Islam in Malaysian Foreign Policy

Islam in Malaysian Foreign Policy

Islam in Malaysian Foreign Policy

Islam in Malaysian Foreign Policy

Excerpt

The relationship between religion and politics has been given strident expression in recent decades in the case of the Islamic faith. Islam provides an all-encompassing world view which conceives of identity in terms of an ideal unitary community of believers who transcend artificial political boundaries. That view suggests a close correlation between religious identity and foreign policy which challenges the basis of contemporary international society constructed on the notion of separate sovereignties. Shanti Nair has taken the theme of the relationship between religious identity and foreign policy and has applied it in an intellectually illuminating way to the experience of Malaysia, especially during the tenure of Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad.

Malaysia, which is located at the periphery of the Islamic heartland, is a plural society where the dominant Malay community defines its identity with strong reference to Islam. Moreover, the dominant political party within that community, the United Malays National Organization (UMNO), has assumed a prerogative protecting role towards the Malays which is expressed in part through its projection of a prescribed Islamic identity as a basis for political legitimacy. Through inter-communal tensions, the impact of economic modernization and the penetration of international influences, Islam has been a resurgent factor in Malaysia’s post-independence society and politics. It is in that context that Dr Nair has addressed the complexities of the relationship between Islam and Malaysia’s foreign policy in a pioneering study which stands at the interface of the study of International Relations and of Comparative Politics.

In this volume, Dr Nair skilfully demonstrates how Malaysia’s domestic politics have been affected by Islam and its resurgence and also the ways in which religious identity has found expression in foreign policy and, importantly, to what ends. Political divisions within Malaysia are not only a reflection of communal differences but also of intra-Malay rivalries. A claim to a prerogative position in protecting and advancing the Islamic cause has been a powerful weapon in a set of internal struggles for political supremacy within the Malay community. Dr Nair explains, in this meticulous and penetrating analysis of

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