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SE A ST 1 - (Week 2) Majorities and Minorities

SE A ST 1 - (Week 2) Majorities and Minorities - Majorities...

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Unformatted text preview: Majorities and Minorities ———'—_———.__.—.._.—________--'——‘————-——_______ It is easy to forget that minorities came into existence in tandem with majori. ties—and, in Southeast Asia, very recently. No indigenous language of the. region has a traditional word for either concept. They were born of the polit- ical and cultural revolution brought about by the maturing of the colonial state and by the rise against it of popular nationalism. The former fundaa ' mentally changed the structures and aims of governance, the latter its legitimacy. ' Unlike all its predecessors in Southeast Asia, the late colonial state imag: ined itself cartographically and juridically as a sovereign power within precisely marked geographic borders which, in turn, were ratified externally by international law. Hence its obsession with treaties, conventions, extrater- iitorialities, and boundary commissions. The other side of this subjection to international law—of which no better example exists than the solemn parti- tions of an Antarctica in which no people live~—was an internal absolutism, a right of state, which stretched far deeper and wider than any earlier Southeast Asian domain. (Not for nothing did John Furnivall, greatest of Southeast Asian comparativists, speak of the “fashioning of Leviathan-"l Moreover, this right of state, which had its origins in seventeenth- and eighteenth-century European monarchical absolutism, was backed in late nineteenth-century colonial Southeast Asia by an elaborate and sophisti- cated bureaucracy, invincible military might, and the eternally restless dynamism of industrial capitalism. Just as the colonial state borrowed much from its monarchical European ancestors, so the nationalism of the twentieth century borrowed much from its antagonist, in the name of precisely the same doctrines that had swapt Enropc MflJUKlllflb HIV“ lVlllVUnllLLD 4.14 and the Americas earlier on. The People, newly Conceived as a political entity in Opposition to the colonial rulers, were to inherit their summary rights and, at the same time, to subject themselves, by the crucial mechanism of recognition, to the modalities of a now updated international law. The paradox expressed itself perfectly in each sovereign nation’s rush to join the United Nations and its covenants, protocol, affiliated organizations and language. At the same time, the formal abstraction “colonial state in Southeast Asia” conceals an enormous variety of structures, capacities, and aims. The earliest European conquerors, the Portuguese, had already been marginalized by the Dutch in the seventeenth century, and thereafter hung on only in a remote cartographic half of little Timor. To this day, Portugal, like Ireland, remains a sort of Third World country in Europe. Spain, an imperial power in decline since the seventeenth century, was swept out of Southeast Asia before the end of the nineteenth century; its archaic pre-industrial domination of the Philippines left residues quite unlike those of other colonial powers. At the other extreme, the great industrial powers—Britain, France, the United States, and Japan—arrived in force only in the nineteenth and twentieth cen- turies, but more than made up for their tardiness by the massive, rapid changes they instituted. Little Holland fell somewhere in between. In addition, as is well known, there was little or no match between the European colonial states and the political entities that had existed previously in the region. The names are sufficiently revealing: the Philippines, named after the sixteenth-century Spanish monarch Felipe II, contained no sub- stantial states except for a few, new Muslim sultanates, which continued to plague the Spanish to the end; the pseudoclassical compounds “Indonesia” and “Indochina” are modern inventions and map terrains covering, partly or fully, an extraordinary array of traditional kingdoms and principalities; Malaysia, whose -i'a ending betrays its modernity, arose out of the last large British imperial garage sale. Even those colonies, such as Burma and Vietnam, that seem closest to direct descent from powerful, centralized pre- European states, in fact are quite remote from them. For most of its life, vast British Burma was a peripheral component of British India, and could have ended up as an eastern Kashmir. It would not have taken much for two major Vietnamese-speaking states to emerge in Indochina, as did two Malay- speaking states in the archipelago to the south. In the same way, Siam, though IFCkY to escape colonization, found itself inheriting whatever mix of territo- l‘les the competing European powers left as residual buffers between thernselves Given these circumstances, the Southeast Asian nationalist movements of the twentieth century faced formidable difficulties in their struggles against 320 THE SPECTRF. 