Is Singapore’s multiracial, mulitcultural policy successful?

“It is nice to say we have a melting pot of cultures, but it does not lead to a cohesive society. That is a nice place to visit, but not a nice place to live in. A nice place to live in is where the society is cohesive.” – Gerald Ee

You know when we see racial harmony? It is a picture like the one below that I do not see in Singapore these days. French players celebrating after the team’s second goal during the round of 16 football match between France and Nigeria at the Mane Garrincha National Stadium in Brasilia during the 2014 FIFA World Cup on June 30, 2014. — PHOTO: AFP

 While Singapore is a multi-racial society, we are still quite far from an ideal Singapore Citizen regardless of race, language and religion (as in the Singapore pledge). On surface, it appears harmonious, the truth it is more avoidance to touch on sensitive subjects rather than true harmony exists a among the races. A reason is the strict law imposed, any one can report to police even for a slightest racist joke and the guy better apologise publicly to avoid spending time in jail. It happens so many times before and still is from time to time. The latest being a SIM Student Justin Wee who created a furor by ranting about racist jokes about Malays and Indians. A blog by Jintai commenting on Sivaraj Pragasm’s open letter summed up well the various stereo types that each race has about each other. Suppression a ticking time bomb is not the solution. A mature society should be able to take jokes and laugh at ourselves. It should be separated from those hate speeches and articles that are truly targetted to stir up emotions with ill intentions. Then we truly have arrived.


Roadblocks to a multicultural Singapore

Source: The Straits Times  12Nov2011

I AGREE with the observation by the National University of Singapore’s Malay Studies department head Syed Farid Alatas (‘Singapore is not yet truly multicultural’; Wednesday).

I was born in London and am of North Indian descent. I moved to Singapore 16 years ago and have since made it home after marrying my Singaporean wife, and taking up citizenship.

Sadly, my experiences with the Chinese, Malay and local Tamil Indians have been far from welcoming, and I feel I have not been truly accepted as a fellow citizen.

The majority of our neighbours are Chinese who have never bothered to mix or get to know our culture, let alone greet us in the common lift.

They have no clue as to our North Indian customs or eating habits and stare at us as if we are aliens.

Our greetings are often returned with stares.

I have been fortunate to have lived in Canada, Britain and India, where hundreds of diverse languages are spoken and everybody gives and respects each other’s space – not just tolerate one another.

Singapore is far from a multicultural society. ‘Throwing in’ people from different races does not create a multicultural society.

A society evolves over thousands of years and not by setting a quota for a certain race, whether it is in an HDB estate or elsewhere.

How many Indian expatriates, or for that matter expats from elsewhere, bother to mingle with Singaporeans?

By forming their own enclaves, there is no integration but an ever-growing gap instead.

A truly multicultural society does not have ‘guidelines’ to decide who lives where, and therein lies the problem of true integration.

Virdi Bhupinder

Xenophobia, or is it more?

by Vinita Ramani

Todayonline   Jun 06, 2012

I am not a xenophobe. Let’s get that out of the way. In recent months, the word “xenophobia” has been used to describe Singaporeans on the issue of immigration.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines xenophobia as “an intense, or irrational dislike or fear of people from other countries”. adds that this extends to “an unreasonable fear or hatred of strangers, or of that which is foreign or strange”.

I used to live in Bahrain, where Indian immigrants like me lived in our communities and interacted with Arab neighbours and colleagues only when necessary. I was eight when we moved to London.

There, I regularly got shoved off the pavement after school by 16-year-old female bullies who told me, “Smelly Paki, go home!”

As an innocent child, I told my mum, “They think I’m Pakistani. But I’m Indian. They’re stupid. They can’t tell the difference.”

It did not end there. In Singapore, neighbourhood secondary school students insulted and ostracised me because I spoke with a different accent and because they thought I acted superior to them.

Years later in Canada, I met racists who told me the Chinese and Indians should be kicked out of Canada because they were taking over the world. I mastered the Canadian accent and tried to pass for something other than Indian, to stay safe when I travelled.

