November 19, 2008
What is a Nation?
Today’s column at the Nut Graph:
By Tricia Yeoh
MY recent trip to the US was to primarily observe their historic presidential election, but it triggered a deeper question about what a nation really is. A Polish immigrant to the States shared an intriguing anecdote with me, saying, “America is the only country where you can convert a new migrant into a full patriot within five years.”
Is there some secret ingredient that gives such deep meaning to the concept of citizenship in some countries, while in others migrant communities exist for hundreds of years but are still rejected? Both America and Malaysia are multiracial countries — what makes national identity so strong in one yet so weak in the other?
Malaysia is a multiplicity of factors, and to comprehend it one must be a careful purveyor of religion, ethnicity, culture, language, history and economics. The same goes in analysing any reactions, verbal or otherwise, to events taking place away from our shores.
African American voters rejoice at the result of the
US presidential election (Pic by Tricia Yeoh)
For example, there has been a flurry of responses to Barack Obama’s victory as the first African American president-elect of the US. While some lamented the impossibility of Malaysia ever selecting a racial minority as prime minister, others were criticised for getting carried away by American fervour.
In addition, Dr Chandra Muzaffar said it was precisely because Obama had assimilated into American society that he could succeed, not because he genuinely represented the typical African American citizen. He said a Malaysian equivalent would be one who assimilates into Malay culture, implying that only this would make such an individual suited for the top position in the country.
Former Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad then said that anyone who is “bangsa Malaysia” could be prime minister — what characterises bangsa Malaysia was not elaborated upon.
Other recent events include attacks against Datuk Zaid Ibrahim’s comments about the need to discard ketuanan Melayu (Malay supremacy), and the appointment of a non-Malay to head the Selangor State Development Corporation (PKNS). Both issues dealt with ethnicity.
In sum, these reactions belie a nation that does not quite understand what it means to be a nation.
Read more here.
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