Thanks FDL for completing this hastily-arranged online interview with regard to the three recent racial discrimination cases:-
What is your opinion of the recent three cases of racial discrimination? Two involved Chinese and the other one is from an Indian.
Extremely disappointing, but I was not surprised to be honest. I knew racial and religious intolerance had been simmering in our country for years already, just that such matters were kept under the radar or the government dealt with them swiftly to avoid potential backlash against the culprit’s family and the community he or she is associated with. Back then journalism on the Internet was unheard of.
There is no hiding from the fact that the distrust and suspicion cast on our community were further exacerbated by the Sept 11 terrorist attacks and the US media’s irresponsible stereotyping of Muslims all over the world. Since the majority of Malays in Singapore are Muslims, we are conveniently associated with terrorist rhetoric and extremist ideologies too. Those deep-seated sentiments were bound to be given a new medium of release, namely the social networking platforms such as Facebook and Twitter as proven in the past few weeks.
During my NS days, I’ve come across a few individuals who openly display their blind loyalty to an unrecognised state in the Middle East and also challenge Islam’s sanctity as a religion, all in the name of freedom of speech. They have clearly confused reckless liberty for “freedom of speech”, doing so without thorough research and substantial basis, due consideration and compassion for their fellow human beings and most annoyingly, falling back on the convenient excuse of the right to exercise “free speech” when their arguments start to fail.
The latter two individuals you’ve mentioned need to grow up quickly and stop behaving like spoilt kids. The NSF is question would do well to read up on the war and peace time atrocities committed by the IDF on Palestinian women and children, the true Orthodox Jews who opposed the invasion of Palestinian soil and the Zionist ideology, as well as the violent history of aggressive Jews who slaughtered both Muslims and Christians in the name of religious crusades.
That our government is actively involved in multimillion dollar military contracts with them does not lend an air of legitimacy to their regime and occupation of Palestinian land. That the world media did not report the IDF’s crimes against humanity does not mean they did not occur. Asians seem very fond of the verbal nonsense the Caucasians regurgitate, such as the US media’s callous coverage of only Islamic terrorists. Please don’t discount the existence of paramilitary extremist Jewish and Christian groups sponsored by certain states and organisations.
I implore the press and political journalists to stop labelling Singapore as the Israel of the East. We are not in any way similar, apart from the distribution of the minority native and majority immigrant races. That state was founded on bloodshed, violence, atrocities against humanity, lies, deception and political manipulation. Singapore gained independence from her former colonial masters and the Malaysian Federation through peaceful means albeit in the midst of political and social disorder. Stop this senseless comparison already.
As for the blogger (3rd case), let me repeat my advice. He has to grow up already. His comments made him look all the more an ignoramus more vested in being a wordsmith and cheap attention seeker than a credible blogger. If he wished to criticise and question religion as a concept, why not extend the same savvy to the rest of the world’s religions? Obviously if that wasn’t on his cards, then he does have a personal agenda against Muslims.
Finally, I’ll focus on Jason Neo. You would expect better from anyone, at his grand age of 30, to be rationally mature and culturally sensitive, what more given his political association and social standing. The severity of his case was amplified on several counts;
He chose to circulate his posts within his circle of friends on an extremely inter-connected social networking platform. His messages travel to his friends’ acquaintances, which in turn will be shared with their acquaintances. He might find new supporters and sympathisers along the way, especially the younger and impressionable ones.
He tried to keep it private, revealing yet another of his character flaws. He is a closet racist after all. He forgot that the Internet is not a private property.
He targeted innocent children, a hideous trait.
I’m not selectively singling him out because he is a supporter of the ruling party (which I abhor vehemently). He is the source of great exasperation for all as the government chose not to charge him under the Seditious Act, instead letting him off very leniently by allowing him to resign from his party membership. Had he been a regular Joe, he would have found himself locked straightaway. If this is not a clear sign of double standards the government employs to segregate the commoners from the elite, I don’t know what is.
Have you realised that he did not offer an apology personally to the kindergarten or to the Muslim community? He chose to do so through the party’s leaders, a Free-Of-Charge apology on Facebook and in writing to the kindergarten’s management. I am appalled by his lack of sincerity, and for hiding behind his former superiors’ backs. I am willing to bet my life that he still does not know why so much rage and anger is being directed towards him.
There is also a protest to be held at Speakers’ Corner this weekend – are you attending? Why so or why not?
