The Rise of Constitutional Patriotism in Malaysian Civil Society

Gaik Khoo

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


    This paper aims to account for the resurgent interest in the protections provided in the Malaysian Federal Constitution and to understand the rights-based language used by Malaysian civil society actors over the past few years. Observers of Malaysian politics have concluded that since the 1980s the country has been "taking the long march to desecularisation" (Kessler, 2008). I argue, however, that Habermas' notion of "constitutional patriotism" is alive and well in Malaysia and that it stands as a counterpoint to the trend of desecularisation. Constitutional patriotism is in fact growing, partly as a response to the concatenation of Islamisation and the discourse of Malay ethnic hegemony (ketuanan Melayu) which perpetuates identity boundaries between Malays and non-Malays and between Muslims and non-Muslims.Using discourse analysis to examine blogs and media reports, this paper illustrates that conscientious individuals and civil society invoke the discourse of citizenship and constitutional rights to counter the dominant politics of race perpetuated by the National Front (Barisan Nasional).They actively assume or perform "acts of citizenship" (Isin and Nielsen, 2008) that invoke patriotism towards the Constitution. I posit that constitutional patriotism in the Malaysian case is a call to return to the Constitution's liberal democratic ideals that recognise religious and ethnic diversity.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)325-344
    JournalAsian Studies Review
    Issue number3
    Publication statusPublished - 2014


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