POLEMICS on national identity in the local media are on the increase, provoking multi-racial Malaysians which can threaten the country’s stability, peace and harmony.
This has to be seen as a threat because national identity is related to a state’s national core values and interests, as well as its national security, particularly the societal security sector.
This perception is based on numerous findings by security scholars which include that “security and identity are two concepts that are deeply intertwined on many different levels, and cannot be separated”.
First, national identity is “a person’s identity or a sense of belonging to one state or to one nation.
It is the sense of a nation as a cohesive whole, as represented by distinctive traditions, culture, language and politics” (Paul Roe 2005, in Ethnic Violence and the Societal Security Dilemma).
Second, national identity is an integral component of societal security, since societal security “is concerned with threats to its identity” (Paul Roe, the Societal Dimension of Global Security, in Encyclopedia of Life Support Systems).
Third, “the organising concept in the societal security sector is identity” (Buzan et al. 1998, in A New Framework of Analysis).
Fourth, national identity, in a plural country like Malaysia, also constitutes a crucial component in its state-making process, nation-building strategy, and national security management.
Hence, agenda setters of the current polemics on national identity in Malaysia should be gently reminded that an improper framework in discussing national identity, especially through politicisation, is detrimental to Malaysia’s societal and national security.
They should also be enlightened that societal order regarding Malaysia’s national identity has been enshrined in the Federal Constitution since Aug 31, 1957.
The examples are Article 3 on the religion of the Federation, Article 32 on the Supreme Head of the Federation, article 152 on the national language and Article 153 on privileges of the Bumiputeras.
The significance o f these strategic articles, in relation to Malaysia’s security, is implicitly explained in National Operations Council (1969: ix) which states:
“The eruption of violence on May 13 (1969) was the result of an inter-play of forces that comprise the country’s recent history.
“These include differences in interpretation of the constitutional structure by the different races in the country… (and interpretation on) certain important provisions which relate to the Malay language and the position of the Malays, principally Articles 152 and 153.”
Detailed narratives and backgrounds to these articles and societal order are found in “The Report of the Federation of Malaya Constitutional Commission 1957”.
They are also contained in literature such as, The Constitution of Malaysia: Its Development 1957-1977, edited by Tun Mohammed Suffian, H. P. Lee & F. A. Trindade (1979), and Document of Destiny: The Constitution of the Federation of Malaya, by Shad Saleem Faruqi (2008).
The political narratives to the formulation of the Federal Constitution which include the above societal order are contained in the speeches of Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra Al-Haj, dated March 28, 1957 and June 25, 1957.
The British perspective on the same subject is found in the speech of Alan Lennox-Boyd, British Secretary of State for the Colonies, when he was presenting the Federation of Malaya Independence Bill on July 12, 1957.
The above “mirrors of history” are for Malaysians with syndromes of historical amnesia, especially those advocating constitutional amendments pertaining to strategic provisions on national identity being entrenched in the Federal Constitution.
Advocates of amendments to the constitutional provisions must understand the “mirrors of history” before starting polemics on Malaysia’s national identity or its various components, including the concept of core nation and their special socioeconomic privileges.
They also have to realise that polemics or even discourses on a state’s national identity, without a properly defined framework, might only end up in confusion, political chaos, disorder or disaster.
As such, it is important to know that national identity is an abstract concept which becomes an important component of a state’s national core values and national security.
This is the very reason why the national identity of a state is normally constructed, instituted and entrenched in its national supreme law or the constitution.
Another significant aspect of national identity in a plural or state-nation is that it is the product of genuine inter-ethnic bargaining and consensus before the state was given independence by its colonial master.
Based on most conventions, the national identity of a plural state is defined categorically in the state’s constitution after its major races have given agreement to it based on the principle of consociational politics of power sharing and also based on their social contract.
One of the social contracts in the case of Malaysia is explained in Leong H. Liew’s book Ethnicity and class in Malaysia (2005) which stated that the non-Bumiputeras were awarded their citizenship rights in Malaysia in an exchange for their recognition of the legitimate rights of the Bumiputeras in the Federal Constitution.
Therefore , discussing Malaysia’s national identity is permissible, provided their discussants have the appropriate knowledge, proper historical perspective, and correct narratives of its origin and strategic determinants.