No, I won’t be attending any form of protests whatsoever. I’m not a believer in public protests or peaceful demonstrations in this country anyway as the Government will move quickly to clamp down on activities like these, especially when they are carried out by the man on the street. Further, the hype and enthusiasm will fizzle out as people find themselves meandering back to more bread and butter issues – practicality reigns supreme in the average Singaporean’s mindset.
Sidetracking, the Government interestingly allowed the Youth PAP wing members to participate in a protest last weekend. To me, this particular protest is ultimately an exercise in public relations. I much prefer the term “epic futility” – the movement to seek reduction of transport fees for polytechnic and university students, especially the former group, has been ongoing and intermittent for donkey years already, without any breakthrough. What makes them think they will be able to convince the Ministry of Transport to reassess their stubborn policies? This is just a publicity stunt to enhance the battered image of the Youth PAP in light of Jason Neo’s own publicity stunt.
Sorry to say Gilbert, but we are still a politically apathetic bunch of cowards. The fear of consequences on our respective careers and families overwhelm the desire to stand up for our rights against the establishment.
Do you think that there is an upsurge in racial discrimination cases against the Malay community?
I would say there always has been an underlying wave of suspicion and distrust owing to the lack of mutual understanding and communications between the communities in Singapore. Communications is strictly a two way process and cannot succeed when even one party refuses to listen or pretends to do so, but continues to harbour negative judgement of the other.
My view is the level of suspicion and distrust has always been maintained at a certain level throughout the decades, merely suppressed subconsciously. The immediate availability, ease of access and unrestricted boundaries of the Internet coupled with the proliferation of portable Internet-capable devices lends a convenient outlet for people to vent their thoughts unfiltered, at an explosive rate. This in turn creates the perception that there is an upward trend of racial discrimination and religious intolerance.
Between racial discrimination and xenophobia (anti – foreigner) what do you think is the more serious form of discrimination?
Racial discrimination is the more serious of the two. With regard to the latter, I think it would not have grown to today’s proportions had the foreigners not created problems for us and themselves in the first place. The ruling party had a big role in this, with their lax policies that opened the floodgates to boorish, poorly behaved foreigners who do not merit their places here. In essence, xenophobia is a controllable problem which can be well managed (but not removed completely) with stringent regulations and tighter migration requirements.
Racial discrimination is a problem which has been deeply entrenched into one’s sub-culture as enforced stereotypes, misinformed perceptions and crude, brutish behaviour against the victims. This behaviour in all channels of communications has been declared criminal by law but it is still covertly (and now overtly) propagated by certain segments of Singapore’s communities. Even the foreigners have exhibited discriminatory behaviour against the Malays (and Singaporeans, to be fair).
Effort has been spent to clarify misunderstandings and dispel negative connotations placed on Malays and Muslims in general. I find it unreasonable that we have to explain and convince everyone else that we are not religious extremists and have no dealings with terrorists. For rationality’s sake, please form an opinion apart from the CNN and the likes. Seek information from a real practising Muslim on Islam, NOT the mainstream media. They know just about as little as you do!
Clearly the problem is in no danger of being solved soon, but does this mean the government and the citizens must continue these racial bridging programs? The answer is hazy at best, but personally I feel such expeditions are limited in their approach and outcomes. As mentioned earlier, communications is a two-way street which will fail if even one party refuses to engage in meaningful exchange.
The recent cases of racial discrimination also revealed that all is not well with regard to racial harmony here in Singapore, As a Malay citizen, what do you think can be done to alleviate the situation?
I don’t mean to exude a defeatist attitude here, but what else can we do? Honestly speaking, we’ve done practically everything that needs to be done to reach out to our non-Muslim brothers and sisters. Community services, inter-faith dialogues, the works. It succeeded only to a certain degree. If people aren’t willing to be open to meaningful discourse and independently seek clarifications, then to what effect would our civic-mindedness have on changing their mindset?
In the furore amidst Jason Neo’s sudden surge in popularity, a columnist on Yahoo.com.sg named Faris Mokhtar commented that we should sit down with him over a cup of tea and help clear whatever misunderstandings he had with Muslims. While I agree with some of his assessments in his article, I feel Mr Faris Mokhtar is being irritatingly naive on this matter. I don’t see why we should humble ourselves, invite him with open arms and extend so much courtesy to people of flawed character. The onus should be on him of all people to reach out to the community he has hurt deeply with his ill-considered words. Worse, Mr Faris’ article actually attracted commentators who viewed all Muslims as terrorists, on the basis of Sept 11 2001. This reinforces my earlier point that our actions have not had the complete desired impact at all.
