I hope to chime in a bit on the discussion on what the Singaporean core is.
The History and Development of The Nation-State
If I may, I would like to first discuss the history of the nation-state and how this concept came about. Very briefly, the idea of the nation-state came about in the 18th and 19th century. Discussions about what a nation-state intensified during the French Revolution, as people started asking how they can organise themselves, if they were to not be ruled as monarchies. How could people have their power back? It further entrenched itself in the 20th century, after the two world wars, as the European countries further demarcated physical boundaries to distinct themselves. After the colonial countries regained their independence, they also started outlining their boundaries. So, Singapore became a nation-state in the 1965, and for the first time ever, had a formalised boundary, when in the past, we were a city, a town, part of a region etc, but anything but a country. We saw out fates intertwined in history, first with the Malay peninsula and Indonesia region in the times of Malay rule, and then as part of Malacca and Pahang, under the Straits Settlements, during the British colonial rule, and then as part of Malaysia from 1963 to 1965. If this has taught us anything, it’s that the idea of a nation-state is a very new concept and one which Singapore is still trying to grasp with.
You see, for the European countries, it was easy for them to demarcate themselves. Even before the idea of nation-states appeared, Europe was already organised according to language and cultural subgroups, so it was easy to say, the French-speaking people would from then on, be known as the French people in France, and so let’s map out and outline their physical boundaries according to where they already are, and so forth. So, it was not a case of boundaries which were randomly draw because the people felt like it. They divided the land according to the cultural subgroups that had existed on the land. And this is why, some theorists of the nation-state describe the nation-state as a group of people with shared history, shared cultures and shared language. For the Europeans, the subgroups were homogenous, generally speaking, and it was possible to outline that each homogenous group will become one country. Of course, I generalise but on the whole, it was a lot easier to divide Europe into nation-states. In a way, the same would apply to China because of the existing homogenous population there. Though, again, there are localised histories which are debatable, such as that with Tibet, Mongolia and Taiwan.
For the new nation-states which came about in the mid-20th centuries, many of them became nation states after they regained their independence from the European colonists. And how were their borders decided? Their borders were decided according to which European country had colonised them, and their borders were demarcated accordingly. So, if you look at Africa, their borders aren’t even representative of the cultural distinctions of the people of the land. In fact, the borders divided similar cultures into separate countries and merge different cultures into one country. So, these countries which formed weren’t representative of the cultures of the land. And this is partly the reason why there are still civil conflicts in these countries, where the different cultures haven’t learnt to co-exist with one another, though the lack of strong and non-corrupt government is also key to why they continue to languish politically and economically.
Singapore’s Development Into A Country
For Singapore’s case, it’s clear that Singapore, on its own, never had a strong cultural identity by itself until recent times. In fact, Singapore never existed by itself until 1965. Our identity was part of a shared identity of the Malay region before 1819, before Raffles ‘founded’ Singapore. Thereafter, we became a port of call, where waves after waves of people came to Singapore, mainly from the Malay region, China and India to work on our lands. And here was the very first beginnings of what we know of today in Singapore. But did the people see themselves as part of a country? I didn’t live during those times so I wouldn’t know. But in large part, the different cultural groups in Singapore continue to affiliate themselves with cultural groups back in their home townships. So, you see, our cultural identity wasn’t even formed yet, perhaps up until the 1940s, 50s or even 60s.
In fact, if Singapore was never colonised by the British, or if Europe didn’t become a world power, there might not even be nation-states or countries and we will continue to form ourselves along cultural affiliations without fixed demarcated boundaries and where we we would still be fighting over who gets to stay in which plot of land. So, one good thing about formalised boundaries was that it meant that we had to stay put within our boundaries and are not allowed to encroach into each one another’s land, in principle, of course, because even after boundaries were somewhat established, wars were still fought, such as the two world wars and the subsequent ones in other parts of the world, and in recent times, by America.
What Is The Singaporean Culture or Identity?
So, the question is this – what is the Singaporean identity? What is the Singaporean culture? When did it begin? Unlike Europe, our country wasn’t formed along a homogenous culture. What we did was to do it the other way round, to try to create a homogenous identity to fit into this one land which became a country. And that’s why the founding leaders decided to come out with ideas such as the same language, for example. And because you couldn’t really homogenise the different cultures, you entrench the existence of the different cultures and officiate them, and so the Chinese, Malay, Indian and Others. And then, you try your best to keep this ‘racial mix’. I don’t agree completely with this, because this is artifical in itself, as whatever racial mix we had then was simply a by-product of what happened in history and who was left in Singapore at 1965, more than because this ‘racial-mix’ is natural. However, that’s how the history of Singapore had developed, or at least, that’s how the founding leaders had chosen to define Singapore and Singaporeans.
