Jun 02, 2014

    The senselessness of xenophobia in Singapore

    I THINK we all know at least one person - I know of more than one - who can be quiet, even timid, very polite and civil, but, once online, their personalities are transformed, almost unrecognisably.

    From tone to topic, they are loud, uninhibited, and they can be rude, using expletives never uttered when they are talking in person, one to one, or in a group. They literally become keyboard warriors.

    From a nation of people who are apathetic and needing a strong push to speak up, when have we become a nation of online advocates - more importantly, abrasive online advocates?

    Alarmed by episodes such as the collective condemnation of expatriates including Briton Anton Casey, the strident objections to holding a Philippine Independence Day celebration here, and an emerging trend of blaming foreigners for any social ill, several civil society groups issued a joint statement last week against the surge in racism and xenophobia in Singapore.

    Tolerance for other people's ideas and the freedom to express our own are inseparable values. Joined, they form a sacred trust that constitutes the basis of our democratic society.

    But this trust is now perpetually vulnerable to the tyrannical tendencies of the online majorities. A growing number of Singaporeans now feel compelled to speak up in ways previously unimaginable even to themselves, for those they think cannot fend for themselves or are suffering quietly.

    Coming from a perspective that nothing is sacred online, suddenly everything about the system and people in public positions is fertile soil to plant seeds of disgrace, disrespect and distrust.

    There is an unspoken consensus online, especially among the young, that it is politically incorrect and not hip to agree with the Government, or to offer a different point of view to that of the popular/ unpopular person or topic of the day or week. For the online advocates, you are either on their side or you are against them.

    I never thought the day would come when I have to speak up against the people speaking up in Singapore. Now I do.

    There is increasing underlying unhappiness and resentment towards overcrowding and job competition ascribed to foreigners.

    Even with very rational people we know, they can be surprisingly one dimensional in their attacks.

    And their views can border on the senseless; their rant can express outright ethnic hatred, crossing the line to foul abuse.

    Of note, the celebration plans of the Pilipino Independence Day Council Singapore have now been cancelled - for the first time in 20 years.

    But I see what the signatories say in the joint statement by civil society groups as a turning point.

    They noted that the economic frustrations felt by Singaporeans should be directed at policies and structures which "were not instituted by migrants and will not automatically disappear if the migrant population decreases".

    I am working on a movie, "1965", for our jubilee celebrations next year, premised on the fragility of racial harmony, and how we can, if we are not careful, be racist ourselves without knowing it.

    Given the present societal climate, I am more convinced and motivated to tell this story.


    The writer is a film-maker and life coach. He blogs at danielyunhx.com.