Al Jazeera had recently aired a short 25 minute program about Amos Yee and the freedom of speech in Singapore. Whilst most of the views by the panelists are nothing new, what stood out was this one comment by Kirsten Han, one where she said: “that we should not “kid ourselves” about Singapore being a harmonious multi-racial society or that it has “hate speech laws” because there had been the “most horrendous hate speech against LGBT people” and “really offensive things” said about minorities and “nothing had happened” to the people making such remarks”.
In short, Han said that we are sweeping racism under the carpet.
Coincidentally before I set-out to write this article, I chanced upon this video. To save yourself from watching it, this woman screamed her head off about how terrible it was that the Indian management of the security firm required people to exchange their IDs before they could enter the building. She also went on and on about how Indians are being employed into top positions all over Singapore and that this was wrong because Singapore is a Chinese run country.
To say that Han was wrong, is to be blind to reality.
But to say that Han is right, is also to ignore the decades of blood, sweat, tears and bullets that have gone into making this country much less of a bigoted country than what it used to be.
Have a look at no further than across the causeway. The Bumiputera agenda is, stripped of all its political niceties, a racist policy. Malaysia is still struggling with how to deal with Malay-Malaysian superiority. Malaysian politics continues to be dominated by race-based parties that each profess to champion their own communities’ interests, with even supposedly multi-racial alternatives tending to consists largely of one race or another.
The recent Low Yat Plaza riots were triggered by false rumours that were spread following the arrest of a Malay youth for the alleged theft of a smartphone. Imagine – in this day and age, a riot erupted from racist tinders.
And Malaysia is just but one story – all over Asia..nay, all over the world (and I say this with emphasis on “world”) the ire of racism continues to lurk in the underbellies of many nations.
With a mixed bag of races, nationalities and languages packed tightly into 500 square kilometres, this country knows that it has to either get everyone to live, respect and tolerate each other… or risk social implosion. From day one, a great deal of social engineering created for people to better integrate. There were quotas of races in the neighbourhood, kids had to learn how to sing in different languages, places of worship are packed tightly with each other – and strict legislation are in place to keep citizens in restraint.
When it came to race, language or religion, this country had little appetite for nonsense. You can call it draconian, but you cannot deny that this approach had helped keep this country relatively trouble free. There are perhaps pockets of hate speech and ill will, but none of these had erupted into violence and racism fuelled crime such as the Low Yat incident.
One may make observations that yes, racism does exist in the country and we must move towards the good aspiration of eradicating it. But one may not simply sweep out decades of good work and say that years of social engineering had counted for nought when clearly it has…and has done a damn good job at it too.
Policy and laws can only take us this far in the battle in eradicating hate speech and racism. We’ve had decades of the rod, perhaps it is time to introduce the carrot: policies that encourage people to take these lessons back home and into their families.