Author: Imran Shamsunahar

Malaysia’s Struggle to Preserve Religious Pluralism

For observers of contemporary Malaysia, much has been written about the tropical nation’s creeping Islamization. To define this more specifically, the observable interjection of Islamic morality into its institutions, its legal systems, and its political discourses and practices. The move towards a more puritanical and intolerant Islam has raised alarm bells for a country whose identity is rooted in its cosmopolitan and pluralistic character, raising the ugly specter of ethnic and religious conflict in one of Southeast Asia’s most developed economies. However, the shock victory of an opposition coalition in a historic general election in May 2018 raised hopes of a “New Malaysia.” The incumbent political coalition, Barisan Nasional (National Front), composed of race-based parties, with the dominant United Malay National Organization (UMNO) component explicitly espousing Malay-Muslim supremacy, was ousted after 61 years of uninterrupted rule since the country’s independence from the British in 1957. With a new administration under the Pakatan Harapan (Coalition of Hope) coalition, and with veteran leader Mahathir Mohammed back in power in his second stint as Prime Minister (at the …

Neo-Orientalism and the Left

Stroll through the streets of major cities in Southeast Asia – whether it be in Malaysia, Vietnam, or Thailand – and you start to notice a new fad among Western tourists. It is referred to as ‘beg-packing,’ and involves primarily white Western tourists begging on the streets for money to fund their travels across the region. Some may sell small trinkets or busk for money. I encountered this persoally in the Little India area of Kuala Lumpur, where I watched a young dreadlocked white woman solicit change from passers-by with her kettle drums. Beg-packers who depend on the charity of a poorer country to fund a luxury like travel have rightly received much derision on the Internet since the phenomenon was first reported. As one Malaysian writer noted: “I think that this kind of behavior shows how many people still look at the world with an orientalist view. They see Asia as an exotic place of spiritual discovery.” According to the late Palestinian scholar Edward Said, ‘orientalism’ describes how Westerners have historically viewed the East …