The Moral Contradictions of Independence

By Carmel Henschel

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What does it mean to be independent? To create oneself is to venture into an unknown armed with everything one was, and can become. It is to harness the nascence of all of one's parts, and to become something entirely unique, which inherits the goal of contributing to a new world on a whole other level. The future is devised by constant transactions of varying individualities, with each interconnection bargaining a net positive between the surpluses and deficits in behavior, comprehension, and skill. When two cultures meet in the form of a conversation, we progress for the better through a thorough deliberation of the nuances which work and fail on either side. In religion, for a more monolithic example, as we pass through our prehistory, we may keep with us the righteous notions of communion while retiring antiquities in thought and action that were more calibrated to times void of modern chemistry and the telescope. After all is said and done, we find that we leave behind the retrogressive and proceed with socio-political fabrics that answer for more modern dilemmas.


The needs of our globe can only be met by a diversity in origin. Temporal advancement occurs when seats at the metaphorical table are occupied by representatives from each massive line of thought, a volleying of philosophies and managements participating in the aforementioned net positivity. What I suggest with this notion is less a materialized configuration (say, in the vein of the United Nations) and more a general ideology of intellectual transit. Whether or not this ideology inherits globalization, and what that would mean for the claimed singularity of nation-states, is worth pondering to a profound extent. Is our future oriented around the preservation of ritual and tribe, or the systematizing of it? More specifically, what are the litmuses for excellent progresses, and how are they vulnerable to manipulations based on authority? And finally, does development presuppose power?


For this paper, I am interested in exploring the complexities of self-creation on both a large and small scale. In what capacity does representational consent shape the social narrative of development? What does individualism mean to the notion of a nation, insofar as to overthrow schemes of colonialism and pursue actualized independence in every sense of the phrase? How does the nation-state model construct spaces for both catharsis and conformity, and does it produce a net positivity or negativity for the implications of identity in this world? In order to explore these perplexing matters in a way that may be both grounded and abstract, I have decided to use a case study. The presence of Rohingya in Malaysia is ideal to analyze, because it is situated quite aptly amongst the proposed predicaments. I will consider the country’s cultural and legal frameworks around pluralism, citizenry, and traditionalism and make connections between their modern statuses and the history they were established upon. I intend to enlist the analytical information of various writings assigned during the Lexicon of Migration course, such as those of Agamben, Malkki, and Brubaker, as well as ethnographic and qualitative studies found on virtual archives. By the end of the paper, I hope to have arrived upon, if not achieved, a new understanding of the ways some independences imminent contradict others.


Before we delve into the specifics of the case study, this question must be posed: what constitutes a representation? The hypothesis is one with infinite answers, positively Rorshachian in its linguistics, as there are many connotations to the word “representation.” Does it imply politics, or statistics? Is the answer contingent on emotions invoked in the respondent, or a more quantifiable criterion? Representations, whether calculated or elected, are affirmed by the strength of their comprehensions for the world, the people, and both of their natural destinies. This conceptualization should enable you to revisit the first sentence of my essay. Think of all that the term “independent” encapsulates in regards to the formation of both a palpable, and imagined identity, for the nation-state — in other words, a representation. No longer is there an external governing force, a colonial prescription for living. A freshly independent state reckons with all that can be constructed from the ashes of occupation. On the strength of a country’s autonomy rests all that it stands for, and all it falls for. These positions are formed by intricate, unspoken systems — the social, political, financial, legal, and educational economies of the nation, each complete with allowances and sanctions of their own. A country’s independent identity can then be construed as a representative manifestation of all of these economies. Malaysia’s independence is thus informed by the virtues it retains, which, at large, are products of the individual transactions of the population.


I’d like to address the previously mentioned systemic economies as they pertain to the independence, identity, and representations of the case study. Malaysia is a nation that arose from colonialism by the seething revolution of its people. While the charges for independence were led on the promise of a state for ethnic Malays, the country is immutably composed of various permutations in personal identity. The financial economy is largely a product of great migrations from India and China, whose citizens moved to the land for occupational prospects in commodity and production. These manufacturing regimes flourished during the World Wars, which in a sense propagated the idea of contributing to schemes that were morally consistent with dominance. Colonial history in Malaysia tells of subjugation from the Portuguese, Dutch, and English, and typical to form, prevalent constructs like the English language and the Islamic religion took their place in the burgeoning cultural infrastructure to an extent worth reflecting upon. We must now consider how Malaysia sheds or retains these tacit economies post-independence. If adherence to the nation-state model is a rite of passage for countries as they emerge from colonization, how does any like Malaysia create a coherent nationality while still maintaining its cultural pluralism? To what extent may the state’s identity be mingled with the confusion, resentment, and bitterness of its past, obscured by ownership?