0F COMPARISONS Leviathan which should not be forgotten now that their leaders are dead. Every advantage but one lay with the adversary—money m0 scientific knowledge, external backing, and so forth. The rulers“ on1yica-rins’ weakness was that by their own racist doing they were extremely silt-ma] minorities, perhaps the first minorities in Southeast Asian history, T113113? pomt is that they were .S'clflprodafmcd { white) minorities who, by the tu y the century, were arriving from metropoles where majority rule had beg-n 0f the politically legitimate norm and, furthermore, a norm that was spreag-me rapidly into Asia through newspapers and classrooms. Thus, even in thm'g own eyes, they were unavoidably becoming illegitimate. It is this more then: anything else that explains why few twentieth-century colonies around $11 world have been defended with full imperial conviction and to the death c .From the viewpoint ofthe nationalists, many of whom were quite aware of this weakness——especially those who had spent some time in Europe itself; the central problem was to create a political majority, a large WE, The character, timing, and depth of this struggle did more than anything else to determine the policies of the post-World War II nation-states towards the new- minorities within their colonialism-derived boundaries. We should note from the start that the Europeans were quite naturally the first to think in these majority—minority terms. They were the first rulers of Southeast Asia who carried out censuses in which the fundamental classifi—i catory grid was not taxpayer or conscript, but ethnic group.‘ Many such ethnic groups in fact “disappeared” from successive censuses as European- imaginings changed, but certainly almost all existed first and foremost in the. minds of the Europeans. Precisely for this reason, the Europeans sought quite early to build “majority coalitions” around themselves, against groups they feared could seriously compete with them in majority terms. To 'be valuable as coalition partners a certain size, power, modernity, and cohesmn were required. Christianized groups are the best early examples precisely because they date back to before the era of ethnicity. Colonialists in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries typically classified subject popula- Stly trons according to religion, not ethnicity, because enemies were conceived _, religiously. As the colonial rulers became less and less seriously Christi?1n themselves, so groups once thought of as Christian were reclassified as ethnic- Good examples are the Moluccans in the Netherlands East Indies and the Karens in British Burma. Today large numbers of those one might classify ethnologically 35 Moluccans and Karens are not Christian at all, but they are largely inViSible' .1. For more detail. see my “Reoensement et Politique en Asie du Sud-ESL” fiefl‘a‘les‘ 26 (April 1997), pp. 55-76. MAJORITlES AND MINORITIES 52.1 The important groups have been those that were Christianized and then edu- cated, favoured, and employed in the colonial armies and police forces against other similarly conceived ethnic groups: especially the hypothetically major- ity Burmans and Javanese. By the twentieth century it was their Moluccan-ness and their Karen-ness, rather than their Christianity, that was emphasized, in accordance with the general secularization of political cate- gories. Christianity could also be deployed within the potential majority—as in Vietnam—or to create a supra-ethnic majority—as in the Philippines, where Moro Muslim southerners remained useful bogeymen to the end of Spanish rule. In every case, Christianity was offered a place, albeit subordi- nate, within the ruling coalition. A second fateful coalition-building strategy was the creation of the “Chinese minority. ” Here the exemplary early case is provided by the Dutch in Indonesia. We know from comparing United East India Company (VOC) and indigenous records of the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries that powerful persons whom local courts regarded simply as aristocratic officials were denounced by the VOC as “really Chinese.” The Company quickly developed a separate jurisprudence for these “Chinese” (who were clearly unaware of being such, being unable to read Chinese characters and speaking mutually unintelligible mainland languages if they spoke any non-indigenous language at all). Growing Company power meant increasing segregation of the Chinese in terms of legal status, required costuming and barbering, resi- dence, possibility of travel, and so on. By the nineteenth century these policies had produced in Java a non-Chinese-speaking ethnic Chinese minority that increasingly was detached from any native coalition and hitched to Batavia’s wagon. Spanish policy in the Philippines used different means to achieve comparable ends The ease of Chinese assimilation into Siam’s ruling class, including the royal family, up until the twentieth century, shows clearly how unnatural colonial ethnic politics actually were. The intimate