Wednesday, April 23, 2014

SDP: Tensions behind the façade of ethnic harmony

Below is the text of Dr Wong Wee Nam’s speech delivered at the forum entitled Responding to Marginalization: Assimilation vs. Integrationduring the Council of Asian Liberals and Democrats’ General Assembly held in Siem Reap, Cambodia in April 2014. Source
Singapore is a small country. To the world, the country does not seem to have many problems. It is rich, it is efficient, it is stable, it is safe and there is law and order. For these reasons, businesses like Singapore and corporations like to make their headquarters there.
Singaporeans also appear to be colour-blind as far as ethnic relations are concerned and that is why many foreign workers are very eager to work in Singapore. They find Singaporeans tolerant and non-discriminating. In a tiny island like Singapore, there are many enclaves nicknamed after many Asian countries: Little India in Serangoon Road, Little Philippines in Lucky Plaza, Little Myanmar in Peninsula Plaza, Little Vietnam in Joo Chiat and Little Thailand in Golden Mile Complex. These are places where the various foreigners can feel comfortable in. The signboards written in the respective ethnic scripts, the sound of their countries’ music blaring out from the hi-fi players and the smell of spices and indigenous food make these foreign workers feel very much at home.
Is Singapore really a paradise of ethnic harmony? Are there no ethnic tensions beneath this façade of ethnic harmony?
In any society, people differ in their nature, attitudes, ideal, interest, aspirations, community values and religious beliefs. Singapore is no different. We are not a homogeneous society. There are three major races. The Chinese, the largest ethnic group, form 74.2 percent of the population, the Malays 13.2 percent and the Indians 9.2 percent. Each race has its own unique culture, language and also generally shares a common religion. Without understanding and tolerance, these cultural, linguistic and religious differences between the groups can sometimes cause tension and lead to conflict.
Even each of the races is not homogeneous. The Chinese have their dialect groups. In the early days of Singapore they had their ethnic differences, quarrels and discrimination. However, with Mandarin promoted as a common language and inter-marriages, Chinese in Singapore now see themselves more as Chinese Singaporeans and less as Hokkiens, Teochews, Cantonese, Hainanese or Hakkas. However, with the recent influx of migrants from the Republic of China, there is now some tension between some local Singaporean Chinese and the newly-imported Chinese. Even though they can communicate in Mandarin, the differences in attitude, behaviour, culture, slangs and habits do make them distinct.
The Malays are also made up of various groups from the Malay Archipelagos. They are, however, unified by their adoption of the Islam religion and a Malay language.
Prior to 1964, the Chinese and the Malays have no problem co-existing peacefully with one another, each going about their own life and doing their own business. There was no record of ethnic tension between the two races for centuries until 1964. The race riots of 21 July 1964 show that racial harmony could not be taken for granted. If one race is made to perceive as inferior to the other or vice-versa, it lays the foundation for racial conflict. It only takes political groups to champion one side against the other to bring the tension to the surface. A political conflict easily becomes a racial conflict. This was what happened to Singapore in the July 1964.
Once a wound has been inflicted it can easily be reopened. Five years after the first racial riot and four years after Singapore became independent, the second racial riot in Singapore happened. The riot had nothing to do with the people in Singapore. It was actually a racial riot that had started in Malaysia on 13 May 1969 after their general election. But for some reason, it spilled over into Singapore. We, therefore, see that racial emotions is so deep-seated that a riot in a neighbouring country could open up old wounds. Racial harmony is such a fragile thing.
The Indians in Singapore are also not a homogeneous group. They are made up of Hindus, Tamils, Silks, Sri Lankans and others. They have no problem coexisting harmoniously with each other. When Mrs Indira Gandhi, the Prime Minister of India was assassinated on 31 October 1984, it had nothing to do with Singapore. Yet tension arose between the Hindu and the Sikh communities in Singapore. Trouble was averted only with the timely intervention of the Singapore police. India is not even a neighbouring country.
Recently with the influx of the wealthy Northern Indians into Singapore, there is now a potential ethnic tension based on class, caste and language between the Indians from north and the native Singaporean whose forefathers had come mainly from the south.
We can, therefore, see that racial harmony is an elusive creature and ethnic tension bound to exists as long as groups of people see themselves as different from others.
In July 2013 the Institute of Policy Studies, a government think-tank, and conducted a study on racial and religious harmony. It was found that while relations between different races appear to be good on the surface, signs of tensions do exist that suggest relationship between the races are not that close.
Though there is no discrimination of minority in using public services or workplace or interracial and religious tension, there are stereotyping as about 80 percent said that if they know a person’s race, they would have a “good idea” of what some of their behaviours and views would be like.
Only 23.3 percent of Chinese respondents said they have close Malay friends.
About 16 percent said they would not try to get to know people of other races and religions even if they were given the opportunity.
There is a lack of true trustworthy relationships. About 63 percent of the respondents from the minority races believed that they could trust more than half of Singaporean Chinese to help them in a national crisis.
The Singapore Democratic Party understands the differences between the various races would remain with us. It believes these differences should not be allowed to create fears, anxiety, discrimination and resentment in any racial group. The most important thing is not to allow any group to lag behind in economic progress. Thus on September 2013, the SDP studied published a policy paper entitled A Singapore for All Singaporeans: Addressing the Concerns of the Malay Community.
Though it addresses only the Malay community, the largest of the minority races, it is an alternative blueprint to build a truly multi-racial, multi-cultural society.
The median household income of the Malay is the lowest amongst the three major races. This is due to many factors such as education, job opportunities and social prejudices.
The SDP believes that by tackling the underlying causes that put the Malay community in Singapore at a disadvantage, we could achieve the noble cause of building an inclusive and cohesive society.
Ethnic tensions will inevitably be present when people with emotional attachment to race, religion and language live together. After a long period of co-existence, different groups learn to live and let live. However the demography of Singapore is changing rapidly with the sudden, great influx of many foreigners. With the sudden flooding of the country with foreigners, there is little time for understanding. The danger is that the newcomers, coming in huge numbers, will ignore the fact that our minority community is an integral part of the Singaporean society. They may not have the awareness that Singapore is a multi-racial and multi-cultural society.
This would create new tensions. Take for example the new migrants from China. It would take time for them to understand the culture of the other minority groups. Many work in the service sector and cannot communicate with the Malays and the Indians. As a result this creates frustration and the minorities feel marginalised.
There was an incident where a new citizen even complained against a neighbour for cooking curry.
Furthermore many citizens do feel their jobs have been taken away and their wages suppressed by the migrant workers. If our minorities start to feel that security, belonging, participation, and economic well-being is being threatened and that they have been discriminated against, the resentment formed could heightened the level of ethnic tensions.