But yet, almost 50 years later, we are still debating over what the Singaporeans culture or identity is, and essentially what the Singaporean core is. I’m not sure if this is the right question to ask. As I’ve tried to explain, up until now, we are still not any wiser about what the Singaporean culture is. We fight tooth and nail over a Singaporean culture we try so hard to embellish and protect, without knowing what we are really protecting.
If I may go on and explain, what you and I are trying to protect is not the Singaporean culture. We are simply to trying to protect ourselves. We feel marginalised and disadvantaged, and we are starting to feel unimportant and we are scared. Now, when people are scared, they will find ways to band together, so that with a larger pool of people, they hope that with a louder voice, they can then use that to challenge whoever they feel is oppressing them. So, which is why Singaporeans are wanting to band themselves together over a Singaporean identity, as much as we are unsure as to what it is. And so, right now, we are starting to try to define it, once again. Ten years ago, we had said that being Singaporean is to speak Singlish and be kiasu. And now, we are starting to say that to be a Singaporean, you need to have served National Service (NS). But how are we defining this ‘Singaporean identity’. Ten years ago, we plucked it out of nowhere, based on the so-called ‘ugly’ traits, which were the most obvious traits we could identify among Singaporeans, simply because there didn’t seem to be ‘good’ traits which seemed as obvious. Now, we define our identity, in opposition to those who, well, are not Singaporeans. So, if I had to go through the pain of two years in NS, then you better jolly well also go through two years of your life with the same pain, and waste your time like I did. I’m not sure if we really know and believe that this – going through NS – is our Singaporean identity. We simply feel injustice done upon us, and we want others to go through the same injustice.
What The Real Problem Is: Bad Government Planning and Policies
You see, the problem isn’t about what the Singaporean core is. What the problem is, is this – the government had very badly managed the population of Singapore, so much so that right now, Singapore faced a problem of over-population, because of infrastructure which hasn’t matched up to the pace of population growth. To put it in another way, imagine if we only have natural growth by Singaporeans and this continues unabated, by 2100, there might be 8 million people in Singapore. When, that happens and Singapore gets too crowded, can we blame the foreigners when Singaporeans would obviously form the bulk of the population? So, the current problem that Singapore faces isn’t one about Singaporeans vs foreigners, but really, it’s about over-population, and bad planning.
The other big problem is this – Singaporeans know that they are not treated properly and fairly, and in fact, they feel that the government is treating foreigners better than Singaporeans and so they feel that injustice is done to them, and they are asking – why are foreigners being treated better, when you should be treating us better? And they are right, because fundamentally, why should anyone be treated unequally and unfairly? No one should be treated in unequal ways. It’s a basic human right. Now, before I go on, I would like to remind you that the problem doesn’t lie with the presence of foreigners. The problem lies with a government which wants to treat the foreigners better because the government has set up a policy that ensures that if you are rich and give the government more money, they will treat you well. And so, because of the government’s policies, they want to treat foreigners better.
Our Government is Highly Irresponsible to Singaporeans
Now, I find it highly irresponsible and if I may, disgusting and shameful that this government chooses to pretend that it cares about the “Singaporean core” and chooses to thump their chests and announce how much they are on Singaporeans’ side, when they know next to nothing about what the Singaporean core is, and they do not care what Singaporeans feel, because most Singaporeans aren’t as rich as the foreigners. Now, it’s highly disgusting that they are speaking up in parliament about the Singaporean core and ‘wanting’ to protect it, and Singaporeans have also adopted this ideology of a “Singaporean core” and have started discussing it, when actually, you know, all of us have been had. We have all bought into their little propaganda idea of the “Singaporean core” and we are now debating fiercely over what it is and trying to protect what we essentially do not understand, at least not right now or in the next 5 years. Look, to develop a Singaporean identity, it takes more than talking about it or plucking ideals out from random observations, and then trying to align ourselves to them.
