Xenophobia and the national identity

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Written by Ng E-Jay
24 March 2013

When a young man held up a placard that read “Singapore for Singaporeans” at last month’s protest against the population white paper at Hong Lim Park, some people denounced it as bordering on xenophobia, and others even compared it to right-wing nationalist punk subcultures in Europe.

More recently, questions about the national identity were also raised, with Jolovan Wham questioning whether the fear of an erosion of the national identity will lead to a cultural slippery slope, as identities and cultures are not stable or static entities but are always in the process of change.

Ravi Philemon has also criticized Goh Meng Seng’s recent Facebook article “Don’t lose sight of the fundamentals of a Nation“, saying that it is xenophobic to claim that “foreigners discriminate (against) our citizens in employment”, and the article has badly stereotyped the foreigners living in our midst.

The issue of xenophobia as well as the national identity will always accompany any debate on population, immigration, and the influx of foreigners. It is therefore important to get both our values as well as our priorities right.

Criticism of the behaviour of certain foreigners is not xenophobia, just as criticism of the behaviour of certain Singaporeans does not amount to being unpatriotic. The issue lies with whether the criticism is fair and justified. When some Singaporeans go abroad and behave badly, they deserve to be taken to task by both the indigenous locals as well as fellow Singaporeans. When foreign managers stationed in Singapore discriminate against Singaporean employees or candidates at the workplace, we have every right to point it out and ask that they adopt a fairer and more inclusive attitude.

Goh Meng Seng’s words therefore constitute fair comment, if the behaviour he has observed is consistent and repetitive. When it was pointed out that some local bosses were discriminating against NS men, I don’t recall anyone shouting down these critics as “stereotyping”.

When foreigners come here to work, and eventually take up permanent residency, and subsequently, citizenship, it is fair to expect them to adopt our way of life and integrate into our society. It is fair to expect them to discard any unsavoury social behaviours that they may have brought from their old hometowns, just as it is right to bring up our own kids to respect Singapore’s social norms. Asking foreigners to do the same is not xenophobia. It is part and parcel of creating a harmonious society where everyone is not merely trying to tolerate one another, but building a strong identity together.

The focus must be on the government policies that have created the present situation. The government has failed to control the rate of foreign influx, resulting in a great strain on our social fabric. They have also not taken sufficient care to ensure that the white collar foreigners we are importing are bringing in skills and expertise that we need, and not merely depressing our wages by flooding the marketplace. They have also not built infrastructure ahead of demand to cope with the rapidly expanding population, or provided adequate facilities to house temporary guest workers so that the local population is not inconvenienced by a large number of them suddenly landing on our shores and needing a place to stay.

Asking the government not to allow white collar foreigners to displace Singaporeans is not xenophobia, neither is it xenophobia to ask that temporary guest workers be housed in suitable facilities that don’t inconvenience the locals. These are bread-and-butter, practical issues.

Calling for “Singapore for Singaporeans” is also not xenophobia. This nation was created by our forebears with their blood, sweat and tears, and passed down to us. Government policies must serve the interests of Singaporeans first and foremost. Even the PAP will not dispute this point.

The whole point about bringing in foreigners is to improve Singapore and build a better future, one that is sustainable both economically and socially. This nation belongs to Singaporeans. It is perfectly reasonable that Singaporeans should be put first in both education as well as jobs. If Singaporeans do not come first, then who does this nation belong to?

Singaporean First doesn’t mean that we should ignore basic human rights of foreign workers here. These are totally two different topics altogether. Singaporean First doesn’t mean that we should exploit foreign workers or allowed such practices to get unpunished. Singaporean First just means at the policy level, any policies that come from the government should be aimed at taking care of all Singaporeans’ interests, not some MNCs or just some business interests. — Goh Meng Seng

Singapore must not be a mere hotel where foreigners can come here to enjoy the economic fruits, and then leave for greener pastures when the time is right, without giving back to Singapore. Singapore must be for Singaporeans.

My stand has always been about pragmatism: It is certainly very noble and idealistic to want to treat every human being as equal, to welcome foreigners of all shades and strides without fear or prejudice, and to believe that the national identity should be allowed to evolve on its own, lest active intervention results in a “cultural slippery slope”.

However, foreigners who come to Singapore as adults simply cannot be expected to share the same social values and sense of communality as us, because they were raised in a different environment and culture where the social values might have been vastly different. It is unreasonable to suddenly put a large number of foreigners together with the locals in a giant melting pot and not expect frictions and tensions to arise.

Moreover, human beings are not perfect, liberal values are not always returned with gratitude, and ultimately, in a resource-scare and competitive Singapore that has a very finite carrying capacity, there are serious practical limitations that have to be taken into account.

We are no longer a 19th century sleepy fishing village that can be radically transformed by importing a huge number of immigrants from China, India and the rest of Asia. Our policy makers should not harbour the delusion that we can expand the population to 7 million, 8 million and beyond without irreparably straining the social fabric and pushing the country past its breaking point.

3 comments on Xenophobia and the national identity

  1. To say Singapore for Singaporeans is to say Singapore is not for non-Singaporeans. Now tell me that is not xenophobic.

  2. What I am saying is that the ruling party only plan for PAP survival and not Singaporeans survival. Do not be fooled by the National Conversation, change in policies etc…. the CORE is still the PAP not Singaporeans. There is no Singaporeans first in PAP ideologies. Don’t be fooled. Unless we have true democracy in Singapore, Singapore as a nation cannot be saved from the PAP plunders and exploits. The opposition should desire fervourly in taking over all the CORE machineries, infrastructure etc…… and turning them into Singaporeans properties and uses only not for the PAP by the PAP and of the PAP. The future lies in making them Singaporean and not PAPians.

  3. Now the PAPians are trying hard to label those who knows their cunning scheme in possessing all Singapore for PAP by PAP and of PAP, as xenophobic a political plot like calling those in similar position as communists in the old days. This is politicing against true Singaporeans. Yet PAPians say they are for Singaporeans, What a bullshit!

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