Everywhere I went as an immigrant, I understood that I was different: An outsider who had not yet won the trust of the locals. I understood that “difference” is often perceived as a threat.

But I have come to appreciate another important detail: One or even 10 racist encounters do not represent a nation as a whole. I have loved living in each of these countries. I am fairly certain Canadians and Britons would not want to be described as xenophobes.

There are 3 other issues

Let’s first dilute the explosive nature of this debate on immigration and integration in Singapore by establishing that not all Singaporeans are xenophobic, small-minded people. I do not think the vast majority are. So what is this debate about?

Housing, transport, National Service and employment, commentators have said. But there are also a few other issues.

First, it is also about class differences. People are aggrieved by how the rich perceive and treat poorer people.

In the article “It’s time for China’s newly rich to reflect” (China Daily/Asia News Network, May 30), Mr Gao Zhuyuan made a case for the nouveau riche mainland Chinese to behave with more humility and grace because money cannot buy everything.

But there are both poor and rich Singaporeans and foreigners residing here. We know of many cases of Singaporeans treating migrant and domestic workers as chattel. We also now see instances of wealthy foreigners treating Singaporeans like second-class citizens.

Second, it is about access to information and the space available for reasonable debate.

In the countries I lived in, despite the problems associated with ethnic enclaves, racism and hate crimes, or maybe because of that, avenues existed for foreigners and citizens alike to discuss these issues.

There were town hall meetings, public forums and civil society groups who dealt with racism and culture shock and even academic curriculum that focused on this.

While I applaud the creation of the National Integration Council and the many studies published to better understand the need for immigration and integration, I feel that non-partisan and independent grassroots-initiated forums are missing from the big picture.

We need this. If we were cautious of this before, we cannot afford to wait any more. Otherwise, the racist, anonymous vitriol written online would only worsen.

Third, is it time for Singaporeans, both new and old, to rethink the effectiveness of our efforts towards multiculturalism, given our current circumstances?

I have met Chinese-Singaporeans who never had Indian-Singaporean friends before me. The last time most of my educated Indian- and Chinese-Singaporean friends had a Malay friend was in primary school. Where is our vision of multicultural harmony and integration?

Integration of new waves of immigrants presumes that we are already free of prejudice and that multiculturalism works. But like everything, it must be reviewed and rewritten as circumstances change.

Harmony among different people is possible only if we have the space to first look at ourselves and understand our prejudices, anxieties and needs. Otherwise, we will forever remain fearful of what is “foreign or strange”.



Why sweep sensitive issues under the carpet?
From Makoto Hong Cheng

I refer to the letters from Mr Devathas Satianathan (“No hiding from offensive content”, Oct 18) and Mr Jonathan Muk (“Offensive content adds no value to public discourse”, Oct 21). I raise three objections to Mr Muk’s approach.

First, robust censorship of sensitive content might foster the appearance of racial and religious harmony, but may go no further and restrict harmony to mere appearances. National growth and the ability to deal with racial and religious issues cannot be cultivated by sweeping sensitive, sometimes difficult issues under the proverbial carpet.

Second, to argue that respect and discernment for sensitivities in a mature society entails state censorship of racially or religiously offensive materials, albeit in a “discerning” manner, is to suggest that the state should be the key driver behind a mature society.

However, the hallmark of a mature society is the exact opposite: Different racial and religious groups negotiating their own modus vivendi, with the state gradually relinquishing its interventionist role and assuming a supervisory one.

Third, to disallow racially or religiously offensive material on the assumption that they add no value to public discourse is to assume that conflict has no value in building consensus.

The reality is that the state can always guillotine “anything remotely harmful” if the decision is justified on the basis that offensive materials have no value.

While convenient, hiding behind a semantic shield precludes closer scrutiny of the weaknesses in our existing state of racial and religious harmony.

Granted, the very nature of the issues in question necessitate that censorship must be relaxed incrementally. As a starting point, however, the argument that a mature society may be founded upon censorship is non sequitur.

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