Multiculturalism pervades Southeast Asia.
Indeed, this culturally vibrant region is home to
thousands of ethnic groups, languages, and religious practices.
Instead of embracing its countries’
diversity however, many Southeast Asian governments fear this heterogeneity among its citizens
and interpret multiple forms of identity as threatening to their power.
In Malaysia for example,
many party members within the dominant United Malays Organization Party believe that
multiculturalism “will bring death to Malaysia” (Zook, 9/20).
Fueled by this fear, governments in
Vietnam, Burma and Malaysia have arduously worked towards the delegitimization of alternative
identities such as ethnicity and/or religion in an attempt to consolidate power under majority rule,
resulting in economic hardship and political violence among the discredited peoples.
In Vietnam, the government encourages its citizens to embrace the Vietnamese Communist
Party and disregard any ties to their ethnicity and religion in attempt to assert their (already
dominant) control over the nation.
As the only legal political party in Vietnam, the Vietnamese
Communist Party (VCP) has dominated Vietnamese politics, strongly encouraging its citizens to
adhere to its doctrines as well as identify as Party members above all other forms of identity
By encouraging its citizens to associate themselves with the Party first, the
government is armed to exert control over the populace and consequently, any alternate forms of
identity that challenge this control such as religion and ethnicity become problematic for the VCP.
To curtail its people’s association with various religions, the VCP has instituted state-sponsored
religions as well as restrictions for others in an effort to reinforce its citizen’s association with the
Party rather than their religion. Rather than ban religion altogether, for example, the VCP installed
the Vietnamese Catholic Church (Zook, 09/26).
In doing so, the VCP strips its people’s
association with Catholicism, a religion rooted in the European Vatican, and replaced it with its
own Vietnamese version.
Thus, the government allows its people to practice religion, but only