Online|Offline: Video forum on xenophobia, part 1

Since the video is over 22 minutes long, I won’t be saying much in text. This is the first part of a discussion that was held on Sunday 24 June 2012 in a tiny room next door to a video arcade! Throughout the discussion, the pings and pongs of videogame machines played in the background. That you can hear our voices as clearly as you do in the video is testimony to the remarkable skills of the video and audio team, organised by publichouse.sg

The topic was xenophobia, and as you can see, I was perhaps taking a more forthright position than my friends. I felt very uncomfortable with suggestions that “rational” hatred of foreigners might be acceptable, or that “scapegoating” could be a healthy response.

To me, it’s very simple. Even if we feel there are too many foreigners in Singapore, it really isn’t the foreigners’ fault. It’s the policy-makers’ fault. There is no basis for taking it out on those who didn’t design the policy. If you feel crowded on the train, if you feel hot competition for your job, or if you believe the open-door policy has put downward pressure on your salary, focus your displeasure on those who created those conditions  in the first place. If this was what my fellow panellists considered “reasonable” and “understandable” xenophobia, then I must disagree in no uncertain terms. The misdirection of one’s frustration onto innocent parties is never reasonable or understandable.

Someone somewhere will surely bring up cases of individual foreigners who were arrogant, loud-mouthed, or in some other way offensive. This still does not justify hatred of foreigners as an entire class, or the kinds of offensive language we too often see being used on the internet. One can take issue with the individual, but there is still no justification for stereotyping of and hostility towards the entire group. After all, if one Malay Singaporean behaved badly, no one is going to agree that it would be acceptable for you to tar all Malays with the same brush and take your frustration out on the entire community.

As for “scapegoating”, while indeed it may be cathartic for the frustrated individual, how would you like to be the target individual? It’s totally unfair to anyone to be made into a scapegoat for something he’s not responsible for. So, again, I disagree with my friends.

My position is very simple: there is no basis for being hostile to entire groups of people on the basis of some shared characteristic that is not the source of any direct injury to you, whether the characteristic is their skin colour, national origin, sexuality, gender, linguistic identification or religious belief.

As I said in the video segment above: “I’m not comfortable with us taking the position that this is not an anti-xenophobia forum. I find it very strange that we’re even going to leave open the door that we can be pro-xenophobia. How can that be possible?”

59 Responses to “Online|Offline: Video forum on xenophobia, part 1”


  1. 1 Poker Player 1 July 2012 at 22:30

    What to take home:

    To me, it’s very simple. Even if we feel there are too many foreigners in Singapore, it really isn’t the foreigners’ fault. It’s the policy-makers’ fault. There is no basis for taking it out on those who didn’t design the policy.

    • 2 Poker Player 1 July 2012 at 22:35

      And yes. Some people decided it was safer for their careers to rationalize bashing foreigners than to draw attention to the “policy-makers’” role in their numbers. Only thing I can think of to explain the bizarre things some of these people are saying.

      • 3 jimmy@gmail.com 1 July 2012 at 23:47

        And probably bashing the foreigners is an indirect way of sending the message across to the cold hard-headed policy makers.

      • 4 yawningbread 2 July 2012 at 10:07

        How about if Malay Singaporeans, unhappy with what they perceive as systemic discrimination against Malays by the Singapore government, start bashing Chinese and Indian Singaporeans as an indirect way of “sending the message across to the cold hard-headed policy makers”?

      • 5 Poker Player 2 July 2012 at 12:21

        Looking back at Malay/Chinese race-relations all the way to before Malaysia’s independence and PAP/Chinese self-righteousness at the episode, “tu quoque” to us…

  2. 6 Tsumujikaze no Soujutsu 1 July 2012 at 22:55

    Indeed there’s nothing rational about xenophobia. Yet when we start to rationalize anything and everything truly wrong, that will open up the gates of acceptance: That there’s a legit justification behind the whole thing. The biggest issue lies in whether everything is about individuals or the collective. The 2005 Paris riots happen for a reason just to quote a recently famous example. In fact, Anti-Tom literature erupted for such a reason as well.

