Malaysia Cultural Influences on Ethnic Society Political Term Paper

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Malaysia Cultural Influences on Ethnic Society

Political Science: Malaysia

The purpose of this paper is to explain the stability in ethnic relations in Malaysia since 1969. Political, economic, and cultural explanations are reviewed, with the most persuasive answer providing the explanation for Malaysia's stability (culture). The author postulates and discourses on how cultural explanations help account for today's peaceful stability in ethnic relations, noting how political and economic influences were very small compared to the cultural explanations offered for the current status of Malaysia per the many historians that have reviewed the country's history and the fight for a common and representative culture. The author demonstrates how cultural tensions led to almost all of the uprisings in Malaysia throughout history, and how settling these cultural differences and affairs has led to the creation of a collaborative nation-state, one interested in promoting diversity as do many other nations in today's global and diverse world.

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Most researchers focusing on the period before 1969 (where riots broke out in Malaysia) and those after the riots note that cultural tensions were often the source of political and economic unrest (Brunnel, 2004). The country's economic status has remained in fact, relatively unchanged during the last three decades (Brunnel, 2004). The cultural landscape has not changed much either, except for the introduction of the Islamic culture as one of society's "norms" (Brunnel, 2004).

Term Paper on Malaysia Cultural Influences on Ethnic Society Political Assignment

Hock (2000) reviews changing ethnic relations in Malaysia with regard to interactions between "state's policies to advance Malay culture dominance and reduce ethnic economic inequality" and the "aspirations and actions of the Chinese community" (p.1). With regard to political and state-related issues, Freedman (2000) suggests the question of whether ethnic members especially the elite pursue "separatist" or collaborative strategies. Hock suggests the question of whether rival ethnic groups living in Malaysia are relatively equal to each other or unequal in stature (p. 2) is a core issue related to the stability now enjoyed by many people living in Malaysia.

Freedman (2000) and Gomez (2004) note that political tensions in early Malaysian history centered primarily on cultural issues, which Hock (2000) expands on. Hock (2000) and Guan (2000) note the 1969 riots revolved around ethnic tensions and conflicts ended many of the problems in Malaysia, largely because many of the "rival" ethnic communities living in Malaysia pursued more of a unified front or similar strategies and goals. Although it took riots and other destructive efforts to achieve common goals, the people of Malaysia have, since that time, worked largely to promote what Hock (2000) refers to as "amalgamative" strategies (p. 4). Others including Mitchell (2000) and Kheng (2002) note that a blended state results primarily not from political or economic factors, because these had little to do with the ethnic stability Malaysia currently experiences, but instead because of collaboration between people of different ethnicities living in Malaysia. Wong (2001) and Yun (2000) comment that economic factors had little to do with political and cultural uprisings, and that political uprisings occurring in Malaysia from the 1969 risings to the present had little to do with politics or the economy of Malaysia and more to do with diversity from a cultural perspective. Because so many researchers comment on the cultural elements resulting in a blended nation, one must agree that cultural continuity is the reason Malaysia enjoys relatively little strife in modern society.

Hock (2000) also notes that following the riots in 1969, the economic "inequality gap" narrowed between people that were of the "Malay" and those of the "non-Malay" culture (p. 4). The author notes however that Islam is spreading more and more among the Malay people, and that eventually Islam will likely spread not only in personal or religious ways, but also into the "collective identity" of the people of Malay, perhaps resulting in multiethnic social classes even more diverse than they were previous to the riots of 1969.

Why is ethnicity a topic of such concern among Malaysians? For one, it has been a dominant force for more than four decades, because other forces including social ones linked to the "stratification" of society are ever-present among different classes in Malaysia and between men and women living in Malaysia. Along with the Malays, Chinese and Indians live, and all respect according to Hock (2000) their own native language, culture and religions, which have an impact on the way they conduct business, and on the social and economic prosperity of the culture. Since the dawn of time ethnicity has been considered an "integral constituent of the individual psyche" among people living in Malaysia, with many people allowing their membership with any one "ethnic" force to guide their social life (Hock, 2000, p. 3). In Malaysia among all the people's living there, there is according to Hock (2000) interest with emotional ties that leads ethnic groups to become more successful than social ones.

Previous to 1969, ethnic communities struggled over a single national identity and struggled over the share of power both politically and economically. Many believe that nation building is preceded by or comes at the same time as the cultural process of "collective identity formation grounded in ethnicity" (Hock, 2000, p. 4). Whichever ethnic group was most dominant was the one most likely to form the "basis of nationality" (Hock, 2000). Typically in other countries minorities often would assimilate or accept the dominant cultural and ethnic group and come to create a collaborative ethnic identity that took into consideration the may minorities it was composed of.

Hock (2000) suggests however, that the reason it was easy for Western Europeans to assimilate minority ethnic parties was largely because the cultures and ethnic identities of people living in Western Europe were largely "homogenous" thus did not vary much from one person to the next. The same cannot be said of the people of Malaysia, where great ethnic, cultural, religious and other beliefs varied greatly in nature. When one things of a nation typically as Hock suggests, they think of a nation as a body of people living together that share a history in common, and one that share's largely similar cultures and languages, and therefore absorption of small ethnic minorities is a simple process. This is not the case when many different rival ethnicities that share no similar culture or religion or language fight for power. The Malays did not choose to assimilate all religions and languages, although they are interested in building a national-like culture based on Malay principles.

Phang (2000) and Tan (2000) notes that previous to modern times the political environment of Malaysia centered on cultural factors including whether the Malay or non-Malay people's would have dominant status in the land. However, since the riots of 1969, most people have worked to encourage the diverse culture that makes Malaysia what it is today. Phang (2000) and Tan (2000) both mention the strongest uprisings involved subjects like education. The Chinese people for example, wanted throughout history to have their schools recognized as the national "medium" (Phang, 2000).

This did not arise from elitist thinking; rather, the Chinese wanted their culture to be acknowledged because the Chinese people living in Malaysia were afraid the government would wipe out their culture if their children were not able to learn their native tongue. This sentiment however, had little to do with the economy. The politics surrounding it were all related to culture.

That is not to say there weren't times in history when "elitist" behavior was the norm in Malaysia (Brunnell, 2004). However, in modern times and during colonial times no ethnic or cultures in Malaysia were granted any status that would allow them to be "elitist" in nature; for all intents, most of the people in Malaysia were equal (Bunnell, 2004). Political and economic ties between people of different ethnicities in Malaysia were much the same for most of the time immediately preceding the riots of 1969. Bunnell (2004) emphasizes the riots, noting they occurred over cultural problems not political or economic problems. The non-Malay and Chinese cultures were not attempting to rule the country; rather, they wanted their culture represented as part of the mainstream Malaysian culture. The Chinese for example, wanted their cultural symbols to be present throughout the public areas of Malaysia.

The Chinese were not able to influence Malaysian policy much one way or another. Bunnell (2004) notes the Islamic people of all the peoples in Malaysia have had the greatest political impact because while Malaysia is dominated today by Malay as the medium or mainstream culture, much of the culture and political government also holds in high regard the Islamic people and their beliefs.

People began fighting not because they were poor or rich; they fought because they wanted symbols of their culture to become more prevalent in society. However, the people of Malaysia, at least the Malay majority, favored a solid nation-state. For this reason they attempted to contrive and follow a constitution calling for a single ethnicity to dominate the people of Malaysia (Brunnel, 2004). This however did not… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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