In the past, when migrants come to Singapore, the ties are cut. Nowadays with modern communication and easy travel across the borders, it is harder for the new migrants to integrate or assimilate.
In a big country, ethnic violence can be localised in a small area without affecting the whole country. Singapore is so small that a major ethnic strife would embroil and paralyse the whole country. Not only will there be economic disaster, it will also affect the security of the country as other countries may be drawn into the conflict. We must not forget that new migrants still have relatives in the homeland where they come from.
Peace and stability have painted a rosy picture of ethnic harmony in Singapore, but we can see that there is a lot to be vigilant about and much needs to be done.

Dr Wong Wee Nam

* Dr Wong Wee Nam is a general practitioner and a member of SDP’s Healthcare Advisory Panel.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Singapore International Festival of Arts bosses in public spat


SINGAPORE — A public spat has erupted between the two main figures behind the Singapore International Festival of Arts, with its Artistic Director, Mr Ong Keng Sen, accusing Chief Executive Officer, Ms Lee Chor Lin, of “hijacking” the festival, which is slated to run in August.

The conflict was aired in an email sent on today (March 18) by Mr Ong to Ms Lee, as well as to the Ministry Of Community, Culture And Youth, the National Arts Council and members of the press.

In the email, Mr Ong accused Ms Lee of not responding to his emails regarding the content and design of the festival brochures and described her as being “unprofessional and unethical”.

“I don’t think you should be treating the festival director in this way. I am not just your content provider. I have been providing materials but nothing has come back to me for review,” he said in the email.

Mr Ong is referring to the vetting of text and designs regarding the brochures and programmes of the Festival as well as the pre-Festival event OPEN, which takes place in June. He has been unable to do this, he said.

According to him, there has been a communication blackout since March 11. “I’ve sent 20 emails asking for information and there’s nothing coming back. It’s a hijacking of material and for seven days, they have been refusing to give me anything,” said Mr Ong in a phone interview.

