Being xenophobic or racial – what exactly does that mean? I think the use of such words is a very lazy and unjustified way to dismiss Singaporeans’ legitimate concern that they are being treated as second-class citizens in their own country.
Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Grace Fuspoke about social faultlines and increased tensions between foreigners and locals at a dialogue on race on Saturday (May 30) morning, according to The Straits Times. She cited certain locals’ “visceral reaction” to recent reports of foreigners gathering at Robertson Quay, drinking and flouting social distancing rules.
“When that video came out friends told me that yes, (there were also) expatriates in Singapore Botanic Gardens (gathering) and so on. It is not just restricted to one place, but somehow when we see a group of people that look different from us, there is a visceral reaction,” said Ms Fu, noting that before police investigations had been completed, there were already calls for foreigners to be deported.
This visceral reaction was apparently spurred by (unsaid but alleged: parenthesis supplied by writer) anti-Westerner sentiments.
She then gave another example, this time the self-proclaimed “sovereign” woman. Locals’ instinctive reaction, she said, was to label her as a foreigner even though she was Singaporean. The lady, who is being charged for refusing to wear a mask during the Circuit Breaker period to deal with the Covid-19 pandemic, was a physiotherapist who was in Australia for 20 yearsbefore returning to Singapore. The implication here was that she was targeted because she looked like an expatriate and, for the measure, perhaps, she was Indian.
At least one social media commentator has also suggested that somehow, somewhere in many Singaporeans’ unhappiness about migrant workers in the dormitories in the Covid-19 crisis and the government’s lapse of focus and over-reaction in trying to correct its error was possibly a backlash against CECA. The India-Singapore Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement has been blamed for the over-presence of people from India. Didn’t really matter whether they were the Bangladeshi workers nor even the Indian workers (not the professionals) who are not here because of CECA.
There is some element of truth in the anti-CECA (equate anti-subcontinentals) suggestion. Quite a number of netizens have started to question the need to overdo the help-migrant workers bit. Even a close friend of mine, normally a sensible person, has taken an anti-Indian/Bangladeshi tone in his comments. I had automatically assumed that he would be colour-blind. I have had so many Indian Singaporean friends all my school and working life that I could not imagine anyone growing up in a mono-racial bubble. He admitted he has never had any friend who is not Chinese. Amazing.
For that matter, there are, still, many Chinese Singaporeans who have never really mixed around with other than Chinese Singaporeans nor bothered to do so, being comfortable enough as part of a majority community. These are the older generation who have never had any education, let alone an English education. Communication has been a barrier.
I, therefore, agree with Grace Fu and others that we have to stop having this “visceral” reaction towards people who are different from you. It is absurd. This island has been multi-racial since before Raffles’ time.
But Fu may be missing, or chooses to miss, the point altogether. Who should be truly blamed for this state of affairs?
The foundation for inter-racial tolerance – and continuing harmony – was already there in the years leading up to independence. Who started making the other races nervous with an over-zealous almost unchecked sinicisation of Singapore, killing a number of familiar local street and district names? Only a strong community lashback forced a restoration of the original organic Tekka to the inexcusably alien “Zhujiao” Centre.
Also, unhappiness with CECA as well as the presence of foreigners has little to do with xenophobia and so-called short-sighted nativist emotions.
It springs from the government’s long-time inability or refusal to commit itself to a simple and unequivocal declaration that Singaporeans’ interests are paramount and non-negotiable. That they, especially those who have done NS, must never be put at any disadvantage – whether it is about jobs, education (including their children’s education all the way to university) and right to be treated equal.
If they say they do not like double standards in the way they are treated, listen carefully and do not summarily dismiss their reaction as racial or xenophobic.Singaporeans deserve to be heard and not sidelined or lectured at – by anyone, particularly those whom theyhave put into power.
High-speed railway project not moving at all
Increasingly, the Singapore-KL high-speed railway is looking like a non-starter.
Singapore and the Malaysia had agreed to suspend the construction of the bilateral project until today (May 31)to find the best way forward. That has been postponed and Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan says, with a brave face, that “Malaysia had asked to extend the suspension period to allow both sides to discuss the changes they have in mind. We are giving their request serious consideration.” Indeed.
The truth of the matter is that this loudly touted extravaganza – the cost of which has reportedly risen from RM43 billion (S$14 billion) during its announcement over the years to RM110 billion at the time it was suspended – may be stuck indefinitely.
Malaysia is going through the throes of political upheaval. It may be difficult for any government-to-government agreement to be firmed up or followed through until things are stabilised. No one knows whether the current shaky Perikatan Nasionaladministration is going to survive not just all the way to the next general election in two years but whether it will last till the next Dewan Rakyat seating in July 13.
Don’t book your post-Covid 19 train ticket just yet.
Tan Bah Bah, consulting editor of TheIndependent.Sg, is a former senior leader writer with The Straits Times. He was also managing editor of a local magazine publishing company.