The Muting of Students in Semidemocratic Southeast Asia
Author: Meredith L. Weiss
Postcolonial, developmental states recognize the need for higher education to generate both ideas and skilled human resources. Many seek too, though, a level of state control incompatible with ideals of academic freedom. This dilemma is all the more keen for semidemocratic states such as Malaysia and Singapore, which can neither curb protest as coercively as their more authoritarian neighbors do nor accept free-wheeling criticism as more politically liberal ones do. Presumed morally "pure" and entitled to speak, students across Southeast Asia are heir to a tradition of political engagement, based largely on their identity as students. Despite crackdowns, students have been central to political change across the region. They remain so in much of Asia — but not, for instance, in Malaysia. The muting of student protest there may be traced in large part to a post-1969 process of intellectual containment, or normative delegitimation and historical erasure of student activism, with far-reaching implications.