Final_Essay - Defining Oneself Identity Politics in Modern...

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Defining Oneself Identity Politics in Modern Southeast Asia
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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 (Zook, 10/01). 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
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under the Party’s guidance and authority. Similarly, the government permits the practice of Islam in Vietnam under the condition that Muslims only do so within a purely Vietnamese context rather than associating with outside international Islamic systems (Zook 09/26). Clearly, the VCP has instituted policies detracting its denizen’s association with religion outside of their control and persuades them to practice only purely Vietnamese forms of religious identity. As Chinese,
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