Malaysian Extraversion towards the Muslim World: Ideological Positioning for a “Mirror Effect”

David Delfolie


Despite being ambitious, the solidarity expressed by Malaysia toward the global ummah has almost always remained tied to the strategic priorities of the country and been subject to non-religious factors. In this light, the changes throughout history in the Federation of Malaysia’s policies regarding Muslim minorities in Asian countries illustrate the variable external use of Islamic themes by Malaysian officials. In order for Malaysian governments to reconcile opposing positions whose configurations emphasize the ambiguities inherent to their actions, throughout history these governments have been obliged to continually re-evaluate their positions according to the relevant contingencies. For example, they have occasionally delegated to third parties the mission of conducting, under their close monitoring, projects that they had taken on with reservations. In addition, the strongly promoted claim by the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO, the leading Malay party of the governing coalition) – that it could offer a universal development model for Islamic society – has never really been convincing. This model has never been able to go beyond its initial local origins, which has greatly limited its ability to be replicated in other countries. However, beyond their opportunistic dimension (even if they are not without ideological aspects), Malaysia’s diplomatic positions toward the Muslim world are marked by different inspirations. They have also been guided by an underlying search for the legitimation and international recognition of the country’s broad domestic socio-political model, thereby appealing to a “mirror effect” to foster the reshaping of a postcolonial Malay identity within the frame¬work of globalisation.

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