… on the world.
I am an avid internet user, so much so that maybe I should start calling myself a professional internet surfer — maybe not.
So, as usual, many things are happening on the internet, the most interesting ones are the rise in xenophobia and racism in the United State of America and in the United Kingdom, a phenomenon that to me requires open-mindedness and empathy to solve.
Now, before I begin to share with you thoughts I have on what the UK and the US can learn from Singapore, I will introduce myself and Singapore to give the readers a clearer picture.
I am a Singaporean, a Malay, a Muslim. I am bilingual speaking both the languages of Malay and English. I am 21 years old.
Singapore is a multiracial, multireligious and multicultural society, something that we are proud of achieving. We are a country surrounded by predominantly Malay Muslim countries such as Malaysia, Indonesia and Brunei.
We have three main races, Chinese, Malay and Indian speaking a myriad of languages and dialects from the Hokkien dialect of the Chinese to the Tamil language of the Indians. Most Singaporeans are bilingual as we were taught to speak both in our mother tongue and the administrative language of Singapore, English. In Singapore, it is common to find temples, churches and mosques side by side. The difference in faiths never a barrier for Singaporeans to interact with one another. Furthermore, being the melting pot of languages, cultures and practices, Singaporeans came up with a language that gives us the unique identity of being a Singaporean, the unique language of Singlish.
Furthermore, we are a technologically savvy society where 85% of us own a smartphone which makes us the number one smartphone adopter in the world, a survey by Google. We also spent a lot of our time on the internet. Therefore, it would not be a surprise if Singaporeans are well-informed of the news.
What does this mean?
All those factors give us a unique perspective on the world, a perspective not tainted and influenced by mass media driven by political interests, racism, labels. It is also a perspective that I personally think is much more complete as we can relate the information to our experiences living in a society that does not experience visible racial and religious strife even though it is a mixture of many.
The Problem at Hand
In the US and now in the UK, there are reports saying that there is a rise of xenophobia, hate crimes and racism. In the US, this is largely due to the candidacy of Donald Trump for the seat of the President of the US. He is a man that spurs hate against people of colour and other religions, most notably his call for a ban of all Muslims entering the US and the call for a wall to be built between the US and Mexico. I am no expert in banning people and wall building but I’m sure it is obvious that such ‘policies’ would bring about huge negative effects on the US economy and society. These calls for walls and banning of people had created strife and tension between the people of the US and already, divisions can be seen.
In the UK, the rise in xenophobia is largely due to the recent Brexit referendum whereby the UK had voted to go out of the EU. Most of the Brexit voters voted Leave on the basis of immigration and the rise of refugees from the Middle East and the rise of immigrants from the EU. They had voted for Leave so that borders can be imposed — which reminds me of the wall Trump wanted to build. Recently, there was a sudden spike in racist attacks on the Polish in the UK days after the result of the referendum. Reports were saying that these racist people leveraged on the results as proof that immigrants were never wanted.
I believe that all of the xenophobia and racism are all caused by the lack of tolerance. Furthermore, it is not a culture or a practice for the people of the country to embrace people of other races, religions and cultures. They view it as a threat, a threat to their safety and solidarity as a nation of one culture and one race and one religion — though I highly doubt that for the US as it just so happened to have Whites as the majority.
In Singapore, we have Chinese as the majority with about 74.1% while the Malays — myself — 13.3 % and the Indians with 9.1%. Being a minority in Singapore, I rarely felt threatened by the number of Chinese people here. I was rarely treated differently and never was my citizenship questioned. I am also a Muslim which if I believe if I were to be in the US would be faced with quite a few remarks, however, in Singapore, never have I have to face with such ignorant remarks. Heck, we were sometimes even treated better than the majority especially during Ramadan and our religious ceremonies.
Singapore does not lack our own share of xenophobia or racism. Sometimes there are tensions against foreign workers from Bangladesh, India and China, expatriates or new Singaporeans from overseas. Immigration was also an issue in Singapore in the recent general election whereby many Singaporeans expressed their views that there are just too many new Singaporeans taken in by the government. Partly it was due to the small size of our country causing strains on the transport and movement, and also due to Singaporeans feeling that new Singaporeans do not embrace the values and the respect of local Singaporeans. Other reasons are like jobs, housing and university scholarships.
However, we understood that it is a problem that once ‘solved’ will also bring about negative consequences. Immigrants are needed to continue blooming an ever growing Singaporean economy, to provide competition in the job market and to increase the population of Singapore where its birth rate is on a steady decline. It is not a problem that could be solved so easily with various consequences that we cannot yet comprehend and we embraced that through tolerance. It is a choice, yes, a difficult choice that our government had to make. A choice that our government decided would bring more positives than negatives which I believe is commendable in its own right.