  3. 7 Lost in Transit 1 July 2012 at 22:55

    Andrew’s and Martin’s comments are baffling. “Please don’t construe that we are anti-xenophobic”?! Huh? Thank you for calling them out on this. It’s outrageous. Yet Martin carries on to explain why he thinks xenophobia is justified! Talk about missing your point entirely.

    BTW, it is quite ironic that Ravi mentioned that he was afraid of flying cockroaches because a few months ago, the TOC shared this cartoon in it’s FB news feed: http://tiny.cc/ypvrgw (FB) which is not only xenophobic but suggest violence against foreigners.

  4. 8 swh 1 July 2012 at 23:55

    Hatred and discrimination never operates upon a rational basis. Hatred, in and of itself, is an emotion – you are telling people to direct hate towards policy makers.

    People are already doing that, yet is it possible to do that and ask people to still be tolerant of these individuals in question when they see them in public – when the latter serves as a symbolic and physical manifestation and reminder of their dissatisfaction? The answer is no, at least not for the majority of people – there is no such thing as selective, rational emotional outbursts.

    Discrimination of races is wrong. Discrimination of other people is wrong. People who indulge in such acts vis-a-vis xenophobia are also wrong. But it is inevitable. You want people to “pick and choose” who to target? No way that happens – not in Singapore, nor in any other society.

    • 9 Poker Player 4 July 2012 at 15:42

      “People are already doing that, yet is it possible to do that and ask people to still be tolerant of these individuals in question when they see them in public ”

      Just seeing these individuals in public. Or seeing these individuals doing something wrong or unpleasant or antisocial in public? There is a difference.

      Also do I need to add the “foreign” adjective to any word in the sentence I quoted – or they make enough sense without it? If the word “foreign” is needed, will an alternative sentence with the same words except “foreign” replaced with “English-educated Chinese” find the same appeal in you? I am sure it does to some communities.

  5. 10 Jeremy Chen 2 July 2012 at 00:39

    I’ve never taken a train on the north-west line. Secret train to the SAF training area?

  6. 11 Dy 2 July 2012 at 00:55

    Did the moderator say “Ravi Phenomenon”? LOL

  7. 12 Curio 2 July 2012 at 07:00

    I think it makes sense to be “Xenophobic”. We can’t change the policies and we can’t change the policy makers, (god have we tried). So lets all do our part and be extremely discriminative against foreigners. Maybe they will leave and that is our contribution to Singapore’s foreign talent policy

    [Yawning Bread: I assume you're using sarcasm.]

  8. 13 ricardo 2 July 2012 at 07:42

    Thank you Mr. Au for highlighting this issue and taking a stand against Xenophobia. I’m disappointed that some of my heros on this forum didn’t take a similar stand.

    Understanding the reasons and root causes for xenophobia (the policies of our Lord LKY, the HoLee Family, their Ministers and friends) doesn’t mean we shouldn’t speak out against xenophobic behaviour.

    Are we going to ‘accept’ xenophobia along with racism and domestic violence cos we ‘understand’ it?

    How else can we direct public opinion to address the true causes of unhappiness?

    Perhaps, the presence of a PAP MP and the chairperson reminding everyone of Martyn See’s banned work focussed everyone’s mind on the Ministry of Truth’s certain scrutiny.

    I hope no one was afraid (like SPH) of being publicly tarred as defenders of ‘hated foreigners’.

    Poker Player may be right that fear of the the Ministries of Truth & Love means xenophobia is the only outlet for many people’s frustration. But the real cure is to change the Ministries.

    • 14 Poker Player 2 July 2012 at 10:21

      No that was jimmy@gmail I think bashing foreigners is like kicking a kitten out of frustration after being humiliated by a bully we don’t have the courage to stand up to.

      • 15 Poker Player 2 July 2012 at 10:38

        OK, re-reading you last paragraph and my response.- yes you got me right. But please let the comment in anyway – the pungency is needed.

      • 16 Poker Player 2 July 2012 at 14:55

        People! Your anger is wrongly directed!

