Other Cosmopolitans in the Making of
the Modern Malay World1
Joel S. Kahn
This chapter explores the cosmopolitan possibilities inherent in existing processes of identity formation and systems of 'co-responsibility'2 mainly among Malayspeaking Muslim peoples in parts of insular and peninsular Southeast Asia.3 The issues at stake are not mainly theoretical ones but emerge in the concrete social context of a 'translocal'4 arena that I call the modern Malay World, a term used here to refer to a fairly extensive region encompassing the relatively sparsely populated areas of intensive commercial exploitation by large number of immigrant peoples from the region, other parts of Asia (notably China and South Asia) and Europe. This arena encompasses the frontiers and borderlands both of the older Malay World and of the colonial and postcolonial states that formed across the region in the modern period. The discussion that follows focuses largely on one part of this modern Malay World, namely, peninsular Malaya. However, the analysis is premised on the assumption that, like the borderlands and frontier regions that are the sites of many of the ongoing ethno-religious conflicts in insular and peninsular Southeast Asia (for example in southern Thailand, the southern Philippines, West Kalimantan, the Moluccas, West Papua (Irian) and parts of Sulawesi), peninsular Malaya is best understood in the context of processes of state formation, nationbuilding, ethnogenesis, migration, religious reform and commercialisation that have taken place across the region as a whole.
Like other studies of identity formation in transnational contexts, mine is situated within the problematic of what Fine has called 'the new or actually existing cosmopolitanism' (Fine 2003). Interested in the possibility of new kinds of integrative/intercultural practice in a world that is perceived to have fallen victim to ethno-religious conflict and violence, the new cosmopolitans have proposed various revisions of the classical cosmopolitan synthesis. Of particular interest here are the new approaches to the question of the relationship between ethnonational identities and co-responsibilities on the one hand, and the cosmopolitan