How are the ethnicity and religion important factors for explaining political tensions in Southeast Asia?

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Southeast Asia is made up of eleven countries divided into island and mainland zones. From the eastern part of India, these nations have occupied China. Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, and Burma are among the countries that make up the mainland (Keyes & Charles pg 41). The origins of this zone can be traced back to the Asian continent. Muslims are found in large numbers in Western Burma and Southern Thailand and throughout the rest of the mainland. The majority of the land has been dominated by Muslims, including the Cham people of Cambodia and central Vietnam. Muslim is, therefore, the dominant religion in Southeast Asia as compared to Islam which is mainly found in Brunei and Malaysia. This interdenominational disparity is important in defining the political tensions in any nation or region.

Lifestyle, Livelihood, and Subsistence: Diverse ethnic groups and the languages are one of the factors that explain the political tensions. Southeast Asia has got a variety of cultures in which about a thousand languages are spoken out of six thousand languages that exist in the world. In the previous around two thousand years, Southeast Asia has been affected by the cultural changes. Political structures were influenced by various physical environments. It was then hard for the people to come up with the system of permanent governance because they are either semi-nomadic or nomadic. This disabled the existence of tax base which could be reliable with stable bureaucracies. At such political structure, only those areas where people were settled are beneficiaries. Examples are the areas like Java and mainland where rice is mainly grown ((Keyes & Charles pg 59). Nevertheless, it has been difficult for the great authorities to exercise their powers on remote islands and the highlands.

The interreligious tension in Southeast Asia: Ethnicity and religion are significant in explaining to us how the political tensions and differences come about in any place. For example, there is a growing tension that has caused a challenge in security and peace in the whole region. The Rule of Law enforcement is not adequate especially in countries such as Thailand, Sri Lanka where there is a conflict between the Muslim minorities and the Buddhist majorities (Stein et al., pg 48). Hence, because of the religious differences, political tension is the result of the majority religion being a dominant player in the politics. For instance, there was a peaceful demonstration by Buddhist against military rule in 2007 at the Myanmar streets.

Both of these factors depict to us how violence comes about for example when there is a regional stability threat. Interreligious differences have helped us to understand why there is a conflict between some communities and why minority religion is stigmatized. This has been demonstrated by the widened cap between the Muslim and the Buddhist. Muslims have incidences of violent attacks by the Buddhist (Stein et al., pg 60). However, there have been attacks on the embassy in Myanmar’s Jakarta in 2013 July. It is believed that it is Muslim groups who launched such attacks. Religion and the ethnicity here are the important factors because, without it, there could be no such prevailing political tension in Southeast Asia.

Political pressure as a result of religious values or differences and ethnicity are helpful in straightening and strengthening security and the Law of Rule. This is because, due to the increased incidences of Violence between the Muslim and the Buddhist, their leaders have become concerned. They have opted to come together and discuss on what could be the solution to the conflict between the two communities. The negotiation has also been supported by various organizations; including NGO’s that aim at building peace in the region as well as interreligious dialogue from different faiths and other agencies which are for the conflict resolution and prevention.

Religious factors are shown to be one of the limitations for most of the people to engage themselves in politics even during the time of conflict management. Most of the monks are not interested at all in participating in politics while some are willing to enter politics in Southeast Asia. This, therefore, means that in the minority-majority relations discussion, there is the only small group representing the vast population in the political grounds (Stein et al., pg 72). This still creates tension in politics because even after the discussion, the larger communities of the monks who are not willing to participate in the political debate over the conflict resolution are likely to keep on with the violence.

Present Tensions: There is a good relationship between religious minorities and Buddhist in Thailand. However, in 2004, new violence was initiated by the Malay insurgents. The violence was against the civilians of Buddhist as well as on the state symbols, monks, and the teachers. The conflict has led to the killing of many people and as a result, has widened the intercommunal distrust. Some of the Monks are the one who is blamed because they are seen as the ones perpetuating anti-Muslim (Stein et al., pg 83). It has been then perceived that Buddhist population is what the government wants, because of the protection offered to them by the military during the monk’s escort and in their temples. Use of religion here is of great importance to show as for why the country or region faces violence.


Ethnicity and religion are important factors that define the political status, social lives and economic backgrounds of most of the people in a given country. Southeast Asia, as explained above, is faced with many challenges originating from religious divide and the ethnic groups. Interdenominational violence has hindered peace. Most of the religious people are not ready to join the political negotiations for the purpose of establishing conflict resolution strategies. Therefore through ethnicity and religious, we can evaluate what causes the political tension in Southeast Asia.

Work Cited

Keyes, Charles F. The golden peninsula: Culture and adaptation in mainland Southeast Asia. University of Hawaii Press, 1977.

Stein, Sabina, and Christian Nünlist. “Interreligious tension in South and South-East Asia.” Center for Security Study (CSS), Zurich, Switzerland (2014).

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