“I have been appointed by the (National) Arts Council to deliver a vision of the Festival and this vision is being frustrated,” said Mr Ong.

“The bottomline is that the CEO has not encountered any of the artists at all — any of the films and productions I’ve watched. So how can she (come up with the brochures containing) these productions (without consulting me)? The CEO runs the business side and not to ‘project’ (a festival’s) content,” he added.

When contacted, Ms Lee denies that it was a case of “hijacking”. “There is an understanding way back in June (about the) division of labour. I’m in charge of the PR, marketing and collateral, and he agreed to it. It’s a process that is not creative anymore. We’re down to page number, figuring out the ticket prices, making sure what goes into the brochure will make sense to readers.

“Artists have a view of things, but this particular product goes to the audience, and this has to be taken into consideration. The whole design and graphic process is one that he is not familiar with.”

As to claims of not responding to Mr Ong’s emails, “We have responded. It’s just at some point there is a cut off line. It’s really a simple thing.”

She added: “Despite these very obvious creative combustions, I think we’re on our way to having a very good festival and producing a brochure will be a very important milestone because that’s when the information will be disseminated. I’ll just let this blow over then we pick up and go forward. It’s a very interesting relationship we have.”

Noting that it is "not uncommon for differences of opinions to emerge" in the lead up to any major event, National Arts Council Chief Executive Kathy Lai said: "Despite these differences, we acknowledge that both Keng Sen and Chor Lin have unique strengths and experiences that they bring to this partnership.

"We have spoken to both of them and we have their commitment that they will move beyond this episode and focus on their vision of a world-class festival."

Monday, January 20, 2014

Rest in peace, uncle Isa.

SDP mourns the passing away of Mohd Isa

One of SDP's stalwarts, Mr Mohd Isa bin Abdul Aziz has passed away. Isa, a member of the party's Central Executive Committee (CEC), died last night of renal failure after suffering a stroke in November 2013. He was 56.

Isa, as he is known to members, joined the SDP in the late 1980s and has always played a leadership role in the party. He stood as an SDP candidate in past elections, the latest in Sembawang GRC in the 2011 GE.

Isa was a staunch believer in the party's cause, steadfastly championing the rights of his fellow Singaporeans. He never wavered in his fight for a democratic Singapore and worked tirelessly towards this ideal.

Even when he was struck with illness, Isa still came for walkabouts and house visits with the party. He would take a break at the void-decks when he was tired after climbing the floors and knocking on doors, but would resume his task when he recovered. He never complained or asked for anything in return.  

He was detained without trial under the Internal Security Act in the 1980s which only made him even more determined to seek justice and democracy for Singapore. He liked to joke that his name, Isa which bore the initials of the notorious secret police, struck terror into the hearts of Singaporeans.

Isa had encountered Dr Chee Soon Juan when they were boys in the 1960s, playing football at the MacPherson housing estate at Circuit Road (and ended up quarreling). They did not meet again until 1992 when Dr Chee joined the SDP.

Through the years, the two had become close colleagues. Isa said on several occasions that his biggest wish was to see Dr Chee get into Parliament. "Once you are in Parliament I can retire," he told Dr Chee.

Isa's latest contribution to our nation was the SDP's Malay policy paper A Singapore for All Singaporeans: Addressing the Concerns of the Malay Community where he provided direction and inspiration.

He leaves behind his wife, Madam Norjan, daughters, Naajia and Daanaa, and son, Altaf. His daughters recalled how he would talk to them about politics in Singapore when they were young and impressed upon them the need to stand up for what is right.          

Isa was a democrat and a Democrat. The SDP has lost a true leader, Singapore has lost a loyal citizen.

The SDP sends our deepest condolences to Isa's family. He will be missed by all of us but his memory will spur us on. Rest well, good friend.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Missing You (2014)

Missing You
Photocopy (Edition of 200)
Seelan Palay

Dr Chia Thye Poh (born 1941) is a Singaporean former political prisoner who was detained in 1966 under the Internal Security Act of Singapore for allegedly having led a call for the revival of armed struggle – an accusation he denied till today. Prior to his arrest, he was a physics lecturer and member of the Parliament of Singapore.

He was imprisoned without trial for 32 years – five years more than the late Nelson Mandela. However, there is little knowledge of Dr Chia and his actual ideas among the generations of Singaporeans after him.

