Ethnic diversity and the nation state: from centralization in the age of nationalism to decentralization amidst globalization
ABSTRACT The cause of conflict in multiethnic and multi-religious societies is not diversity in and of itself. Rather, it is one’s attitude towards diversity. Do we share political power and economic development with the regions and minority communities? Do we recognise the cultural identities of the minorities? This requires that the nation-state building process be imagined in more inclusive civic territorial lines rather than exclusive ethnic-genealogical lines. With the above as backdrop, the article explores nation-state building and the related pursuit of economic growth in Malaysia and some parts of Southeast Asia. The article ends with a call for decentralizing power and resources, and for more research on local level governance and democracy.
KEYWORDS: Nation-state building in multi-ethnic societies, ethnic conflict in Southeast Asia, Malaysia, decentralizing the state
Francis Loh retired as Professor of Politics in Universiti Sains Malaysia, Penang, in 2012. Currently, he is Senior Adviser, Forum of Federations (Ottawa), and conducts workshops on federalism, decentralization and democratizaion in Burma. From 2011 to 2016, Loh was also president of Aliran, a multi-ethnic multi-religious human rights CSO based in Penang. His latest article was a tribute to his mentor Ben Anderson http://aliran.com/aliran-csi/aliran-csi-2015/a-tribute -to-benedict-r-og-anderson-1936-2015.