24 July 2007

Racial Harmony day

Racial harmony is important, but do we know how to foster it? Aren't we reinforcing ethnic identity and separateness in so many other things that we do? Full essay.


Anonymous said...

From Dicky1:

You are spot on. It has long been my observation that underneath all this wayang about racial harmony and the superficial of acting it out on racial harmony day in school is the covert agenda of maintaining and highlighting the differences when it should be just the opposite of letting the intermingling of Singaporeans flow as a natural process. Divide and continue to conquer.

I may sound cynical, but I truly believe that the ultimate intention, the hidden agenda, if you like, of all these rig marole is not about 'harmony' but rather more like that of the govt maintaining control over the populace. You see, this 'shepherding' activities by religious leaders helps to ensure that the govt continues to have a tangible grip or handle over the control and manipulation of people.

While leaders of the various religions are constantly reminded not to mix religion with politics, religion is in fact very much a means of political control used by the politicans of the ruling party to control and manipulate.

The logic is akin to 'Better the devil you know, then the devil you don't' if I may describe it that way! Get a firm hold on the leading ram and the rest of the flock will follow. Or as Richard Nixon once so graphically put it that getting hold of someone's balls will ensure that the rest of him will follow.

While I do not disagree with the fundamental issues involved - that of maintaining peace and posperity - I could clearly see the abuse and the many instances of unjustified manners and situations that such an approach has given rise to.

manbeer said...

Some telling anecdotes:

In NUS Law a peer (from a peerless elite school) was surprisingly ignorant about Hari Raya. She alone voiced out her ignorance in class but I'm sure she was not alone. I hope this is not indicative of a general malaise, where schools even with the best resources cannot break the barriers of understanding between cultures.

While there are lots of cultural groups in NUS, its disconcerting to see that they are only there to cater to the specific minority groups. In comparison I studied at an international school where diversity is celebrated. During our annual UN day various performances were put up. And students would participate in the performances despite not being connected to the cultural group. So we would have Americans and Europeans dancing in Saris or Asian s stomping in Dutch clogs.

Though there are successes. I have always thought that NS is a great equalizer bridging differences across different cultures and social classes. Then there is the observable increase in mixed relationships.

Eat Potatoes said...

Agree with your observations, especially the point on a "demand for intra-group conformity is incompatible with respect for inter-group tolerance and respect".

Just over a decade ago, I (an english-educated Singaporean chinese) and another Singaporean chinese colleague were chatting in English in the mrt. For no reason, some kaypoh chinese (presumably Singaporean) seated in front of us stared at us and exclaimed out "Jiak kan-tung" (eat potatoes) as an insult to our properly enunciated English.

For social reasons, I have since picked up Singlish and I do love it. Nevertheless, I still switch to "Queen's English" when speaking with my foreign friends, because being understood is the key to successful communications.

Anonymous said...

A Channelnewsasia report on school kids being punished for not turning up in approved attire during Racial Harmony Day: http://www.channelnewsasia.com/stories/singaporelocalnews/view/289514/1/.html

I thought what was most telling was the final quote by the principal: "Only 30 plus students missed the celebrations, out of about 1,200 students," said Mr Balasingam. "I don't think that's excluding a lot of people; it's only a minority."

That, on a day of harmony and inclusiveness.

Yawning Bread Sampler said...

Oh, thank you for that link to the CNA story about Jurong West Secondary School. It just proves my point, doesn't it? Insisting on costumes is to teach children to identify with their ethnic group. Surely the opposite of we should be aiming for.

I shall add that story somewhere to the article.

Anonymous said...

I am a Hakka. I regard myself Chinese, but at the same time for better or for worse, Mandarin is not quite a part of my "heritage." Those advertisements on some double decker buses about speaking mandarin because it's part of my "Chinese" heritage irk me in this way. Because it implies that I have to speak mandarin in order to validate my Chineseness, a position that does not conform to my own lived experience.

YCK said...

It is not true that only school children get to be given such instructions. I observed the same being done at an ICT to NS Full-time and reservists alike.

They were shown a PA video detailing the rites of passage for the four races simplified. Given the limitation of time, minority groups were not featured and ethicity conflated with religion.

For example, Chinese were only shown to follow Taoist funeral rites and Indian only Hindu.

This like you said only sharpen differences and in my view encourages pigeonholing leading to clannishness. In the real world, it is difficult to always declare position of us-versus-them, but in simplifying the situation such position can be taken in especially nationality, ethnitcity and religion.

What is being done enforces a sembelance of harmony rather than nurtures the real thing. It is not about being blind to differences or creating artificially enhanced differences but recognizing all of diversity in flux that will do.

Anonymous said...

No man can change Nature(naturalness) no matter how supremely elite he or she maybe. Do not fret, Nature will take its' course.

Anonymous said...

This is what LKY really feels about non-Chinese Singaporeans, according to an Australian academic:


He's said a few times that there is no such thing as a "Singapore" culture: basically he wants to keep the races separate so that it's easier to control everyone by playing on their fears. He doesn't want Singaporeans to unite and demand basic freedoms such as freedom of expression and speech (and a better newspaper for god's sake!)