We should not be cowed or held to ransom by elements that prefer to pursue their political goals and grievances outside the accepted norms of civilised society,” he said during his keynote address at the Asian Peace and Reconciliation Council/ ISIS Malaysia: Dialogue on Diversity, Diplomacy and Peace here at the Marriott Hotel.

The Umno president also stressed that diversity is about much more than food, music or language.

“It also means inclusivity... and our resolve to live side by side, living in harmony, trusting each other, sharing a common vision for our nation even during times of difficulty.

“For although we are different, we must not be divided.

“Malaysians of all ethnicities and religions should be bound together by a respect and celebration of our differences,” he said.

Although Malaysia is generally peaceful, pockets of political as well as race- and religion-based groups purporting to defend their individual interests have caused tension among the country’s multicultural community.

Political observers and analysts noted that rights groups such as Perkasa has muscled into political significance in the country, although critics have dismissed it as a fringe group and not an embodiment of the largely moderate Malays.

Today, Najib stressed that diversity is critical to building strong nations but the underlying principles such as accepting the differences of embracing dialogue and defending the right to coexist, can also help build a stronger region.

“Even what is dividing the Muslim world, the Sunni, Shiah conflict, my simple analogy to that is that it’s just like a highway.

“You have the Sunnis, on one lane, the Shiah, on another lane, don’t try to bump off each other, you want to reach the same destination.

“That’s a simple analogy but if you try to undermine and even try to eliminate each other, there in lies the conflict in the Muslim world that is a more dangerous threat that the external threat facing the Muslim world,” he said.

Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Seri Jamil Khir Baharom, who is in charge of Islamic Affairs, however said the Shiah teaching is banned from being practiced or spread among Muslims in the country.

He reportedly said that religious teachings other than the Ahli Sunnah Wal Jamaah cannot be propagated to the Muslims here.