Identity politics not way forward for Malaysia, says Indonesian academic

Dewi Fortuna Anwar is a research professor at the Indonesian Institute of Sciences’ Centre for Political Studies.

SHAH ALAM: An Indonesian academic says identity politics is not the way forward for Malaysia, and the convergence in the people’s diversity should be emphasised more than their differences.

Dewi Fortuna Anwar, a research professor at the Indonesian Institute of Sciences’ Centre for Political Studies, said identity politics is not something that should be practised in Malaysia.

She said identity politics exists because it is an easy way to win votes and loyalty, but it has always been a struggle for modern nation-states to overcome it and create a common platform for all.

“The thing is, as long as there are differences, there will always be people who want to accentuate them,” she said.

Quashing these differences, she said, is not the solution to the problem.

“While identity politics is not something we should nurture, repressing expressions of differences by punishing people who articulate a desire for differences is not the way to achieve harmony either,” she said on the sidelines of the 2020 Regional Conference on Peaceful Coexistence here yesterday.

Asked to comment on the rumoured Pakatan Nasional pact, Dewi said she believes the nation actually wants a Malaysian identity instead of a Malay-Muslim identity since it comprises a plural society.

She said Malaysia’s identity should transcend race and religion, and a Malay-Muslim dominated government will be a step back for the nation.

Citing the example of Yugoslavia, she told of how the nation broke into different republics based on religious differentiations and ethnic groups.

“We don’t want that. We believe our future lies in a strong state and society, a state that is able to protect the people equally but also people who feel at home with one another.

“If we start differentiating one group from another, then we’re not living in one community. I don’t think that’s a good model for a modern state,” she said.

Asked if Malaysia’s identity politics can be stopped, Dewi put the responsibility on the government to ensure education is inclusive and does not perpetuate racism and racial intolerance.

She said media also plays an important role in creating unity because it has the power to create conflicts. “Media should promote peace rather than exacerbate conflicts”.

Dewi also said there should be an instrument that can ensure the prevention of fake news. She said Malaysia must focus on stopping mischievous people who use social media to spread hate speech and fake news.

On the issue of special privileges for the Malays, Dewi said Malays desire to have a race-based affirmative action policy because they do not want to be left behind.

However, she disagreed with the policy, saying: “Instead of creating social policy for a race, Malaysia should create a policy that focuses on those who are disadvantaged, like poor people, regardless of race, religion or gender.

“If we are disunited, we will be exploited by a power competition between external major powers and there will be an intervention in the matters of the country,” she said.