KUALA LUMPUR, Dec 18 — Fifty years after achieving nationhood, Malaysians are still grappling to reach a consensus over their national identity.
The racial, religious, cultural and ideological diversity that had previously been cause for celebration have turned into major blocks that have trip up this Southeast Asian tiger on its road to first nation status, according to several leading chroniclers at the 60th History Summit, which kicked off here yesterday.
The historians noted that despite various attempts by the nation’s leaders to unite its diverse peoples, Malaysians have grown more polarised over the years, resulting in the citizens’ failure to subscribe to a shared identity, unlike its homogenous regional neighbours.
Anuar Ahmad, a lecturer at the Faculty of Education in Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM) told the summit that there are at least four competing categories of Malaysians who each have a different and clashing grasp of what a “Malaysian nation ”— what historians term “nations-of-intent — should be.
“Firstly, there exists the obvious ethnic categories such as the Malay, Chinese, Indian, and others. Secondly, between the Bumiputera and the non-Bumiputera. Thirdly, there are the Malay Bumiputera and non-Malay Bumiputera,” Anuar said, quoting a 1996 study by Prof Datuk Dr Shamsul Amri Baharuddin.
“From a political perspective, even among the Malay Bumiputera, there are the nationalist Malays and there are those who subscribe to religious ideologies, which he called radicals.”
Malaysia is now facing an Islamic religious divide, with the Malays recently split between the Sunni and Shia denominations, with religious authorities denying the latter’s historical influence over the Muslim community here.
There is also a rise of Malay and Muslim groups promoting the view that Malaysia had historically been dominated by the Malay-Muslim rule, and suggested for Islamic holy texts to be the paramount law in the country.
The term “nations-of-intent” was first coined by Shamsul, the founding director of UKM’s Institute of Ethnic Studies (KITA), in the same 1996 paper, to describe an idea of what a nation is intended to be by a group of people.
“By nation-of-intent, I mean a more or less precisely defined idea of the form of a nation... The idea must be shared by a number of people who perceive themselves as members of that nation, and who feel that it unites them,” he said in the paper titled “Nations-of-Intent in Malaysia”.click here to read more on this article