Why is 21st Century Singapore so caught up with 19-20th Century issues of culture?
In every domain of our lives, we are constantly reminded of our cultural and ethnic differences. Ok, I am ethnic Chinese. I get it. Stop reminding me!
It is as if incessant reminders and re-indoctrination through the education system and the loyal lapdogs that are the local media, would make us more 'cultural', whatever that means.
The emphasis of difference under the rubric of multiculturalism is, in my eyes, especially condescending towards minority groups.
Hey! You can walk! Hey! You can finally speak and join the adult discussions! Hey! You made it, just like the _____ (insert majority group or the categorically and politically privileged/superior).
The Straits Times is no stranger to playing the race card. Every year, after the release of the Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE) results, they will highlight the top student, followed by the top Malay student and top Indian student, and maybe if you are lucky, the top Eurasian student.
It is as if the ethnic Malay, Indian and Eurasian kids are in a different league from the "top student", who is presumably and taken for granted to be ethnic Chinese. Come on! What's up with that?
I think the Chinese elite in Singapore are majorly obsessed with minority appeasement. Fair enough, that is their business and political strategy. However, I feel they are going overboard with this.
Maybe Singaporeans are the kind who cannot handle subtlely or read between the lines; they need cold hard and seemingly objective facts in font size 48 stapled to their eyeballs to see a point. However, that observation is slowly becoming a stereotype. We are, undoubtedly, growingly media savvy and literate. Hey, even less/non-educated ('uneducated' appears to have acquired a negative slant) seniors know 'propaganda' when they see one.
In two days time, we will have a Malay general in the Army. For me, this is not news at all. So what? He is just like any other Singaporean general who has paid his dues and followed his boss' orders.
Ethnicity should not be constantly emphasised. Stop reminding the Malays that they are Malays.
Our policies or "unspoken rules" signify a lack of understanding of the Malay folks and Islam in general. Some general, Lee Hsien Loong, once said that the Malay-Muslims should not be put in a difficult position in times of conflict. I believe that if a Singaporean loves his nation enough and/or is scared enough to defend it, he/she will do it. It is unfair to suggest that a person's faith (mainly religious, but there's conscience and principle too) is his/her weakness and liability.
Islam, like any faith (religious and non-religious), is a person's strength, but policies have come to suggest they are weaknesses. There is also the suggestion that a person's personal faith, beliefs and religiosity cannot coexist with the nationalist agenda. Then there are the Jehovah Witness guys who are sent to jail - talk about religious freedom.
The government should keep up to pace with our changing society, even though there will be the occasional unhappy voice (there will always be an unhappy voice because governments are popular, and minorities are created in such a system).
People will say it is politically incorrect to highlight the achievement of an ethnic Chinese, so just relabel it as a Singaporean achievement. When it comes to the achievement of an ethnic minority, race/ethnic foregrounds the story and the achievement is merely a footnote. These are tools, I say, used by the Chinese elite for minority appeasement. However, lost in the process is the achievement itself, as it has been displaced by the the emphasis on ethnicity and skin colour. We are beyond this. A Malay general is a general. A Malay commando is a commando... wait... yes.
In our school textbooks, we are constantly reminded of the dangers of race-based politics. What we are doing right now also constitutes race-based politics. You do not have to enter the formal domain of politics nor engage political institutions to do politics, by the way.
Minority appeasement is always anticipatory, because we have had truckloads of history to remind us the extent to which race-based conflicts may escalate. This form of appeasement is important especially when political stability and economic progress matter most. Relevant stakeholders in society have to be identified and accomodated. Some minorities become recognised in the process and other minorities continue to be, well, lesser minorities.
Minority appeasement comes with a leash and it tightens each time there is appeasement. It creates role models in specific domains and industries, expectations and limitations. It carves out the boundaries and renarrates history to the specific minority segment of society. It creates the milestones and benchmarks for the minority. It tells the minority what its future should be and will be.
I say, leave culture to the people who practise it. Allow different people and different minorities to play an active role in defining and redefining 'multiculturalism'. Don't hog and dominate this political rhetoric for yourselves. Multicultralism should not be preached by the monoculturalist, all the more by one with an economic imperative.
I do not recall the media gloating about race in the two Singapore Idol contests. I do no remember seeing "Hey! A Malay beat a Chinese in the final! Malays can do it too! Singapore Idol is a Malay! Woooooot!!!"
Or maybe, just maybe, in the latest instalment of Singapore Idol, we might have a showdown between an ethnic Malay and an ethnic Chinese contestant, and the Chinese contestant might come out tops. Will we have the headline, "CHINESE SINGAPORE IDOL, FINALLY: Singapore's First Chinese Singapore Idol. Pride and achievement for the Chinese community".
We will interview a Chinese representative, say, Lee Hsien Loong, who may provide the statement, "As a Chinese, I am very proud that our Singapore Idol is Chinese, and with him/her winning the competition, it shows that our Chinese Singaporeans can do as well as the Malays in Singapore Idol and even win it. This is a step forward for the community." I really look forward to this, so let us hope we have a truly talented winner like the previous winners, and if he/she happens to be ethnic Chinese, things will get interesting.
We should not use minorities to substantiate and justify nationalistic rhetoric. We have children and seniors of different skin colour pasted all over our lampposts commemorating the upcoming 44th National Day (a number the ethnic Chinese will cringe at, but they believe they cannot talk about it, because it would be politically incorrect and they believe they would be seen as being bigoted and culturally ignorant and relativist).
Our National Day Parade songs too are an orgy of cultural instruments symbolic of their respective ethnic groups. What is new?
There is a growing segment of our population, the foreign talents. They are minorities too. They are stakeholders in our society. Will we have top foreign talent PSLE kid in the near future? Will we have our first foreign talent general in the army? Oh wait, only Singaporeans defend Singapore and foreign talents in Singapore. Foreign talents do not defend Singapore, dumb dumb. Chey!
In short, I envisage the whole scenario as a big burly yellow-skinned Chinese man pointing his finger at an ethnic Malay and saying, "Hey you! You are a Malay! Remember that!" (interpellation haha!)
What is interesting is that the local ethnic Chinese are themselves rather fragmented, culturally and class-wise. But of course, the Chinese elite are more bothered about doing things that they deem will "not piss off the ethnic minorities". Mind you, most minorities are more media and information savvy and literate than you think. They know B.S. when they see it.