Languages of Security in the Asia-Pacific

College of Asia and the Pacific, Australian National University

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Malaysian – Keamanan

May 27th, 2011 · No Comments · Malaysian, Security


Relates to security, peace

Keamanan is a term that has been used closely with keselamatan to describe ‘security’.  The root word aman, like the word selamat, refers to more than a mere absence of warfare or violence. It suggests an atmosphere of peace and stability that can be experienced by individuals as well as by the community as a whole. In some instances, keamanan and ketenteraman (meaning ‘a state of peace’) are used interchangeably to imply that the atmosphere of tranquility has been achieved through wise policies and clear foresight. The former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohammed is perhaps one of the most prominent personalities in Malaysia to employ keamanan in many speeches. For example, he deployed keamanan in his speech to the UMNO General Assembly on 19 June 1998 to claim that the UMNO-led Malaysian state had achieved peaceful relations between Malaysia’s different races.[1] In another setting, Mahathir used keamanan to explain the need to ward off poverty, inequality, violence and other vices, so as to safeguard the social fabric of the country.[2] Mahathir’s successor, Ahmad Abdullah Badawi and his deputy, Najib Tun Razak, used the term keamanan to lend credence to the state ideology of Islam Hadhari (Civilizational Islam or Progressive Islam). During a seminar on the concept of Islam Hadhari, the word keamanan was repeated by Najib at least four times to highlight the importance of a Malaysian-centric version of Islam. Good governance and adherence to the ideals of Islam Hadhari, according to Najib, would bring about peace and prosperity in Malaysia.[3] We see here how keamanan, like keselamatan, reaches into the personal and religious spheres in a way that the English language word, security, tends not to do.

Keamanan is used in two ways within the circles of the Opposition Islamic party, PAS. The first is to show that it is only with the establishment of a religious polity that peace and order can be achieved in Malaysia and throughout the world. The model of a religious polity, according to the PAS International Bureau, was manifested in seventh-century Arabia during the time of the Caliph Umar.[4] Additionally, the lack of keamanan is used to show the failings of the Malaysian Police Force and other security agencies. Whilst the primary duty of policemen is to maintain public peace, an editorial comment in the Harakah online newspaper averred that this was no longer the case. Murders, robberies, rapes, kidnappings and other petty crimes have all become more prevalent. It is also widely believed that many members of the police force are in cahoots with criminals, and are therefore themselves threatening the public peace and security that they are supposed to uphold.[5]




[1] ‘Cabaran Kegawatan’, The Prime Minister’s Office of Malaysia, 18 June 1998,, accessed on 20 October 2008.

[2] ‘Sempena Tahun Baru 2001’, The Prime Minister’s Office of Malaysia, 31 December 2001,, accessed on 20 October 2008.

[3] ‘Majlis Perasmian Seminar Percambahan Fikiran Islam Hadhari’, The Prime Minister’s Office of Malaysia,, 6 August 2004, accessed on 2 November 2008.

[4] ‘Khutbah Jumaat memperingati 60 tahun Nakbah di Palestin’, Harakah, 15 May 2008,, accessed on 15 October 2008.

[5] ‘Jenayah di Malaysia sudah macam filem Bollywood’, Harakah, 14 November 2006,, accessed on 6 October 2008.


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