The forth part of critique focuses on the exploitation of post-political tsunami effects (so called ‘Collective Common Sense’), that gradually brings about the relevance of 1Malaysia as a notion to redefine the already defined but left unsettled, to re-evaluate the already evaluated but left unselected, to promise again the desired needs that are left unmet.
Sociologist Shamsul A.B. outlined our inter-ethnic experience as a ‘state of stable tension’ sustained through a ‘framework of conservative forces‘1. The pillars sustaining the framework are security, ethnic bargaining and development planning, all indicated the phenomena of modernity and post-colonial insecurity.
Political tsunami, on the other hand, can be understood as a reaction against the framework; it is a concerted effort demanding for more liberty and participation to achieve social security and equilibrium; an attempt to penetrate the carapace of modernity by defying the institutionalised deadlock; and one that imposes stability through terms and forces authoritatively defined. This tsunami has had an incursive blow to our socio-political landscape; it has viably transposed the concerns of ethnicity to that of the populace as a whole, questioning ethnocentric prerogative with the enthusiasm to substantiate the cosmopolitan identity in Malayness and Malaysian-ness.
The aftermath witnessed efforts to nullify ethnocentric identities, but not without retaliation. It also foresaw the conservative bastion reaffirm racial politics. The authority definitely faced the challenge from both of these alternatives when the idea of ethnicity and community became fluid. We begin to notice the questioning of ethnic categories, ethnic boundaries, or the definition and redefinition of ‘Malay supremacy’. Some persistently rehabilitate politics under these compartments through such impending doubts. In this case, the ‘framework of conservative forces’ reached its limit of control forcing the government left with a major challenge.
The government was seen playing an ambiguous role since the political tsunami, most notably 1Malaysia. Prior to this, the government employed the politics of recognition and widely publicised its communitarian multicultural agenda through their political framework without considering its own paradox.
The paradox was expounded by Zygmunt Bauman in Liquid Modernity – also a response to modernity – who suspected the impossibility of a general identity construction in a community because ‘all communities are postulated’2, whereby individual has to choose to succumb to communities, and by referring to the conception of category, communitarianism has indeed admitted one’s individual freedom of choice and denied another – exclusion by inclusion. ‘Liquid modernity’ therefore explicated the blurring of categorical restrictions or the ‘liquefaction’ of identities3. It was against this liquidated state that 1Malaysia was inaugurated. It substitutes the aforementioned framework, employing strategic ambiguity to advance in the present paralysis4.
Almost a year after the inauguration of 1Malaysia, the prime minister Dato Seri Najib Abdullah remained persistent with the flexibility of the concept:
“1Malaysia is not rigid…it is a national discussion.
We will incorporate other views and opinions…It is a strategic ambiguity.“ 5
Strategic ambiguity is a communication strategy endeavour to be inclusive to varied viewpoints; it is an open-ended enduring commitment to assembling a depot that minimises the possibility of conflicts.
Communication expert Eric Eisenberg has attributed 4 advantages to this strategy:
Thus far the strategy seems quintessential to the fragmented historical condition of Malaysia – the ambiguity never anticipates a perfect solution but an almost equanimous process to unite differences in order to reach a consensus. But in the concept of 1Malaysia, the assemblage of differences was inevitably victimised because the strategy naturally denies unity as a subject of practice.
It commodifies the ‘stable tension’ and objectifies the negotiations towards achieving unity. This underlying ambition can be decoded in the 1Malaysia concept map found in ‘Chapter 4: Building 1Malaysia’ of Government Transformation Programme (GTP) Roadmap, in which, 1Malaysia was seen as an amalgamation of ‘diversity’ and ‘inclusiveness’7, it employed strategic ambiguity within a dualism, to ‘constantly manage the polarity between assimilation and segregation by enlarging the common ground in between’8.
This ‘common ground’ hinted the notion previously stated: to commodify ‘stable tension’ and to objectify negotiations. It centralises the opposing forces in order to manage the dialectics within the post-structuralist play of category.
The notion is almost versatile if one notices the expanding universality. Enlarging the common ground universalises the methodology per se. Theoretically, at first, the inclusivity of 1Malaysia oscillates like a pendulum taking charge of the incommensurability of things, and secondly, the diversity of 1Malaysia evinces the specifics for the convenience of the former. The later is attentive to differences, the former is good at generalising, this notion somewhat becomes a universal logic that any groups are dependent and independent as it works within a dualism that discriminates nobody, thus permitting the authority the full capacity to control.
