Multiculturalism, cosmopolitanism, and making heritage in Malaysia: a view from the historic cities of the Straits of Malacca
Based on the 'universal' values of economic development, democratic governance and cultural diversity promoted by UNESCO, the official policy of the Federation of Malaysia, known as Wawasan 2020 (Vision 2020), promotes modernization with an emphasis on democracy, tolerance, culture and economic development, and asserts the multicultural character of Malaysian society while upholding the peaceful coexistence of its three largest communities (Malays, Chinese and Indians). The joint inscription of the two historic Straits cities of Melaka and George Town on UNESCO's World Heritage List in 2008 was a reaffirmation of that policy. Our study illustrates the construction of this social model through the heritage process which was based on the tangible as well as the intangible heritage of the different ethnic groups that make up the Malaysian nation. Dubbed the 'Rainbow Nation' by the British during the colonial era, postcolonial Malaysia has reappropriated the label to construct its present and future identity. We focus on the agency of civil society activists, government officials and international experts in the process that mobilised, in turn, the values of nationalism and internationalism, communitarianism and multiculturalism, and universalism and cosmopolitanism.