  9. 17 Chanel 2 July 2012 at 09:14

    Before labelling S’poreans as “xenophobic”, can you please name me developed countries where foreigners make up 38% of the population?

    • 18 Crap... 2 July 2012 at 10:37

      Hey Chanel, it doesn’t matter if foreigners make up 38%, 10% or even 90% of Spore’s population. Xenophobia is simply not acceptable. I’m a Singaporean and I understand the frustration perfectly. Mr Au is simply making the point that xenophobia is an irrational reaction to the problems we are facing. The problem lies solely with the govt’s pro-foreigners policies. Can all these foreigners legally work and live among us without the blessing and sometimes outright invitation by the govt? So instead of feeling hatred towards a class, race or nationality, please do the rational thing by voting wisely next time. Don’t just vote blindly and expect things to change.

    • 19 SN 2 July 2012 at 12:29

      Chanel,

      The spike in immigration is a policy issue. Many will agree.

      But it is a policy issue, which as citizens we should take it up with our Government: it does not give anyone the right to say, “Go home to where you belong, you fucking [insert nationality here]!”

      Regards.

      • 20 Chanel 3 July 2012 at 15:59

        Crap, SN,

        It is easy to decry the aggressive attitude some S’poreans have for foreigners here, but please put yourself in the shoes of the low income folks who are the most impacted by the myopic immigration policy. The Cantonese saying that if the needle doesn’t prick, one doesn’t feel the pain is very apt here.

        Xenophobia is defined as an unreasonable fear or hatred of foreigners or strangers. With foreigners making up 38% of our population, can one with good conscience call the “fear and hatred” unreasonable or irrational??? Some of us do the logical thing by voting against PAP last year, but with the GRC system and highly biased mainstream media, many get their votes diluted.

      • 21 Poker Player 3 July 2012 at 17:15

        “Some of us do the logical thing by voting against PAP last year, but with the GRC system and highly biased mainstream media, many get their votes diluted.”

        So there are other votes that dilutes their votes. Who cast these other votes? Foreigners?

    • 22 mike 3 July 2012 at 23:31

      Toronto, Ontario, has 50% of its population born outside the country:

      http://www.toronto.ca/toronto_facts/diversity.htm

      No xenophobia here. There is a deliberate government policy of multiculturalism, and policies in place to welcome foreigners.

      Toronto’s foreign population is large enough to have 3 Chinatowns, 2 Koreatowns (affectionately labelled North and South Korea due to their respective locations), and many other ethnic enclaves.

      I guess one dramatic difference here is that with a better social safety net, the less well off are not made to feel like shit—the difference in lifestyle between someone who makes 40k a year versus someone who makes 120k a year is not horrible. Whereas in singapore, I’d imagine that making 40k leaves one very nervous, and would probably find it hard to make ends meet?

  10. 24 SN 2 July 2012 at 10:34

    I cannot believe what I am hearing – that there are “rational” forms of xenophobia.

    Thank you, Alex, for setting the record straight.

    I look forward to Martyn’s presentation of the “root of the issue.” My sense is that Martyn, and Ravi, are too ideological (anti-PAP) for their own good. (Zaqy did well to call out Ravi on his straw-man argument concerning the Government’s gazetting of TOC).

  11. 25 navydog 2 July 2012 at 12:48

    There’s a report on Yahoo about the forum. See http://sg.news.yahoo.com/is-singapore-turning-into-a-xenophobic-society-.html

    “[Martin] See then cited four possible legitimate reasons for this “reasonable hatred”… ”

    But PAP MP Zaky says people shouldn’t blame the govt for its policies:
    “I sensed some pent-up frustrations with government policies and so forth. No government is perfect but having said that, it’s also an easy target to put the whole blame on instead of addressing the issue,” he said.

    So the conclusion is? Blame the foreigners! There are legitimate reasons after all.

  12. 27 J 2 July 2012 at 14:15

    The government has been equally guilty of stereotyping all foreigners here, long since any sign of ‘xenophobia’ arrived. Let’s take a look at some of the statements they have made in the past.

