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Fractured reflections : rainforests, plantations and the Malaysian nation-state Sioh, Maureen Kim Lian

Abstract

This study examines how deforestation in Malaysia is framed as an economic issue fought out in the political arena using cultural codes as an entry point to examining the political tensions of contemporary Malaysia. Three themes recur throughout this work. The first theme concerns the centrality of resources in Malaysia's colonial and post-colonial political economy. The second theme concerns the displacement of the anxieties of national and cultural survival onto the contests over economic rights. And the third theme is the way collective memories 'flesh out' contemporary contests between the state and civil society. In the sense that the three themes are inter-related, this study traces the twinned construction, and opposition, of the two central ideas: of 'nature' in the form of the rainforest and 'race' in the guise of nation. In keeping with the role of memory in present-day social and political engagements, this study weaves both archival and contemporary material to trace the construction of the history, imagery and vocabulary that have been mapped onto the physical space of the rainforest. I explore the production of the cultural codes through this mapping process that are then used to articulate the contests over the rainforest. These codes are the consequence of negotiations that reflect the unstable alliances and inconsistent identities of contemporary Malaysia, and they are the legacies, albeit translated, of colonialism. In retracing the contests over and about the forests, I hope to shed some light on why Malaysians made, and continue to make, decisions that appear to work against them. The decisions affecting the fate of the rainforest reflects choices made about the kind of society Malaysians live with. Hence, the three core chapters of this study examine military, political/cultural and economic contests and negotiations surrounding the birth of the Malayan/Malaysian nation-state through their impacts on the rainforest. By acknowledging how much of Malaysia's contemporary politics is its colonial legacy, I hope to highlight the trade-off we have made between limited political engagement and development. To accept that we cannot protect basic rights as the price of economic success is to continue to live within the racist framework of colonialism that human rights are only for some humans.

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