Malaysia’s recorded existence is substantial and singular, but in a general sense, more or less that of any nation-state which has been independent at some point in time. Each country has either dominated, or been dominated. Each country has had wartime economies, whether in material or principle. Each country is constantly threatened by the looming invasiveness of the rest of the globe’s vast and varying cultural fruits. All these traits are shared, and yet, each border segregates within it a totally unique meaning of food, family, love, grief, religion, and other vices. In the quest for what it is that gives each country a unique character, I have found that general variables constitute the specifics. The development of a country’s social, political, financial, legal, and educational economies are each shaped by an equation of history + people + time. These truths are evident in the transactions of each variant, a bargaining of nets between how history informs the people, how the people execute the time, and how the time reflects the history. Some narratives are recorded in writing, and others, in sunsets. These chronicles are important as well in building global power schemes, especially as it pertains to what it means to codify power and the educational infrastructures of the West. With this equation embedded into their realities, these economies are what create the parameters for the independence, identity, and representation of a nation-state.


When a coherent national symbolism is formed, anyone who defies the order is condemned to disrupt it. A nation-state, by very definition, is threatened by congregations of “others,” their ever-imminent caucuses in demeanor, culture, and thought. Though many countries claim to be pluralistic, all often fall for the simplicity of rescinding their openness when faced with otherness. If courage is hard, then fear is easy, and it is that fear which often envelops the population into itself — it is a fear that who they are will falter in the dilution of their purity. We let this ill-advised insulation keep us from developing the people of the world, because we don’t want their perceptions of reality to become irreparably embedded into our national lexicons. In a bubble of perverse patriotism, we sacrifice worlds for countries. It is this pariah we make of the outsider that allows us to deliberately under-develop them. We keep asylum-seekers out at the fear they’ll need too much of us, when the truly terrifying element of the indignity is our unwillingness to dignify in the first place.


On July 28, 1951, the United Nations’ Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees was sworn into the world. The clauses of the contract promise to safeguard the uneasily mobile, detailing protections in home, work, and education that encapsulate what it is to make a life. It is this approval that would have seen the expansion of existence for Rohingya refugees migrating to Malaysia decades later. However, the country was not a signatory of the protocol, which has since rendered many without home, work, and/or education. Even though Malaysia is heartedly based in the principles of Sunni Islam, Rohingya, many of whom practice the same faith, are denied of their opportunity to create themselves through the promises of actualization. Without self-determination, they are sentenced to dependence. In opposition to the mobile, we support stagnation on infinite levels, and deprive our future of the grit and resolve that only home, work, and education may beget. Because these gifts are avowed to those who can claim their citizenry in a transcripted way, many are rendered nameless. Our sufficiencies endorse robberies of time, and life, and kinetics. In this way, some independences inherently oppose others. The good we once saw in our comprehensive representations are then nullified by the very fundamentals of their functions. So what exactly does it mean to be Malaysian?


Principally, some are, and some are not. Though I am of the latter assortment, I can affirm that the longer answer exists somewhere in between the explicitness of a birth certificate, and the intangible winds of time. Because we cannot regulate or control what exists beyond us, we yield our validities to passports and papers. There is a postmodern agenda hidden somewhere in the supervision of identity; a futuristic inclination to be comfortable, as humankind, with our inability to see as the stars do. The answer to whether or not we achieve that security with ourselves and each other exists only in a matter of time. Until then, we allow others to tell us who we are. Borders are mandated by institutionalized declarations of subject, and thus, our mobilities become the concern of the state. Lineages are willed upon us, and we cannot elect our circumstances. Is our job as humans, then, to make sense of all that is bestowed to us, or to create ourselves to the fullest extent? Can individuality in the purest form be genuinely pursued, or are we all simply products of power? Is individuality, in and of itself, a myth?


Everything is circumstantial. If I am an individual, and I am a product of my unique circumstances, do I simply manifest the conditions of my reality, or do I overcome them to actualize my potential? Is my potential, then, a product of my circumstances? The dilemma of the individual exists in the systems we anticipate. Whether these systems are apparatuses of free will simply awaiting the genesis of circumstance, or subliminal economies of control deliberately premised on manipulating circumstance, is the pressing matter. Perhaps circumstance cannot be manipulated, though, and manipulation is a product of circumstance itself. What this would mean, essentially, is that power is natural. The exchanging of deficits and surpluses vis a vis behavior, comprehension, and skill is, after all, a conferment of power — ideas which work, ultimately prevail. The litmus of excellence, then, is time.


Some authorities are deplorable, but all are natural. Our regimes to police identity are often appalling, but more often, understandable. They are signals of distress, systemic grievances for the basic truth that all regimes end. Walls come down, tribes intermingle, wars expire — in the wake of their deaths, we are left to ponder what they meant. Perhaps they are exercises in what we tolerate and enable, and after these primal seethings fail, we emerge knowing better. We fight to keep others out, and find we actually needed them in. In the case of mosts holocausts under the sun, we often wake to a gleaming desire for change. After engaging in discursive economies with one another, we see the value in our differences, and use the good in the other to proliferate goodness. If circumstance continues to exchange us for eternity, time will either prove us indistinguishable in our individualities, or flawlessly singular. Hopefully we find solace regardless. Until then, we must undo the notion that in order to be free, others shall be restrained. Independences do not have to contradict one another. The bloodbath that is history has taken the lives and potentials of so many, all of whom are martyrs for a great universal experiment: to achieve a free future. True independence should exist in all-encompassing clauses, and fail when frail. So what is it that we are afraid of?



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