What is the cement that keeps Malaysian society together? Study shows shared identity and acceptance of diversity are biggest influencers

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Regionally, Malaysia was perceived as having the third strongest social cohesion in the region behind Singapore and Thailand, with only 40% of respondents viewing Malaysian society as having strong cohesion. — Photo by Hari Anggara

By Zurairi AR

Wednesday 07 September 2022 07:00 MYT

SINGAPORE, September 7 – A recently published study has cited a shared national identity and acceptance of diversity among Malaysians as the two main factors of “social cohesion” in Malaysia, fostering a sense of solidarity and unity in its society. .

The “Radar of social cohesion in Southeast Asia” published yesterday by Singapore’s S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS) also revealed that Malaysian respondents did not rate “sense of fairness” highly, labeling it as having the smallest role in maintaining l harmony in the country.

“Acceptance of diversity and identification were the two dimensions considered most important in building social cohesion in Malaysia,” said the report released at the second International Conference on Cohesive Societies (ICCS) here.

“The dimensions of social networks, trust in people, respect for social rules and civic participation had a similar impact on social cohesion in the country. The solidarity and helpfulness dimension had the weakest impact.

“Identification” is defined as the public “feeling strongly connected to their country and identifying with it”.

“Acceptance of diversity” refers to the public “accepting individuals with other values ​​and lifestyles as equal members of society.”

Perceived overall level of cohesion in Malaysia.

Perceived overall level of cohesion in Malaysia.

Additionally, Malaysian respondents viewed identity as playing an important role in their society, with 86% saying it was easy to identify with citizens of a different language group.

Religious identities were also found to be important to respondents, with 86% saying they also agreed with the notion.

“In Malaysia and Singapore, the dimension of identification was a key driver of social cohesion. Identification refers to the sense of belonging people feel towards their country and their ability to identify with the state,” he said.

With ‘perception of fairness’ playing a minor role in Malaysia’s social cohesion, the report highlighted that fairness had a strong influence on social cohesion, with countries with the lowest scores being ranked at the bottom. radar.

He pointed to affirmative action policies in Malaysia that were institutionalized after the 1969 race riots, which he says have since protected Malays and disadvantaged non-Malays.

He also pointed out that Islam has become an increasingly mobilizing factor in Malaysian politics in the 21st century, thereby sidelining non-Muslims.

The study also showed that Malaysian respondents felt their country had the highest level of social cohesion, but this perception ran counter to other respondents.

Southeast Asia Cohesion Radar in 2022.

Southeast Asia Cohesion Radar in 2022.

Regionally, Malaysia was perceived as having the third strongest social cohesion in the region behind Singapore and Thailand, with only 40% of respondents viewing Malaysian society as having strong cohesion.

Overall, 69% of respondents believe there is strong social cohesion in Southeast Asia.

The study defines ‘social cohesion’ as ‘the state of affairs in which there are stable interactions between members of a society that take place in various areas of the life of human associates’.

Simply put, this is also known as social harmony, unity, or inclusion.

Adapting the former Bertelsmann Stiftung Asian Cohesion Radar to make it more relevant to the region, the RSIS study measured nine dimensions that contribute to social cohesion: social networks, trust in people, acceptance of diversity , identification, trust in institutions, perception of fairness, solidarity and helpfulness, respect for social rules and citizen participation.

Bertelsmann Stiftung Social Cohesion Framework.

Bertelsmann Stiftung Social Cohesion Framework.

It was conducted between February 10 and April 6, 2022, involving 100 participants considered “opinion leaders” in each of the 10 countries in the region. The 20-minute survey was conducted online or over the phone and was also available in Malay in addition to English.

Of the total, 40% of Malaysian respondents came from universities, think tanks and research institutions, followed by 21% from the government and 20% from the business and finance section.

“When we came out of Covid, many of us went through lockdown and social distancing measures. Everyone’s been apart for a while, it’s time to assess and understand how social cohesion is happening right now, and how we can move forward,” said co-author, senior analyst of RSIS, Vishalini Suresh, on the sidelines of ICCS 2022.

“We can think about extending the model, including things like economics in the framework. Overall, we collectively agree that social cohesion is a work in progress, there is always work to be done,” Jolene Jerard, fellow author, RSIS Deputy Principal Investigator Jolene Jerard, commented on the future of the study.

RSIS is a think tank and professional graduate school of international affairs at Nanyang Technological University, Singapore.

Among other things, his research focuses on security, conflict and terrorism in the Asia-Pacific.

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