Breakin up is hard to do. As an American southerner, I am well-convinced of just how hard it is. Sometimes lovelorn countrymen find the prospect of your absence so distressing that they kill you by the hundreds of thousands, burn your cities to the ground, and place you under the tender stewardship of African administrators. That’s when you realize this relationship was meant to last.
Like divorces, independence movements inspire the most unusual expressions of affection from spurned parties. These expressions of commitment to a happy and synergistic union usually take the form of bustling mortuaries. As a result, the most serene path to secession is to become more trouble than you’re worth.
Before continuing with that thought, it’s worth extending accolades to a notable exception from the model of affectionate military reunification. The failed Scottish independence referendum strikes me as a remarkably civilized example of ascertaining the appetite for union without resorting to blood as its proxy. Though, as in all such movements, I see no reason why the Scots alone should have made the call. Just as well would have been a referendum by the English and Welsh to ask whether Scots were worth the trouble of keeping. This being precisely my philosophy on the current California independence movement. Why grant them sole discretion? Ask the other 49 states if they want the continued hassle of Californians. Let’s see who gets to separation first.
The leaders of Catalonia might want to keep that idea in mind over the next 30 years or so during their stay in a Spanish prison. Because they plainly haven’t become a sufficient hassle—or blown up enough hotels—to convince Madrid they aren’t worth the trouble of keeping. And that might either require some Jewish explosives experts or several million Chinese.
I mention Chinese because there actually is an example of a wealthy, revenue-generating, enclave who made themselves into such a thorn that their erstwhile countrymen simply said GTFO without a shot being fired. That’s independence done prudently.
The instance to which I’m referring is the brief national cohabitation between Malaysia and Singapore. Certainly a union between the two would seem geographically feasible; though, as I have asserted many times, nations are in reality drawn by their populations, not cartographers. In this case, an unapologetically ethnocentric Malaysian government found itself dealing with a Chinese-majority city-state that was somewhat less committed to the principles of a Malaysia for Malays. It’s almost as if no one anywhere can agree on Our Values. Or maybe that’s because those values depend entirely upon who the speaker’s our is.
So following predictable race riots in 1964, a year later Malaysian Prime Minister Tunku Rahman summarily expelled what he viewed as his country’s Chinese wart. It was as if Lincoln formed an army under Grant to kick Lee and the confederates out of the Union. Upon achieving that salutary task, Rahman calmly went about enforcing his constitutional mandate to secure the fruits of his country for its own people. What kind of white supremacist was this guy?
The constitutional provision in question is Article 153, which is summarized in Fikipedia as follows:
Article 153 of the Constitution of Malaysia grants the Yang di-Pertuan Agong (King of Malaysia) responsibility for “safeguard[ing] the special position of the ‘Malays’(see note) and natives of any of the States of Sabah and Sarawak and the legitimate interests of other communities” and goes on to specify ways to do this, such as establishing quotas for entry into the civil service, public scholarships and public education.
Article 153 is one of the most controversial articles in the Malaysian constitution. Critics consider it to create an unnecessary and racialist distinction between Malaysians of different ethnic backgrounds, because it has led to the implementation of affirmative action policies which benefit only the Bumiputra, who comprise a majority of the population. Technically, discussing the repeal of Article 153 is illegal—even in Parliament, although it was drafted as a temporary provision to the Constitution. Despite this prohibition on discussion, the article is heatedly debated both privately and publicly among Malaysians, against the implementation of the article although ostensibly maintaining support for it. Nevertheless, the article is viewed as a sensitive matter by many, with politicians who are in favour or oppose it often being labelled as racist.
It’s gratifying to see sober Western notions of science still colonizing the globe. Whoever your opponent and whatever his position: raysis.
Though as for Malaysia, I personally find its 153 to be fairly reasonable. It acknowledges the legitimate interests of other communities, which is certainly far more than our governments do for their own founding stocks. Though it also makes a more important point to enshrine the special (and yes, privileged) relationship between state and nation. Ideally a people wouldn’t have to be so gauche as to explain to guests the ownership of the house. But those who do not do so frequently find themselves without one. So the Malays made it official: this place is ours.
Now, of course, Malaysian minorities take great umbrage at being de jure second class citizens. This slight having the effect of making conscientious Malays openly yearn for some small refuge where Chinese and Indians could be free of their oppression. These tiny mythical sanctuaries are sometimes referred to in whispers as “China” and “India.” Though as of yet, neither appears to exert the gravitational force to actually draw away many disgruntled complainers.
I mention Singapore in context of Catalonia for a couple reasons.
First, consider the historical paradigms for majority-minority relationships in relation to secession and independence. For Singapore, the This is for us, you aren’t us, take your city and get out model is a far more reasonable and humane response than something like the modern South African framework of This is for us, you work for us, now shut up or (and) we’ll kill you. It even seems on at least moral equivalence with the Western majority model of This is for you, we work for you, now demean, bomb, stab, shoot, run-over, and replace us while we prosecute right-wing Internet commenters.
Second, unless they can move Catalonia onto a rainy island in the North Atlantic, peaceful requests for independence have an extremely poor track record of success. Normally, you are either going to have to win a war or make the other side want separation more than you do. And since I see neither of those items as present possibilities, train passengers from Madrid to Barcelona will probably remain unburdened from digging for their passports. Separatist leader Puigdemont is going to need a hell of a lot more sedge hats.