Singapore Could Have Developed A Singaporean Identity
If you ask me, after the Japanese occupation, there might actually have been a Singaporean identity – one where the people on this island suffered under the hands of the perpetrators and together, overcame the hardship and became a stronger and more resilient people. And when PAP came into power, they erased all that. It’s highly, highly irresponsible of PAP to do that. Because they wanted a silo focus on economic growth, they veered the people into thinking that money is everything. Now, we don’t have a clear culture nor identity at this point, simply because we had over-focused on economic thinking, that we sacrificed the ability to think in terms of one another. Not only that, the government had erased and repressed the shared history that our people went through during the 1940s and deny us the opportunity to further develop our shared allegiance to one another then.
Look, we cannot talk about a common identity because this government has put in place impediments which prevent us from doing so. To truly understand what this identity is, we have to recreate it, but the government cannot be the one doing it, by saying let’s have 4 races, or let’s all use English as the common language. The 4 races ideology was done for political supremacy for the government and the common language was instituted for economic purposes. Those aren’t about our culture. If we want to know what our culture is, right now, we are on the verge of another discovery. Right now, at the repression and unjust treatment by this government, the people will start to realise who they really are.
Our Government is Highly Irresponsible to Foreigners
On the other hand, I find it highly disgusting that the government has brought in foreigners because they want their wealth, but when Singaporeans got angry, the government hid themselves and allowed the foreigners to face the full force of this anger. Now, if you want to bring people under your wing, then you have certain responsibility to take care of them. You don’t hang them dry. Already, this government is hanging the Singaporeans out to dry. Now, they are hanging the foreigners out too, so essentially, they are hanging everyone in Singapore out to dry. Why does the government do that? Well, this government is selfish. Their two twin focus is to ensure wealth generation for themselves and that they can maintain their power. By allowing Singaporeans to get angry at the foreigners and have the foreigners against Singaporeans, you prevent any of them from realising that the government is the problem, so while they continue to say nasty things about each other, the government can kick back, sit back and relax while money continues to flow in. This is highly disgusting. I do not know how to frame it otherwise.
Look, is it healthy that we get Singaporeans so angry that they call foreigners names, so much so that foreigners are getting angry back and calling Singaporeans names? This is never going to end! And so, when foreigners go on their Facebook and their say angry things about Singaporeans, do I blame them? I don’t, because they’ve been subjected to so much verbal abuse by Singaporeans that they have to let it out somewhere. Do I blame them when they go back to their own countries for holidays and lament about why Singaporeans are there? I don’t, because when you are working in Singapore and you face do much nasty remarks day in, day out, the last thing you want is to go back to your country and see another Singaporean, whom you feel have been treating you so unfairly! Why are Singaporeans going on their Facebook to make remarks about the other races? It’s the same problem – everyone feels marginalised and unfairly treated, so something gives.
The Government Needs to Admit to Their Responsibility
Am I sympathetic to the foreigners? No. What I’m saying is this. We are all focusing on the wrong thing. Look, Singaporeans and foreigners all feel unjustly treated in Singapore. And we’ve learnt to get angry at each other. I ask again, what is the fundamental problem? The fundamental problem is that this government has enacted bad policies which has thus created over-population in Singapore, and which has thus angered everyone staying on this island. Not only that, because the government has differential treatment towards people here, when people feel disadvantaged, they start taking it out on the next person. It’s basic human rights and dignity. When you don’t feel fairly treated, you react. And it’s highly irresponsible for this government not to admit that they have mismanaged their policies and it’s highly irresponsible for them not to admit that there’s over-population. What’s even more unforgivable is that not only are they not admitting to their mistakes and missteps, they are rampaging on and continuing to increase the population, and causing further over-population and inequality.
What Is The Solution?
The solution to everything that I’ve mentioned in this article is, first, to enact policies which slow down or limit the flow of people coming in, as the Worker’s Party had suggested. The key issue isn’t about whether the people here are Singaporean or not. The key issue is how many people we are letting in. So first, we need to slow down the flow of people into the country, simply because we have to manage the problem of over-population. The government has to acknowledge that the problem is about over-population and not pretend to come up with some fluffy concept about how we they still want to retain the Singaporean core, so if we can do that, please let us bring more people in. By 2040, Singaporeans won’t be the majority, then what excuse will they give to bring people in? Again, this government is highly irresponsible for not wanting to tackle for the real problem is – overpopulation, and by wanting to further entrench the problem by creating other problems around it.
