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The Malaysian state and the transnational politics of the Chins and the Acehnese.
In order to distinguish essays and pre-prints from academic theses, we have a separate category. These are often much longer text based documents than a paper.
posted on 22.03.2017by Murugasu, Sheila
In order to examine the nature of transnational politics, this thesis explores the
interactions between the Malaysian state and the largely undocumented Chin and
Acehnese migrants who are politically active within its borders. The aim of this thesis
is twofold: first, to develop a more nuanced account ofthe purportedly adversarial
and oppositional relationship between the host state and irregular migrants actively
seeking self-determination for their homeland, and second, to better understand
how migrant agency is deployed within the confines of a host state and to what ends.
The thesis is a comparative ethnographic study based on interviews, document
analysis and participant observation. Its primary interest lies in trying to uncover the
factors that shape the different kinds of interaction that go on between politically
active migrants and the state. Another important element ofthis study is to better
understand what constitutes the political, by going beyond those activities carried
out by the elites, be it at the migrant community level or the state level. In
undertaking a comparative study of two distinct groups, namely the Chins and the
Acehnese, the intention is to determine whether cultural proximity between a
migrant group and the hegemonic group within the host state plays a decisive role in
the ability of the migrant group to engage in cross-border political activism.
Several findings emerged as a result of this study. The first has to do with the nature
of the Malaysian state, which then has a bearing on its relations with irregular
migrants. What becomes clear is that the various state actors are propelled by their own self-interested goals that have to do with political hegemony, wealth
accumulation and institutional goals which are not always in line with official state
discourse. Given this pursuit of interests, I argue that cultural affinity with the
Malaysian state elite does not necessarily guarantee preferential treatment for the
Acehnese migrants, and that the politically active Chins and Acehnese in Malaysia
often adopt similar strategies and tactics in order to survive and engage in forms of
transnational politics. These strategies include acts of collaboration, gift-giving,
negotiation and state mimicry. Such activities explain how transnational politics
among migrants can occur in the face of little or no offiCially-sanctioned rights or
protection in a host state environment such as Malaysia. Another major finding of
this thesis has to do with the multi-levelled nature of migrant transnational politics:
that it is not just about affecting change in the homeland, but about continuing with
the local level politics of community-building and identity formation, which becomes
transnationalised with the large outward migration ofthe target constituency.
Finally, the overarching conclusion ofthis thesis is that even irregular migrants are far
from being powerless up against the overweening power of the state, as they are so
often portrayed in the literature. Migrants and the state are inherently pragmatic
actors, driven by the need to secure their own survival in a challenging and shifting
global landscape. This requires adaptability and innovation by both.