‘Universality’ henceforth becomes an effective tool for hegemony. Wendy Brown saw this as an ideology taking effects in the politics of globalisation: ‘…one in which the universal tolerates the particular in its particularity, in which the putative universal therefore always appears superior to that unassimilated particular – a superiority itself premised upon the nonreciprocity of tolerance’9. It seems to Brown that the universal act of ‘tolerance’, or ‘unity’ in our case, has legitimised hegemony.
Furthermore, while the prime minister allows individual interpretations, it causes the citizens to believe that they are all in agreement, for everybody must agree in unity to a certain degree, and, 1Malaysia is indeed about unity. However, there happens to be a fallacy within these premises10.
This new syllogism is crafted for a contextual shift, it is paradigmatic, it applies to the same conception but a rather different methodology of understanding, of what the post-positivist Thomas Kuhn would describe as another ‘disciplinary matrix’11. The idea of ‘unity’ was redefined to constrict the chaos under the ideology of 1Malaysia. In Kuhn’s seminal postmodern critique The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, he outlined the anatomy of revolution (or paradigm shift) by stating that scientific ideas arrived as an attempt to fit nature into conceptual boxes12. When 1Malaysia was read under this framework – not that 1Malaysia is a revolution – the populace is seen confined by the provided strategy. The strategic ambiguity is a puzzle per se upholding a special category of problem, and this setup posited the populace within a docile scenario, keeping them gravitated by the set of puzzle characteristics, with preconceptions and established viewpoints13.
It is evident that the post-tsunami chaos today was preoccupied by the questions and definitions of 1Malaysia. It stealthily extrapolates this precise ineluctability of postmodernism to the propagandas of a singular political vision, thus making Barisan Nasional’s vision a universal conscience.
As terminology, ‘1Malaysia’ has replaced ‘unity’, ‘1Malaysia’ is the brand new ‘unity’. When an ideology attempts to define and to own ‘unity’, it threatens the fundamentals of the common practice. The paradigm shift has postulated an ideological hegemony that none could resist, or else, condemned as recalcitrant for disunity or politcising the very ‘noble’ 1Malaysia14, wherein the eventuality of 1Malaysia is genuinely a political one. It is the ‘effective universality’15 naturalising the politicisation of culture and common practices.
Slavoj Zizek has examined the existence of ideology through such crafted contingency, that ideology ‘regulates the relationship between the visible and the invisible’16. He contended that ideology assesses to function through reciprocity within relation of social domination, and ‘the very logic of legitimising the relation of domination must remain concealed if it is to be effective’17. On another note; ‘…(the) reversal of non-ideology into ideology – that is, the sudden awareness of how the very gesture of stepping out of ideology pulls us back into it’18.
Denying 1Malaysia as a political play is indirectly admitting it. It is therefore even more important to understand 1Malaysia as a political notion, and to be aware that 1Malaysia is an ideology by not becoming one.
‘Unity = Diversity + Inclusiveness;
“Diversity”: We are not a homogenous society, but are multi-racial, multi-cultural, multi-religions and multi-lingual; “Inclusiveness”: We accept, respect and celebrate diversity of cultures and religions.’
The notion is to be inclusive and united with diversity. This is considered imperative in reducing the ‘tension of various polarities’. The ‘various polarities’ hitherto refer to the different social classes classified under literacy, age, geography, religion, ethnicity and class, as illustrated in Fig 4.5, page 73. See PEMANDU, “Chapter 4: Building 1Malaysia,” in Government Transformation Programme Roadmap (Putrajaya: JPM, 2001), 63-88.
Minor premise: 1Malaysia is about unity.
Conclusion: Therefore, everybody agrees to 1Malaysia.
The middle term is ‘unity’ where unity is undistributed. The conclusion is merely an assumption since ‘unity’ is ambiguous; the common intention of unity does not prescribe the realisation of its effect. ‘Unity’ is the general set where 1Malaysia is a subset, like a policy on implementation in regards to a universal law. To conclude that 1Malaysia represents unity is to narrow down the allowance for unity.
Tan Zi Hao holds a diploma in Advertising and Graphic Design. His interest lies somewhere between the arts, sociology, philosophy and cultural studies. He notices many similarities between politics and advertising, and contended that the contemporary interplay of power is an addiction towards ‘special effects’ rather than ‘purpose’.