Islam, Globalization, and Postmodernity

By Akbar S. Ahmed; Hastings Donnan | Go to book overview

Chapter 4

How to be Islamic without being an Islamic state

Contested models of development in Malaysia

Judith Nagata


INTRODUCTION

The 'new world order' has almost as many constructions today as there are states. Whatever the political boundaries of the moment, a state must chart its path and cultivate its needs and image in an international arena, while continuing to manage its internal affairs and populations as a political, administrative and legal unit. Some religious and ethnic populations, however, span state boundaries. Population mobility and lack of proper fit between religious or ethnic communities and established political units have contributed largely to the dynamics recorded as politics and history, and to the condition of the world, both pre- and postmodern. What separates the pre-modern from the modern era is the arrival on the world stage of the political fabrication known as the nation-state 1 which, as Anderson (1983) and Gellner (1983) among others remind us, effectively imposed upon the communities of the world a set of administrative modules obsessed with the creation of cultural and linguistic homogeneity by means of bureaucratic efficiency and control of critical social and educational institutions. The nation part of the hybrid, however, while providing ideological focus and justification, was often as much a wishful fiction as based on historiographically verifiable fact.

'Nationalism' became a convenient rallying cry for state cohesion and mobilization. In fact, few states, past or present, have achieved a perfect fit between territorial boundaries and the single nation ideal. Internally, the 'misfits' or (national) minorities may be subject to procrustean policies of assimilation or to various forms of discriminatory action and status. The point is that any selected cultural, ideological or religious group can serve as an alternate to a 'national' model when politicized as the foundation for systems of affirmative action in which some citizens are privileged over others. Where such privilege is legally and constitutionally re-inforced, in a potent combination of means and ends, the state acquires a double-pronged control over its diverse citizenry.

The changing world of ideas of Enlightenment Europe that spawned the

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