Upon his release in 1992 and having his rights to speak to the press finally restored, he said, "The best years of my life were taken away just like that without a charge or trial". Tears swelled in his eyes as he contemplated his lost chance of marrying and raising a family. He then spent most of his time abroad, and the details of his past and present were mostly available in fragments found on the Internet.

Adapting the most recent online photograph of Dr Chia, I printed and photocopied a poster similar to a "missing persons" notice. You are welcome to take a copy and put it up anywhere.

Let viewers ask themselves, "Who is this man?", "Why is he missing?", "Is this a notice... or a statement?".

Monday, November 25, 2013

Ethnicity is Poison

Source: The Real Singapore


What does it mean by "pledge ourselves as one united people, regardless of race, language or religion, to build a democratic society, based on justice and equality"?

When I was in BMT, my company had really outstanding malay muslim soldiers who were all-rounder and great leaders. They did well in their IPPT, SIT test and received great feedback from the peer appraisal. The best recruit being a Chinese could have been easily explained, but it was hard for me to understand why (for my platoon) only the Chinese and Indians made it to OCS and the Malays were all posted to SISPEC when they were clearly more outstanding than us in all aspect. I was disappointed but I couldn't care much because I was happy that I was in OCS.

Then, when i was in OCS, the thought came back to me again as i was indenting food for my company one day. During BMT, we had to always pay attention to how many non-muslims and how many muslims are there when we indent food. I looked around, there were no muslims in my company. There were some in other companies, but it definitely doesn't reflect the composition of our population. At that point of time I didn't think too much of it, because frankly as a Chinese, I don't really care because it's not me who's discriminated against.

When I was training in Air Force as a trainee, the thought came back to me again. At SAFTI, there was a muslim food corner. There wasn't any at the Air Force School. Again, I didn't really care but I was starting to feel disgusted at how we are discriminating our muslim friends. I had classmates in JC who shared that they were really disappointed that they couldn't pass the test to be a pilot. Some of them were told that they failed the test, some were told that they were rejected because they failed the security clearance.

There was once when the Chief of Air Force came for a visit to conduct a forum and we were told that we could ask him questions. Our instructors wanted to be sure that our questions were appropriate, so they requested that we had to submit our questions to them for vetting before they could be approved for asking.

I thought if I asked "why are there no muslim in the Air Force", it might be a little too harsh, so i rephrased a bit, it was "why are there so little muslims in the Air Force". The instructor read it and returned it back to me, saying that it was too sensitive and told me to ask something else. He said "we all know why. it's better not to ask ". So my question became "so what's next for RSAF". I never got to asked the CAF.

I went to another instructor with the same question, she was the strict and law-by-law kind, so i thought she could give me a proper explanation. Her reply was "what do you mean by there are no muslims? there is one pilot who is muslim. check your facts first before you say such things, you will get into trouble for saying things like that" Ok, so there is one muslim pilot in the entire Air Force, that just confirmed that there is discrimination.

Every time I recite the national pledge, I wonder why are we saying it when we don't even mean it. Regardless of race, language or religion? Based on justice and equality?

We have been extremely lucky that our muslim friends have been really tolerant and have not reacted badly to this issue, but who knows what might happen in the future? This is like a time bomb that may explode any time. If there are people who can "make mountains out of molehills" out of Purple Light and dirty ceilings, imagine the potential of this issue.

Ethnicity is poison. Let's just remove our ethnicity from our IC and just call ourselves Singaporeans.

By Anonymous (Scared of ISA)

Local Malay Unhappy with Discrimination Against Malays in the SAF

Source: The Real Singapore

I don't usually do these long ass posts but I really felt I needed to get this off my chest.

I was at the Navy Recruitment drive in Vivocity when I playfully decided to ask the Warrant Officer a few questions.

Me : Is joining the Navy a good career choice?

WO : Yes it is very rewarding

Me : What are the critereas I need to have if I wish to be in the Navy?

WO : You need to be a fit individual with diploma or A levels.

Me : I am a reasonably fit individual who gets minimum silver for Ippt every year. I have perfect working senses and limbs. I have a Diploma in Mass Comm and a few commendable testimonials from previous employers. However, My name is MUHAMMAD FADZRI BIN ABD RASHID. If i were to apply, will I be wasting my time?

