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The Role of Writers in Nation Building and Nationhood

The Role of Writers in Nation Building and Nationhood

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Author : Fouzia Hassan Abdullah
Author : Fouzia Hassan Abdullah

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Published by: Fouzia Hassan Abdullah on Jul 27, 2011
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The Role of Writers in Nation Building and Nationhood as analysedfrom Salleh Ben Joned’s Writings.Paper Presented at ICOSH 2007 Seminar at UKM
3rd International Conference on Social Sciences and Humanities
Fouzia Hassan AbdullahCentre of Language Studies and LinguisticsFaculty of Social Sciences and HumanitiesThe National University of MalaysiaUKM –Universiti Kebangsaan MalaysiaIntroduction and background
In a country such as Malaysia when contrasting ethnicity, culture and religionengage and contest socio-cultural and political space and place, the evolution of nationhood needs to be studied within the discourses culture and ideologicalcontext. Since the majority of the nation is the Malays, it is therefore significantthat Malay discourses by the Malays be studied in any forms of language. This isso, as the impact of the Malays as the administrators have influential voice in the power relationships of the ruling body.Apart from engaging with institutional discourse, it is also important to study thediscourses of ‘dissenting’ or ‘deviant’ voices in Malay Community. Onesignificant such voice belongs to Salleh Ben Joned. Salleh is a versatile writer andhis writings can be found in various genres. This research focuses on his essaysand poems that touch on issues of ‘nationalism’, nationhoodand ‘nation building’ contextualised through the Malaysian experience in nation building.The writings
 As I Please
 by Salleh Ben Joned officially started in March 6, 1991,and were supposed to be a regular featured column. Unfortunately they later  progressed to be occasional write- ups in a literary column in the
New StraitsTimes
newspaper publications from 1991 to 1993.
 As I Please
is Salleh’s second book. His first book published was a bilingual collection of poems,
Sajak-Sajak Saleh: Poems Sacred and Profane
in 1987 and was followed by his book 
Nothing is Sacred,
comprising of 
are a collection of his writings, some of which are acompilation of his earlier writings in
 As I Please
and is published in 2003. This paper attempts to look at the role of writers through a selected writings by SallehBen Joned in
 As I Please
(1994) and
 Nothing Is Sacred (2003)
The Nation
 Nations are not naturally occurring phenomenon (McLeod, John. 2000: 68). Undoubtedlythough, the issues are eminent in the modern world today and are influential in social and political organisations and they play a significant role in the world politics and in theinternational arena. The world today is demarcated by borders according to the positioning of sovereign states of nations. Nations are basically fabrications andconstructions perceived in the minds of ‘man’. Furthermore, nations are like buildingsthat can both rise or fall and disintegrate.(McLeod, John. 2000:68).Benedict Anderson propounds that the nation is an ‘imagined political community’(Verso, 1983: 6. Taken from McLeod. 2000:68). Anderson states that it is imagined because some of the members of the community might never come into contact with eachother in reality’. However, in the minds of ‘each’ lives the image of the communion asthey imagined themselves to be a part of a greater collective. Thus, Malaysians as anation may never come face to face or experience direct encounter with a ‘member’ of the nation who is distant or has no circumstances for the encounter, and is hence‘imagined’.From ‘
The Penguin Dictionary of International Relations’ 
written by Graham Evans andJeffrey Newham in 1998, the term ‘nation’ refers to a social collectivity, each member sharing: a sense of common identity, a history, a language, ethnic or racial origins,religion, a common economic life, a geographical location and a political base. The word‘nation’ is derived from the Latin verb ‘nasci’- to be born. Almost everyone belongs to a particular nation. Furthermore, Abdul Rahman Embong (2003) states that it is the shareddestiny that binds together people and not only other elements such as the sharing of thesame socio-political space. Nation lives in the people’s psyche and is passed down to thedescendents. The traditional ‘identity markers’ identify the historical and political processes which establish what tracts are taken to symbolize kinship, how successful theyare in being taken as such in competing with other identities, and under what conditionsthey gain political significance” (Geertz 1963, Shils 1957, Smith 1885, Van der Benghe1981).The nation is a western idea (McLeod. 2000: 104). Partha Chatterjee in his boo
 Nationalist Thought and the Colonial World 
(Zed, 1986; McLeod 2000:104) states that,the nation originates in the west as the result of the European ‘Enlightenment’ with it a pursuit for liberty and progress.2
Nation, Nationalism and Nation building
The term ‘Nationalism’, as explained in
The Penguin Dictionary of International  Relations
by Evans and Newham (1998: 346 - 349), has two related senses, firstly inideology and secondly in terms of sentiment. In the first instance, nationalism pursues a behavioural entity of the nation. In the second instance, ‘Nationalism’ is a sentiment of loyalty towards the nation, which is shared by people. Cohesive elements are provided bylanguage, religion, shared historical experiences, physical congruity and others. (Evansand Newham. 1998).According to Benedict Anderson in
 Imagined Communities
, a prominent feature of a nation is the standardisation of one unitary language (McLeod.2000: 72).In an article by Ding Choo Ming, ‘
 Perpaduan Kaum dan Toleransi Agama di Malaysia’ 
 published in the journal,
no. 41,
the July-September 2005,
Ming stated thatSyed Husin (1976:53) expounds that; at present day, the mass media and education haveeminent role in the dissemination of information and knowledge as to promoteunderstanding and tolerance among the multi-ethnic groups that co-exist in Malaysia. Asto the eminent role of writers in exploring and forging sentiments of nationalism, innation building and nationhood could be seen in Salleh’s article. Salleh expounds this factin his article ‘The Spectre of ‘Corporate-Lit’ from
 As I Please
and ‘A.Samad Ismail-TheMan and his Mythfrom
 Nothing Is Sacred.
In both of them, Salleh stresses theimportance of the media and writers in the development and nation building of thecountry.As Ding (2005) points out in his article, Mahathir Mohamad (1991) had quoted:…the need for Malaysia to be fully developed by the year 2020 in terms of national unity and social cohesion in terms of social justice and political stability.A fully developed Malaysia must be a unique nation, with a confident Malaysiansociety, infused by strong moral and ethical values, living in a society that isdemocratic, liberal and tolerant, caring, economically just and equitable progressive and prosperous and in full possession of economy that is competitive,dynamic and resilient.According to Claudia Derichs (1999), the Malaysian situation and context are evechanging and undergoing modification throughout its process of adjustment with theworld at large globally and the situations at home. Nation building is affected byglobalisation; the structural paraphernalia that accompanies the process and various other factors. She questions the resilience of the nation as whole, as sovereign political actorsamongst the other actors. The concept of nation is constantly challenged, entrenched inan ongoing struggle for adaptation and revival, which might affect the concept of nation,reshaping and reinterpreting it.3

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