ties between wealthy Chinese and Malay rulers in pre-colonial nineteenth-century Malaya are a further casein point. The last designated ethnicities recruited for colonialism’s majority game Were those which had merely symbolic, quasi-juridical importance. Collectively, we can think of them as hill tribes, slash-and—burn swidden agri- culturalists, “stone-age populations,” and so on. Typically, these were groups, real or census, that were numerically small, geographically remote and with- out valuable economic resources In the nineteenth and most of the twentieth centuries they were generally igfllored, since they were not worth the cost of administering seriously. We can tl'link of the Orang Asli in Malaya, the Papuans in the Netherlands Indies, a411d the mountain tribes in Luzon. In cases where they were mobilized by the 322 THE SPECTRE OF COMPARISONS whites, it was characteristically at the last minute, to resist the majm‘ity nationalists. West Irian. cartographic half of New Guinea, 13 an examplary case. The local populations, thin on the ground, scattered into hundreds of small communities speaking mutually unintelligible languages. were fOI‘ITlally incorporated into the Netherlands Indies only in the twentieth century, and were then benignly neglected until the Indonesian nationalist revolutirm Was on the eve of success. Thereafter, on the grounds that they were collectively part of a new non-Indonesian ethnic group (Melanesian. Papuan, Irianese, whatever), they were enlisted in the Dutch coalition. Members of the Dutch East Indies they could be, but not of Indonesia. Between 1950 and 1963, the Dutch made frantic efforts, with some success, to create an Irianese ethnic—eventually nationalist—group. The irony is that the medium of their success was the Indonesian language! In less extreme and bizarre forms, one finds similar tactics deployed by the British on behalf of peripheral ethnicities in Burma and by the French of their Indochinese mon- tagnards. The Dutch were also not unique in their attempts to exploit these peripheries after national independence. The Americans made cynical use of the montagnards against the Vietnamese communist forces, and of the Christian Moluccans against the Sukarno regime; international oil companies supplied ethnic rebellions in postindependence Burma, and Libyan and Malaysian Machiavellis assisted their Muslim brothers in the southern Philippines—as long as it suited their various books. And, of course, there was class. In most parts of Southeast Asia the white minority attempted to create allies, with variable success, among the upper, comfortable classes of potential majorities, by turning them into either land- lords or bureaucrats. Not that they could always be trusted. In the Philippines, some of the most energetic early nationalists were members of the wealthy Chinese-mestizo landlord class. On the other hand, in Malaya the old aristocracy, such as it was, came over almost wholesale. . It remains only to note that colonial ethnic politics also took, in its dying days, an important, specific institutional cast. When legislative institutlotls reluctantly began to be formed within the carapace of the absolutist colonial state, the white minorities frequently not only overrepresented themselves, but also created safe ethnic seats, rigging the electoral systems in various ways to achieve the required results. The argument was always that even though mes: ethnic groups were often small and scattered, as ethnic groups they needed peculiar, guaranteed representation. Phantom coalition—building occurre primarily because the representatives of these recognized ethnlc groups wet; almost never genuinely elected. Rather they were designated by the colon1 d regime itself, usually from the most privileged, conservative, 3” collaborationist elements within each group. MAJORITIES AND MlNDRlTlES 323 In the long run. colonial ethnic politics could not be sustained on a census- juridical basis alone, but required its own culture. And this culture always had a slippery basis. Almost everywhere, the new census classifications were sus- tained by a politicomoral geography. Potentially majority populations—h Burmans, Vietnamese, Javanese—were categorized as unmanly, treacherous, aggressive, degenerate, and feudal. The coalition partners—the minorities— were categorized as honest, brave, truthful, sincere, and loyal. Endlessly reiterated, these stereotypes ultimately had their effect. The minorities quite often not only came to regard the new majorities as degenerate, unmanly, or treacherous but, more seriously, to regard themselves as honest, brave, truth- ful, and, alas. loyal. Thus phantom characterizings of new-found ethnicities quickly developed profound roots in rapidly changing political circumstances. Just how slippery the categories actually were can be seen if one considers the specific cartographic stretch of the colonies. Had Burma been thoroughly incorporated into India, as it might easily have been, the Burmans would have become a minority coalition partner