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Understanding nation and state building is key

December 7, 2017

Writer says there are clear symptoms of systemic failure in state and nation building in Malaysia, resulting in overall dissatisfaction among the people.

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By Azhar Harun

To know why a large section of Malaysians are unhappy, we need to know the differences between state building and nation building.

At a glance, there doesn’t seem to be much of a difference or at all, between the two concepts.

But a deeper observation would reveal that the two are distinct from each other, although the inter-dynamic of both concepts might affect one another.

State building is the process of establishing a state as a workable entity – one that contains a working mechanism within which the citizenry may live peacefully, securely and freely, without fear of chaos, disorder or transgressions.

State building therefore entails the creation of institutions that would guarantee the attainment of peace, order, security, liberty and freedom.

Those institutions include an independent judiciary, healthcare providers, police force, army, bureaucracies, ministries and various other institutions that would pass laws and regulations and enforce them across the board.

For those institutions to achieve success at what they are established to do, they must be impersonal, fair and just.

Nation building on the other hand, is the establishment or the attainment of a national identity that would infuse a sense of pride in the nation and state, thereby resulting in absolute loyalty to the nation and state.

That would involve the creation of such intangibles like national traditions, symbols, shared and common cultures, languages and shared historical memories.

Nation building is far more difficult to establish than the former. It can only be established by state policies, manifestos and actions.

Poets, writers, intellectuals, teachers, musicians, novelists and all sorts of individuals must partake in this long and arduous journey.

At the core of nation building, is recognition.

Citizens – every one of them – must be recognised by the state for who they are – for their choice, for their ways and for their being.

Without such recognition, the citizenry would feel displaced, isolated and even ostracised.

There wouldn’t be any sense of belonging.

A state, according to Fukuyama, is the “organiser of legitimate violence”. It would at times call upon the citizenry to risk their lives in defending itself.

Without successful nation building, the result is a dearth of national pride and a sense of belonging, and nobody would be willing to die for the state.

In Malaysia, we sometime are witnessing this. Not many people are proud of the state.

And if we look at the people, and observe their mannerism and comments about the state, they are in fact lamenting their non-recognition, isolation and displacement.

At the same time, quite alarmingly, there are many policies that displace a large section of society.

The mere mention of the dirty word “liberals” is but a clear example.

While the two concepts are different from each other, their respective dynamics are intertwined.

State building is very much inter-dependent on nation building. And vice-versa.

Unfortunately, there are clear symptoms of a systemic failure in both state and nation building in Malaysia.

Will the Umno delegates debate on this?

Azhar “Art” Harun is a lawyer and human rights activist.

* The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.


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