I find Mr Faris trying to act as the bigger man here – I would challenge Mr Faris to exercise his infinite wisdom, grace and patience to dozens of these closet racists and haters of Islam who gravitated towards his online article.
Personally, do you have any non-Malay friends? Do you think that it is difficult to interact well with fellow citizens from other races?
It isn’t difficult to interact with anyone of different race, unless they deliberately put up a sound-proof brick wall. Yes, I do have friends from all races and most are Chinese (can’t help it since they are the majority!). I ever envisioned for myself a non-Malay bride (kidding…).
As a member of a much younger and well educated generation, I feel they are not inclined to such extremist views of us Malays. Of course I’m not saying that the older generation do not share a reasonable and rationalised view! They do recognise that each community are alike in many ways. No problems are confined solely to any race – all have their success stories and social ills. Above all they don’t see the sense of creating communal unrest and disturbances.
Personally, I form opinions of anyone based not on the colour of their skin, but only on their character. Please forgive me as I expect the same from everyone else.
A few Malays have also reacted adversely to the recent discriminatory incidents and have reported such cases to the police. Will you do so and why not?
I will as it is a matter of principle, nothing more. Simply put, if a criminal is not punished for his transgressions, then that person will automatically assume he will be able to get away with it again and continue his crimes.
Our country might be accused of being overzealous with its corporal punishment system but grievous and fractious acts like the above-mentioned are indeed worthy of tough disciplinary action. Otherwise, it will not drill home the message that racial discrimination and religious disrespect have no place in our society. Detractors claim it will not solve the problem, to which I beg to differ. Letting the culprit off with a little “lesson” souvenir does not solve the problem either – it emboldens the perpetrator further and run the risk of encouraging others to follow in his footsteps, creating yet another problem. Let’s not be naive here.
So far, Jason Neo’s is a spectacular case of the government’s long list of continued failures. His supporters and sympathisers call a jail sentence too harsh a punishment (like Mr Faris Mokhtar), but if he isn’t made an example of, then it isn’t far- fetched to suggest more copycats will spring in the coming months and years. I can’t guarantee that the government won’t go bonkers from the tsunamis of complaints filled with anger and rage.
Are you also satisfied with the government’s response to the few anti-Islam incidents here? Do you think they can do more or you are satisfied?
Not at all. I must congratulate them for failing to capitalise on their opportunities to make a strong statement. Individuals who should have been given their due punishment, as dictated by our time-honoured statutes of law, have been let off lightly. What happened to Jason Neo is a travesty – as for the other two, I await with bated breath as to their respective outcomes. It’s not that I am eager to see two individuals get punished, but you will agree with me that they deserve to be held accountable for their actions as they are adults.
All is not well on the overall religious front here in Singapore either. Remember that particular church pastor who criticised and made fun of Buddhism (Albert Einstein praised Buddhism, so he was making fun of a genius of physics)? His speech was broadcasted on Youtube, got summoned by the Home Affairs ministry but was later let off. He continued his rant shortly after his release. Yet another case of double standards, of Singaporeans treating other Singaporeans shabbily. As much as the problem is out of the government’s many redundant hands, the truth is the government had plenty of chances to exert its authority and show they mean business.
A round of applause for the government’s stand on booting out religious intolerance, please.
Gilbert, I hope your readers will have a better understanding why we are desperate to leave this forsaken land – the experience of being singled out and treated with contempt by our own countrymen. Not an apology, compensation or any sincere act of reconciliation from the powers above. We’re force-fed a diet of PR statements from the politicians that do nothing more than upset us further.
We have such a hard time eking out a decent and peaceful existence on the land of our heritage. We needed Wikileaks to reveal a founder of modern Singapore had all along harboured an immense amount of distrust and hatred towards local Muslims, to which he tried his worst to deny. Our diplomats look down condescendingly on our geographical neighbours based purely on our status as a first world nation, yet gleefully ride into Johor Bahru every weekend to top up their petrol tanks. How could you not expect our neighbours to deepen the animosity and misunderstanding towards us, even Singaporean Malays? Or are you still fooled into believing Singaporean Malays are the best of pals with Malaysian Malays?
Don’t get me wrong now; I am not pointing the finger at anyone, except the government. The crux is, we have arrived at such a sad destination, there is no point debating over this and pretend things will get better from now on. It will not happen, as long as human differences are treated as instruments of division instead of symbols of national unity.
Thank you for your kind audience.