Associate Professor Farish A. Noor
(Associate Professor at Rajaratnam School of International Studies)
Prof. Farish A. Noor started the discussion by delivering question “Where is ASEAN?” to the audience of the seminar. The general answer would be “there” which is epistemology wrong answer. The question “Where is ASEAN” refers to the meaning of ASEAN in the mind of so-called ASEAN people. Prof. Farish is a southeast asianist, he had have been into many part of Southeast Asia country and met many people, which some of them are part of 600 million of ASEAN people. He is 100% sure that none of these people whom he met and supposedly part of ASEAN know about ASEAN or even think that ASEAN is relevant to their life. This is the first challenge of ASEAN: How to make ASEAN meaningful for the people living in its region? How to make an identity part of ASEAN meaningful? Nowadays, the problem that is facing these people, us also, are the challenge to face economic political integration in one hand and globalization in another hand, impacting on our economies. This will impact each of our future of what we are going to be. Prof. Farish emphasizes on how the next generation of ASEAN will have to face the fact that success means a Singaporean born in Singapore, educated in Malaysia, marrying an Indonesia, having a career in Korea and Vietnam, and then maybe retiring and dying in Cambodia. This future itself, as Prof. Farish described, is not a floating idea like metaphysics. It is actually happening at least in his family in which relatives are coming from different ASEAN member countries which makes ASEAN is not an abstract idea. It is a reality for us. Historically, everything about Southeast Asia, by virtue of our geography and demography, by virtue that we are caught between the East and West, Southeast Asia has always been a zone of overlapped mixing hybridity. So, once again Prof. Farish raises the question “Conceptually, historically where is ASEAN?” ASEAN enters the language in vocabulary of Southeast Asia since 1966 or 1967 onwards. From the beginning, ASEAN was set for the stability and neutrality of the region towards cold war. During this time, ASEAN was merely talked as a vocabulary of political and elites group that is why ASEAN does not growing down to the ground level. Embarking from this point, Prof. Farish argue that the trust deficit occurs on the level of state-to-state relations. States in the post colonialism era necessarily acted to protect their territorial and economic sovereignty. People, on the other hands, do not have a trust deficit. In terms of people to people contact, what we need to do now, particularly academics who works with policy makers and architect of future ASEAN is to bring an aspect of genuine intra-Southeast Asia exchange that is happening all the time to the discussion of ASEAN. Take for the example on how many cross-border or cross-nation marriages between ASEAN member countries actually take place which he believes there are no statistics available to represent the general idea. Prof. Farish continues that the unavailability of the statistic is merely because on the perspective of nation-states, such aspect simply does not necessary. The technocrat does not see values on this, but sociologist does. That is why, meetings like this are important. It allows conversation between economist, sociologist, and technocrats to exchange their views on ASEAN Community.
Professor Farish then moves the discussion on how to lay down the normative foundation of common region homeliness in the context of Southeast Asia, ASEAN, that people would feel the common sentiment of belonging to ASEAN, part of ASEAN, citizen of ASEAN. This is where the crucial roles from academics, historians, and sociologist, especially anthropologist come in. If we expect the states to these roles, there are two fundamentals limitation of a state: by definition, a state should think of our (citizen) interest (i.e. national borders, economic borders, societal borders), a state could only lay down the architecture of communication and contacts, the process of integration by opening up the borders where comfort zone has been established, trust has been taking place and encourage people to interact at all level. However, no matter how powerful state is, it can’t force each of us to love ASEAN. States, in his explanation, can only provide the architecture; what need to be injected into the whole ASEAN debate is the vocabulary and epistemology, and the ground level knowledge of an actual organic dynamic that takes place in terms of people to people contact. This is exactly why Southeast Asian Studies matters. It is also important to set up ASEAN Studies Center to live up and bridge up this people to people contact. There is a need to formulate an operationable steps that allows people at the most ground level notice ASEAN and feels as ASEAN citizen, whom unfortunately often ignored by technocrats who is design the architecture. Southeast Asia is not something new and ASEAN is just another lieu of identity formed to represent the region. We should try to reconnect to the history of Southeast Asian that already exist out-there to create the homeliness of ASEAN on each level which come from complexity not homogenous. In the end of his speech, Prof. Farish reminds us that it is important to create an equal economic community, at the same time avoiding middle-income trap. If such kind inequality to be appears, then hyper nationalism sentiment would be contradictive to ASEAN spirit to create a regional sharing and caring community.