like the Pathans or Baluchis, and doubt- less would also have ended up as honest, brave, and loyal. Had the Khmers not been incorporated into Indochine, one can be confident they would not have been pitied as passive, simple lotus-eaters, but denigrated as proto—Pol Pots. In Malaya, the Malays played Karen and Khmer to the British; in Sarawak they played Burmans and Vietnamese to the Brooke White Rajahs. Once again the Chinese are exemplary. Although it was not until the 18903 that some Southeast Asian Chinese realized what the Europeans had insisted upon since the seventeenth century—that they were, aprés tour, Chinese— their situations in post-independence Southeast Asia were foreshadowed by their colonial destinies Segregated, occupationally specialized, accustomed to playing junior partner in ruling coalitions, they attempted frantically to adjust themselves to nationalist regimes with, where possible, the larger support of any available external power (the Chinese People’s Republic, Taiwan, the United States, Japan, the United Kingdom, and so forth) in their everyday roles as intermediaries for international capital. It is essential to bear in mind the conditions of the colonial era when we turn to look comparatively at the rise of nationalism, since it was the colonial BXperience that profoundly shaped nationalism. Distinct cases are provided by the two Malay-speaking nations of the region, Indonesia and Malaysia. In the first case, one has to remember that the Netherlands East Indies was the only important colony in the world administered largely through an Asian language (the Dutch had too little confidence in the prestige 0f their own lan- guage and Were too stingy to provide the investments in education .nefedEd. to make Dutch an archipelago-wide administrative language} AdmmIStrame Malay could thus turn into bahasa Indonesia in the 19205 Without much ado, 324 THE SPECTRE 0F COMPARISONS and already with a colony-wide constituency. The vast and archipelagic Ch acter of the colony, in which by the 1870s even the millions of Javanese hat! become a demographic minority. combined with the exceptionally conga, ad tive character of colonial policy, indicated to nationalists early on that :1? wrdest possible coalition had to be built. They were deeply divided ideoll 'e cally—Muslims, secular nationalists, and communists—but they repeatjdgjl- tried to find a modus vivendi and recruited as widely as possible, makin y distinction among ethnic groups. Young Chinese intellectuals and politiegiarlo also participated, as one stripe or another of nationalist—not primarily :8 Chinese. Energetic recruitment efforts were made even among the favorite; Christian Moluccans, although without much success. If the nationalist movement had a non-white enemy, it was the collaborationist aristocracie that formed a key subordinate element in the Dutch majority. The colony we: far more divided by class than any other conflict. The experience of the anti- colonial revolution simply deepened these tendencies. It is striking that in the only free elections held in Indonesia (1955), all budding ethnic parties did poorly and all four major ideological parties recruited among all ethnic groups. When postindependence ethnic antagonisms increased, some of them exploited by the United States, the armed insurrections that resulted were in all cases but one—«the secessionist Republic of the (Christian) South Moluccas—aimed at improving the position of the ethnic group within Indonesia. In every case the government had genuinely national leaders from these ethnic groups on its side. Today, the basic character of Indonesian pol- itics remains class conflict, with ethnic politics playing a minor role. One can see this aspect quite clearly by looking at the two most obvious exceptions, state policy vis-a-vis West Irian and the former Portuguese colony of East Timor. Indonesians of all ethnic groups consider Irian part of the motherland and Irianese as fellow Indonesians. Aware of their double identities as mem- bers of ethnic groups and of the nation, they see no reason why the Irianese cannot comfortably be the same. In the 19605 there was a genuine popular campaign for the liberation of fellow Indonesians in Irian from Dutch colo- nial control; when sovereignty was transferred in 1963, many idealist people from all parts of the archipelago volunteered to serve the local populations. Even today, immigrants into West Irian come from many different regionfi, especially Sulawesi and the Moluccas. But with the military’s rise to power after 1965—a military that for largely accidental reasons is now dominated by Javanese, but considers itself Indonesian—the inevitable conflicts between Irianese elites (encouraged by the Dutch to think of themselves as leaders of an incipient Papuan nation) and the regime in Jakarta, have been cast increas- ingly in ethnic perspective. The discovery of valuable mineral resources on the island has further encouraged a regime which at bottom ...
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