Does Racial Harmony Justify Xenophobia in Singapore?

Is xenophobia justified if it promotes racial harmony?

“I am not a racist but I am most certainly a nationalist. In the event of a dispute between a foreigner and a Singaporean, whether he is Chinese, Malay, Indian or Eurasian, I will take the side of the Singaporean 99% of the time.” –

Wow! In a dispute between a Chinese and an Indian, or in a dispute between a foreigner and a Singaporean, personally, 99% of the time I will take the side of the person who is right. (Well, actually, most of the time I won’t be taking sides, because in almost every dispute there is a misunderstanding, and there’s usually some truth to both sides.) Since when did justice become such a subjective concept in Singapore?

If you saw a mixed group of young Singaporean teenagers, Chinese, Malay, Indian and Eurasian- all ganging up and brutally assaulting a Chinese national after a theft or rape, what would you think about it? How would you feel? It’s a hypothetical scenario, but not unimaginable is it?

Xenophobia is not cool. I was deeply bothered whenever Opposition parties used anti-foreigner rhetoric at their rallies. (I would have still voted for them- again, I don’t trust the PAP, and I don’t trust the Opposition- I am not loyal to any party. The only reason I would still vote Opposition is because I don’t trust any sort of super-dominance, by anybody or anything in any circumstance.)

Xenophobia and racism are symptoms of the same disease- they are both fueled by intolerance, suspicion, unenlightened selfishness- none of which we should be encouraging, in my opinion.

What do we want for Singapore? I’d personally like us to be a more inclusive society- more grace, tolerance, understanding and communication. I don’t understand how it is somehow okay to treat foreigners which such condescension and fear. Our forefathers were foreigners too! What’s the difference?

Foreigners these days, I am told, don’t care about Singapore. They come here to loot and pillage whatever they can and then happily go back home. Sure, but why? How can we expect them to start caring about Singapore when we treat them like scum? It’s our own despicable behaviour that compels foreigners to behave the way they do- which we then use as an excuse to justify our own xenophobia in the first place. It’s a disgusting feedback loop, and we perpetuate it.

I often find it wasteful that random insulting and “seditious” remarks are treated with such fear, apprehension, disgust and offense. Let’s be clear- they are undesirable for sure, and perhaps potentially dangerous. On this we can all agree. It is the standardized response (as I perceive it) that I have a bone to pick with.

We tend to operate under the assumption that anybody who says or does anything unacceptable must be malicious- that the foreigner was insulting Singaporeans because he’s a despicable, spiteful human being that needs to be punished to be taught a lesson. There is to be no mercy, no compassion- it doesn’t matter if he was being ignorant or irresponsible. Getting the authorities involved, sounding the national alarm- these measures are not just childish (“Cher, Cher, he anyhow say me!”)  but potentially detrimental- because it destroys the opportunity to create a mutually beneficial outcome. 

Let’s extend the classroom analogy.

There’s a boy of another race in your class, and the two of you don’t really get along. One day, you bump into each other by accident- and he starts spewing expletives, insulting you, your mother and the rest of your ancestors and cultural practices. What do you do?

Perhaps you could beat him up. Tell all your friends about what he said- it’s a matter of racial pride, after all. But your teacher wouldn’t have any of that- you’ll all get into trouble. It’s not worth it.

So perhaps you do the “right” thing and you complain to your teacher. Getting your teacher to discipline him might preserve the peace. But it is an uneasy peace, strained and suspicious. You forget, eventually, that the initial conflict was a a bit of an accident. Emotions were running high. But if there was any doubt about how you felt about each other then, there isn’t anymore. You’re now both thoroughly convinced of each other’s malice.

Perhaps the two of you may may temporarily forge an alliance when beating up the new kid in class, or the boys from school down the road. But if you are alone together at the bus stop outside school, you bare your teeth and claws- if not for the teacher, if school wouldn’t intervene, you’d surely rip each other to shreds. At least, that’s what he wants, you think.

Deep down you both hate that you have to keep watching your backs. And you never had to. You could have taken him aside in person and talked it out. The problem started when you forgot that he’s human, just like you. Ali, Raju, Xiao Ming, Zhong Guo Ren. All human beings.

In WW2, the Allied Forces and the Soviets worked together to defeat their common enemy, the Nazis. Without resolving their mutual misunderstandings, they would later turn against each other, fueling the arms race of the Cold War which put humanity on the brink of nuclear war.

In X-Men: First Class (spoilers alert!), the Americans and Soviets put aside their differences to attack their common enemy- the mutants. It would turn out to be a terrible idea- their actions, fueled by fear and xenophobia, would be the tipping point that initiated the war that would otherwise never have had to be. The unnecessary perception of enmity is what creates it. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy that doesn’t have to be.

Say no to xenophobia, please. We can resolve our own problems, and build meaningful, lasting and mutually-beneficial relationships along the way. A little more grace, a little more compassion, a little more mercy. We don’t have to depend on the government to learn to be better human beings.  ‘Cher got her own problems to deal with, you know? Sekali she ask for another pay raise! 😛

If victory is the notion of no enemy, then the whole world is a friend.The true warrior is not like a person carrying a sword and looking behind his own shadow, in case somebody is lurking there. That is the setting-sun warrior’s point of view, which is an expression of cowardice.

The true warrior always has a weapon, in any case. Many things in your life function as a weapon, a vehicle of communication that cuts through aggression. It could be anything. If you are wearing a moustache, that could be your weapon. It’s not necessary for the warrior to carry an artificial weapon, like a gun. Cowardly people carry guns because they are so cowardly, so afraid. One doesn’t have to be afraid of touching a weapon, such as a gun, or even using it when necessary, but that doesn’t mean you have to carry one all the time.

The definition of warriorship is fearlessness and gentleness. Those are your weapons. The genuine warrior becomes truly gentle because there is no enemy at all.”

– Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, Smile at Fear