What is soft power? We are familiar with how military might often gets others to change their position, but sometimes desired outcomes can be achieved without tangible threats or pay-offs. This indirect way of getting what you want, of co-opting people rather than coercing them, is known as soft power. I spoke about the importance of this on 26th September at the World Muslim Leadership Forum, a conference that brings together leaders of today and tomorrow to discuss issues that affect the global Muslim community and its future.
There is a pressing need to acknowledge that the way forward is to increase soft power, such as through economic policies, corporate values, cultural exchange, and social entrepreneurship. It takes great courage to be a great moderate, to co-exist peacefully. As British diplomat Anwar Choudhury once said, “We need to live with everyone.”
To some extent, hope for the next generation also comes from the past. Take for example the exploits of great Muslim leaders, Salah al-Din Yusuf – better known as Saladin – and Akbar the Great. Saladin united the Muslim world and defeated Richard the Lionheart and the Crusaders. Despite this, he won the respect of his enemies through his honourable deeds and compassion. Akbar the Great, the third Mughal Emperor, treated religious leaders of other faiths with consideration and revered them.
Malaysia, where I am from, is a classic role model of a gentler Islam. We have a culture of welcoming that has translated into Islam. The next generation would have to embrace that culture for their minds to be filled with what they can be, and what they should be. At the recent V-Con in Jakarta, I said to my Muslim brothers that we are one. We live in a borderless world; today there is no isolated community. To paraphrase what Gandhi once said, “I leave the doors open to all winds of the world, but I let my feet remain embedded in my motherland.”
At the end of my speech, I received questions about media, particularly social media, from an Islamic perspective. Media today has become the fastest way to communicate, an instantaneous way to engage people. The youth of today have opportunities to become successful if they were gauged by what they make of themselves. A.R. Rahman and Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan are two icons of Muslim faith who have influenced the world through their gift of the arts. With the power of media and technology at your disposal, it’s all about “you” and how you empower yourself to better yourself.