Therefore, I believe that the US and the UK needed more tolerance, they need to know that the time when the majority owns the country had long since passed. In the time of globalisation and technology, we need the expertise of others and immigrants to continue building up our economy, to continue to provide healthy competition in the market. The time when racism and prejudice are justified had also long since passed, now, we need each other, people from all walks of life, race, religions and culture.
Refugees are defined as:
A refugee is a person who is outside their country of citizenship because they have well-founded grounds for fear of persecution because of their race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, and is unable to obtain sanctuary from their home country or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail themselves of the protection of that country; or in the case of not having a nationality and being outside their country of former habitual residence as a result of such event, is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to return to their country of former habitual residence.
— United Nations Convention relating to the Status of Refugees
In the US and the UK, there is also another crisis that they are facing, the influx of refugees, especially so in the UK. One of the reasons the Brexit voters chose Leave is because of the refugee crisis.
To be bluntly honest, it is understandable because the country may suffer economically and socially due to the refugees entering the country at such a high rate and the only way is to build borders preventing such people from entering the country. I can sympathise with the Leave voters on this, it is just human nature.
As much as we do not want refugees into the country, it is something that cannot be ignored. It is a crisis caused by ignorant and cruel leaders who are adamant about their people’s call for resignation. It is a crisis caused by intense corruption in their governments and influence from the West.
This might put the conflict too simply, but when the Arab Spring began and the West started to play a larger and larger role in the conflict using their drones and their planes and their bombs, funding rebels and using Syria as a proxy war, it became clear of where the conflict will be headed.
Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that the West should have never intervened, they should but the consequences of the war should have been quite clear. Refugees would begin pouring out of the countries and find peace and safety in another which is just human nature and the West should be have been ready to receive them.
However, the world did not and countries that are already suffering economically like Greece and Hungary had to feel the full force of the influx. Stronger and better countries like Germany have accepted them and planned to take as many refugees as possible which is commendable and the UK should do the same too.
It is unfortunate, but we are short on solutions.
I know, I know that I do not have a say in this conflict as I would never know how it feels like to have a refugee influx living in Singapore, but I believe the stronger country should always lend a helping hand.
Fault of the Immigrants/Refugees
I believe that the rise of xenophobia and racism can be partly blamed on the immigrants and refugees themselves. There are reports such as the 2015 Cologne sexual attacks in Germany on New Year’s Eve by groups of Arab/North African men. These acts are to be condemned and not be tolerated by anyone at all.
To me, I find it saddening that when a country had accepted refugees, these refugees took advantage of their hospitality and cause havoc.
In Singapore, a worry of foreigners not accepting and assimilating into the culture of the country is a reason why immigration is an issue. This is an issue where the law will come into place. Singapore had a minor incident of the Little India Riot whereby a group of Indian foreign workers got drunk and began to shake a bus and light an ambulance on fire. Many were arrested and were charged accordingly.
However, the important thing here to take note is that a person from a particular race or culture does not represent the whole race. Just like how me being a Malay does not represent the whole of the Malay race or me as a Muslim does not represent the whole of Islam. So, these people who are from a particular group say, Arab, they do not represent the other Arabs who are refugees in another country for safety and to start a new life.
Therefore, it isn’t fair if we block off or deny entry of these real and genuine people into a country just because they are the same race as a terrorist or a criminal.
We have to judge each person by their own actions and not the actions of others.
To be honest, it is actually pretty scary to see the world turn upside down through the internet, watching all the things go down, things that through the eyes of a Singapore just requires a bit of empathy, tolerance and understanding to solve.
I agree that these problems are not easy to solve, they are full of complex factors and a minor decision could cascade down to cause a larger problem. However, it all starts with the people. The people have to practise empathy, empathise on the refugees knowing that they did not leave their country for fun but instead because their country is no longer safe for living, tolerate the culture or their religion knowing that people have different practices and it is not because of their practices that make them bad and it would require time for them to completely assimilate into the culture of the country and finally, understand, understand that immigrants are human beings with a life to live and families to feed, they come when there are opportunities, opportunities that your government had given them. Therefore, do not blame them for trying to grasp those opportunities.
Learn to respect one another, learn to find the middle ground and learn to tolerate because I believe that such a phenomenon will continue for a very long time.
All of the above are my personal opinions and have no relation to the opinions of my race, religion and country. I represent myself and myself only.