On Lahad Datu clash
Farish A Noor describes the current power conflict in Sabah the best.
“It seems that what is confronting us now is a clash between the modern state, driven as it is by its modernist logic of governmentality; and the primordial attachment of some people to land and space that exceeds the confines of temporality and space.” - Between a fluid region and a hard state, Rappler.
Even when the commotion in Lahad Datu had died down, the past two weeks will continue to haunt Malaysians and their neighbours in the region for years to come. After all, the membership of North Borneo in the Federation of Malaysia was never unequivocally accepted.
It is pretty clear that any sovereignty claim over Sabah by descendants of the Sulu Sultan will not stand in any court or international tribunal. A jury will have to stretch far beyond what is universally acceptable today if they were to “return” Sabah to members of the Sulu Sultanate.
However, Malaysians need to come to terms with the realities of the situation and make some compromises to resolve the conflict peacefully.
Amidst it all, the dominance of federal political figures has eclipsed the people who matter the most, the citizens of Sabah. The pre-Malaysia surveys on the opinions of the people of North Borneo carried out by the Cobbold Commission and the United Nations mission under U Thant were in no way a substitute to a democratic self-determination.
Now is the right time to open the discussion on a referendum for Sabah citizens. They must be given the opportunity to decide on the state’s membership in the Federation and on the state’s relationship with its international neighbours. The peoples of the Philippines, Brunei and Indonesia cannot be excluded from this process as they have been and will always be part of the history and future of Sabah.
It is also a good time to reform Malaysian nationality laws. People in the government must recognise the many benefits that liberalisation and openness in the south-east Asia have brought for Malaysians. Relaxing Malaysian immigration and citizenship will go a long way in maintaining peace in the country and the region.
There is no harm for Malaysians to recognise the history and heritage of the Suluk people. They should be embraced as part of the cultural diversity in Sabah. Suluk people from the Philippines who wish to settle in Sabah should be allowed to do so, or even better, be granted citizenship in the Federation.
The government should promote a more open approach towards nationality, for example by allowing multiple citizenships or at least, by adopting the European Union’s “four freedoms” with other Asean members. Such open approach, when realised, will address the socio-economic disparities which have all along been the root of most cross-border conflicts in the region.