WO : (sheepishly looks at the floor) *wry smile followed by a slight shrug*

Me : I'm just playin' with u man I know what the deal is.

My friend and I laughed at what we thought was just an act of mischief. But when we further discussed the matter, I realize that this form of discrimination has been well ignored by the general public.

We serve our duties as Singaporeans. Well and maybe even better than some. We serve national service, we vote and god knows we add to the birth rate. Why are we deprived of the opportunity for key positions in the military?

Is it because we are surrounded by muslim countries that they fear we will be in the position to choose? If so then why put us through National service?

I'm not saying the muslim community doesnt have a part to blame in this discrimination. A few over fanatic individuals do aid in raising paranoia in society especially when the term "terrorism" is always associated to Muslim males.

However, Singaporean Malay or Muslim males raised in Singapore undeniably have a different upbringing. I wish they took the time to evaluate a person well along with his background instead of discriminating an entire ethnicity. If they needed manpower that bad, they should be willing to go the extra step.

What saddens me the most? I have no idea how to defend a country that has never once defended me.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

‘More rules’ needed as interest groups jostle for public space

A friend said, "More rules" is the only thing the govt can come up with to deal with evolving civil society. Ridiculous.

‘More rules’ needed as interest groups jostle for public space
Former Attorney-General Walter Woon. TODAY file photo

Society must accept compromise, learn to disagree without being disagreeable, says former AGC Walter Woon

12 November 2013
SINGAPORE — With more interest groups jostling for public space and a citizenry more inclined to challenge the Government, society will need “more rules, not fewer”, said former Attorney-General Walter Woon yesterday.

“You cannot expect, when you live with 7,400 people in the same kilometre, to have your way all the time. You must accept compromise, you must accept that, even if they (other people) do not agree with you, there has to be a form of adjudication ... uphold that rule of law ... learn to disagree without being disagreeable.”

Speaking in his personal capacity at a session of the Institute of Policy Studies’ Conference on Civil Society at the Grand Copthorne Waterfront Hotel yesterday, Professor Woon, who is a National University of Singapore law professor, cited four factors that will lead to greater interaction between the various interest groups and the Government, as well as among the groups themselves.

He pointed out that with 7,405 people per square kilometre, Singapore is “the most crowded society in human history” with no “pressure-release valve”, which other countries with a countryside possess.

The population density is expected to increase to 10,000 people per square kilometre by 2030, the former Nominated Member of Parliament added.

Secondly, it will be “inevitable” that “different interest groups will increasingly find themselves in competition for public space, in opposition to Government, in opposition, in fact, to other interest groups”.

Technology, meanwhile, also facilitates the creation of interest groups, he told the conference. “The existence of the Internet allows the lone wolf to join the pack. And the pack then also (fights) for that public space.”

Fourthly, as a result of rising education levels, people will “have a perspective that there are things that can be done better”, Prof Woon said.

In the past, he noted, the Government’s approach to clashes with interest groups had been to wield “the iron hand in iron glove”, and to say “we will make the decisions”.

However, it can no longer do this, as “it is quite clear that the electorate is now willing to vote against the Government”.

Prof Woon noted that, anecdotally, there have been more challenges to the Government in the courts within the last five years than in the past 30 to 40 years, such as the two constitutional challenges to Section 377A of the Penal Code, which criminalises sex between males.

Speaking at a dialogue session later, Law Minister K Shanmugam said the Government has to work with civil society. He described the relationship between the two sides as one that is “by and large ... working quite well”.

However, Mr Shanmugam acknowledged that not every engagement between civil servants and civil society results in a positive experience, adding that “there are areas where, maybe, agencies have been less than forthcoming”.

“My own belief is that civil servants believe, like us, in engagement, but when the rubber hits the road in terms of specific proposals, in terms of specific meetings, in terms of specific agencies, there can be a difference in perception and one can be wrong ... both sides can be wrong,” he said.

Citing the Government’s work with animal welfare groups as an example, Mr Shanmugam said Singapore cannot be governed without the active participation of people and civil society in today’s modern and complex economic and civil situation.

He said: “If you ask (the animal welfare groups) today, look at what was accomplished in the last two years. At their suggestion, the government formed the animal welfare law reform group — they came up with fairly revolutionary set of suggestions, very, very substantive suggestions. The government accepted all of them this year.”