Second, the government has to ensure that its policies treat everyone in Singapore equally, so that no one is treated better, or no one worse. Once you have unequal treatment, there will be people who will feel disadvantaged, they will get angry, they will find fault with another person and there will be rifts. And this problem will trickle down to other segments of society. So, the solution is to enact policies which do not marginalise certain groups of people, at the expense of another. This brings into question, once again, of the government’s governing principles. This government wants to make money and so as long as they want to do that, they will bring in people who are rich who they will continue to treat better, they will bring people in who will work in the blue-collar industries, which they will treat badly in by paying low wages, and this in turn, will create a pool of Singaporeans whose wages are depressed and who will be treated badly in, where income inequalities increase, where inflation rises and every other Singaporean will feel the pinch. The problem with Singapore has become chronic because of a government whose governing principles are aligned to wealth generation for themselves, and which is unjust and dividing. A responsible government will ensure everyone benefits from the wealth generation, not just themselves.
Finally, if the government wants to bring people into Singapore at large numbers, it will indefinitely have impact on the social makeup and ongoings. If the government wants to bring more people in, they have to invest in a lot more resources to ensure that everyone they bring in are schooled in what Singapore is about. The people who come here need to know what Singapore is like, how people do things here and what they need to observe, not only on a legal basis, but socially as well. If the government is only bringing a small number of people in, perhaps this isn’t an issue because the people who come in can interact with the people who are here to learn and adapt. But if the government brings in huge masses, then they have a responsibility to ensure everyone is able to understand everyone and respect everyone. So, this means also educating Singaporeans as well. Now, as I’ve mentioned, not only has the government not invested sufficiently in this, they are happy that the people do not respect one another. When you have that, you diffuse people’s attention on the government and the government’s ineffectiveness, and that’s why the government wants this.
We Are Now On The Verge To Developing Our Singapore Identity Again
On the last note, there is something that needs to be done as well, but it’s not something that the government, by themselves can do. In adversity and hardship, people learn to find commonalities, they learn to help each other, and they learn to align themselves with one another. At this current point in Singapore’s history, this is the closest we can get to adversity, in a Singapore that has been so manicured. It’s a pity that the resilience and friendships that we’ve developed after the war has to gone to wrought, so much so that we have to start anew to redevelop our culture and the resilience of our people. Let now be a time where we can learn to understand the pain that one another is going through, and learn to understand how we are in this together, and how we need to pinpoint who the real perpetrator is and work together towards a solution that protects us all. Let us work together for the next election, where we will put ourselves forth and we will vote ourselves in. We can no longer trust others to do what is right for us. PAP isn’t right for us. PAP isn’t healthy for us. They don’t care. Now, you do. So, you have to protect yourself, and protect those around you.
I’m saddened by the discourse that has been ongoing for the past few years. We’ve grown more and more unhappy with foreigners. Yet, we have friends who are foreigners whom we respect and admire as well. The issue isn’t about whether a person is Singaporean or a foreigner. A person is a person. Everyone deserves to be treated with respect and equally. Like I’ve said, the issue lies in bad policies which have resulted in over-population in Singapore, as well as unequal treatment. Once we are able to enact the right policies, we will be able to significantly reduce the unhappiness that people currently face, and we will be able to live together, Singaporeans and foreigners alike, working together for this land. Once we have a population that is manageable, we will have people who will be able to enjoy their livelihoods, whether they are Singaporeans are not. And we can continue to discuss what the Singaporean identity is and how we can come together around it, not to oppose others, but to develop a sense of pride and commitment to ourselves and the people we live with.
We need to learn to think expansively. We cannot be like our government and learn to put the blame on one another. Our government wants that but as people with hearts and souls, unlike our government, we need to grow beyond our unhappiness, and see the common human condition that binds us. This government is the problem. This government refuses to address the real problems and want to pass them on to the people. This government wants to make money so it doesn’t care about the people. Look, I’m sorry that there might be some people in this government who truly want to do good and serve the people but they need to realise that the core people on their team have other interests and their hands are tied as long as they continue to align themselves with their party. There are 3 million Singaporeans. But there are only 80 elected PAP politicians. For the greater good of Singapore, who should we protect? We should protect all, and if the direction that PAP is going will be the undoing of Singapore and of the 3 million people who have staked their lives here, then we need to help PAP to go, so that all of us will be protected.