ASAA Conference 2016

Image: Cover of the ASAA Conference Program for 2016.

I presented some work in progress at the 2016 conference of the Asian Studies Association of Australia at the ANU, in a panel called Mobility, Place and Displacement in Histories of the Left in Indonesia and Malaysia, chaired by Dr Vannessa Hearman of the University of Sydney.

I talked about the Tenth Regiment of the Malayan People’s Army and their project to create a new kind of Malay Muslim from their marginal location in hiding during and after the Malayan Emergency.

Review in Bijdragen tot de Taal-, Land- en Volkenkunde

Cover of the Dutch journal Bijdragen tot de Taal-, Land- en Volkenkunde.

The Dutch journal Bijdragen tot de taal-, land- en volkenkunde / Journal of the Humanities and Social Sciences of Southeast Asia has published a review by Carool Kersten of an edited volume in which I published a chapter, namely From Anatolia to Aceh. Ottomans, Turks and Southeast Asia, edited by A.C.S. Peacock and Annabel Teh Gallop.

Kersten’s specific comments on my work are:

The chapters by two other young promising historians, Amrita Malhi and Chiara Formichi, on British Malaya and the Netherlands East Indies respectively, bring into the twentieth century the study of Southeast Asian interest in the Ottoman Empire as well as that of the contemporary Turkish Republic. Read together, they record a shift from a fascination with Ottoman Caliphal pretences to the vivid interest exhibited by anti-colonial activists in the achievements of Kemal Atatürk.

KITLV Southeast Asia Update

Today I had the pleasure of speaking at this year’s Southeast Asia Update, organised by the Royal Netherlands Institute of Southeast Asian and Caribbean Studies (KITLV), in the first Round Table session of the day, titled ‘Religious Renewal’. The discussion featured themes such as the continued reality of religious plurality and diversity alongside strong efforts by state and non-state actors to generate new orthodoxies. Picture: KITLV.

Violence, Displacement & Muslim Movements in Southeast Asia

Today I spent the day with colleagues in a fantastic workshop on Violence, Displacement & Muslim Movements in Southeast Asia, hosted by the Royal Netherlands Institute of Southeast Asian and Caribbean Studies and the Leiden University Centre for the Study of Islam and Society. The full program is available from the KITLV website.

Review in Indonesia

The American journal Indonesia has published a review by Robert W. Hefner of an edited volume in which I published a chapter, namely From Anatolia to Aceh. Ottomans, Turks and Southeast Asia, edited by A.C.S. Peacock and Annabel Teh Gallop.

Hefner’s specific comments on my work are:

In chapter ten, Amrita Malhi examines the repeated invocations of the Ottoman Caliphate made by native rulers in the Malay peninsula between 1874 and 1928, as the British made their “forward movement” into the previously independent Malay states. In an original and important reading of these overlooked events, Malhi demonstrates that the practice of invoking the Caliphate was emblematic of a profound reworking of the global order, recognized by Malay Muslims, and expressed in their increasingly desperate appeals to the ideal of the Caliphate even as a global British imperialism was ushering in the Ottoman collapse.

Malaysia’s 3Rs Originate on the Siam-Malaya Frontier

The Muslim World

The Muslim World Special Issue on Muslim Modernities: Interdisciplinary Insights Across Time and Space

Today, I had an article come out in The Muslim World, in a special issue edited by Daren E. Ray and Joshua Gedacht called “Muslim Modernities: Interdisciplinary Insights across Time and Space”.

My article is a history of the politically potent conflation between race, religion and royalty – the well-known 3Rs that have become emblems of Malay Muslim nationalism – in Malaysian public life. These are precisely the 3Rs that groups like the new Malaysian redshirts refer to in their rhetoric. This rhetoric reflects the present and historical influence of a form of statist Islamism that views nations like Malaysia as racial-religious constructions.

In the article, I argue that this conflation (at least partly) originates in negotiations between Britain and Siam as they carved up the Malay Peninsula between them, sealing off Siamese and Malayan geo-bodies on either side of the boundary they first produced in 1902. I show how arguments made by Malay Muslim rulers who wanted to be included on the “Malaya” side of the border were early examples of this conflation. These arguments were so powerful that they contributed to establishing Malaya/Malaysia as a state that remains seemingly permanently-structured by these 3Rs.

My abstract is here:

Since 1957, Malaysian public life has been organized around a historic conflation of three important political themes: “race, religion and royalty”, or “3R”, all of which are purportedly championed and defended by the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO). This article explores how this conflation of themes became so important to this postcolonial nation-state, specifically by investigating its influence in shaping Malaya’s territorial limits. The 3R conflation has deep historical roots which stretch much further back than the moment of decolonization, as shown by a series of approaches to Britain made by Malay Muslim rulers between 1895 and 1902—the period in which a boundary between Malaya and Siam was first negotiated. During these years, these rulers—all of whom ruled over Siamese tributaries—appealed to Britain to colonize their polities to prevent their incorporation into Siam. Their appeals were framed in terms of 3R, giving momentum to the idea of a “Malay Muslim” geo-body in Malaya, in which a transformed monarchy should preside over a modernized sacral sphere of racial and religious identity.

  • If you can access it, the full text of the article is available from Taylor & Francis.

Seminar on the Caliphate in Southeast Asian History

I gave a talk on territorial enclosures and the Caliphate on the Malay Peninsula for the History Seminar Series at Flinders University today. Why? Because they invited me!

My talk focused on the allure the Ottoman Caliphate held for anti-colonial rebels during the British period of forward movement—and the ways in which seemingly-localised uprisings were really aimed at the world system as a whole, as well as at local tactics for privatising land and forests.

The Allure of the Caliphate in Southeast Asia


My chapter appears in this edited volume on interconnections between Ottoman Turkey and Southeast Asia, edited by Andrew Peacock and Annabel Gallop.

Institutions like Singapore’s S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies are beginning to call attention to the likelihood that the Islamic State is consolidating its Southeast Asian networks with terror attacks in mind.

Today, I had a book chapter published which seeks to move beyond the threat-and-response rhythm created by groups like the Islamic State and national governments in our region and around the world. Instead, I’ve worked to show that the allure of the Caliphate in Southeast Asia has a history, indeed one that can be reconstructed from fragments of evidence left behind by the British in Malaya, for example. My chapter analyses when and why Malay Muslims invoked the Ottoman Caliphate in resistance movements against British colonisation on the Malay Peninsula.

The chapter is called ‘We Hope to Raise the “Bendera Stambul”: British Forward Movement and the Ottoman Caliphate on the Malay Peninsula’.

  • As the book is acquired by Australian libraries, holdings should begin to appear in Trove, the online catalogue of the National Library of Australia.

New Frontiers of Land Control

The Routledge edited volume, New Frontiers of Land Control.

The Journal of Peasant Studies special issue, New Frontiers of Land Control, has now been published by Routledge as an edited volume. Like the original journal special issue, this volume contains my piece, ‘Making Spaces, Making Subjects: Land, Enclosure and Islam in Colonial Malaya’.

A preview is available on Google Books.

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