    - foreigners create jobs for singaporeans
    - foreigners do the jobs singaporeans don’t want to do
    - foreigners are needed because singaporeans aren’t having kids
    - foreigners are the spice in our society
    - foreigners are more hard driving than singaporeans

    I’m sure all of this is just as offensive as what you have described. It’s unfair to speak of all foreigners in such glowing terms when some of them are wholly incompetent, practice discriminatory hiring, use fake degrees to get jobs and weasel out of their NS obligations.

    • 28 Poker Player 2 July 2012 at 18:58

      “weasel out of their NS obligations”

      It’s amazing that we even blame foreigners for this. The W in the proverbial WH on NS files is the real “weasel”. How angry did we get at that? It is a true sign of a servile people when we take all kinds of crap from our Masters but lash out at “inferiors” over – in this case – imagined infractions.

  13. 29 Ron 3 July 2012 at 01:17

    So it’s the fault of the policy-makers for letting in hordes of foreigners. But the policy-makers are chosen by the 60% for some inexplicable reasons. Does that mean that we should be directing our “phobia” towards fellow citizens then?

    In a way, the foreigners should bear some brunt of the dissatisfaction of the indigenous people. After all, they are RESPONSIBLE for making the decision to come over, with the knowledge that their decision has an adverse impact on the citizens. Saying that we should not fault with them as it’s only natural that people will act in their best interest, does not hold water. It’s like saying the govt will naturally welcome more and more foreigners given that that is one of the quickest ways to grow GDP.

    Ultimately, I think Singaporeans are generally bochap over a lot of important sociopolitical issues. If some moderately xenophobic sentiments can stir the populace into critical thinking, then we should welcome it. Change will be hastened without waiting for another four years. Moreover, it will exert a disparaging effect on the foreigners currently contemplating the move.

    As with most countries, Singapore can do with foreigners in reasonable numbers.

    • 30 IniD 5 July 2012 at 10:44

      “… the foreigners should bear some brunt of the dissatisfaction of the indigenous people. After all, they are RESPONSIBLE for making the decision to come over, with the knowledge that their decision has an adverse impact on the citizens.”

      Wow.

      And there are still people who believe that Singaporeans are not xenophobic?

      • 31 IniD 5 July 2012 at 13:42

        Suppose I worked in the gahment when it relaxed its rules about employing gays and I worry that I may lose my job/promotion to one – does that make a gay man RESPONSIBLE for applying for a job in my department, knowing that his decision may have an adverse impact on me, an incumbent employee? Should he then bear the brunt of dissatisfaction from me and my existing (indigenous?) colleagues in he does get employed?

        Does it (in reference to Anon mk32′s story below) make it OK for me to say something like:“What makes you think you can tell me how to do my job? Go back to your gay bar lah.” if he was rude to me in the course of our work?

        Competition exists. Deal with it.

        If someone is being an ass, deal with him as you would with any other ass.

        But the moment you convince yourself that your anger is justified because of his nationality/race/gender/orientation, and that you are then entitled to direct your anger towards others belong to his [whatever group], then yes, you are a [whatever group]-phobe.

  14. 32 george 3 July 2012 at 12:57

    “And probably bashing the foreigners is an indirect way of sending the message across to the cold hard-headed policy makers.”

    One cannot rule out the logic in this statement, however, unfair it may be to the foreigners. For how else are the average Singaporeans to catch the attention of the govt?
    And we know only too well that the govt would take silence as acceptance of its policies.

    When you are not allowed to demonstrate and protest publicly against the high and mighty policymakers, the battlefield shift to the ‘results’ of the policies. This would be a natural consequence. People cannot be denied their right to a say in the issues that affect them directly. It is a sad reality that the PAP govt of today no longer thinks in terms of the people they purport to serve. Empty talk, false promises seem to be the order of the day. There is no leveling with the people, just straightforward ploys to hoodwink them as much as possible. These are the signs of a waning moribund administration acting in desperation to prop up its own eventual demise.

    The ‘Garden by the Bay’ on its own is arguably a ‘good’ project, but seen in the context of the deteriorating general well being of the average Singaporeans it is no different from the vainglorious edifices built by Marcos of the Philippines before he was finally deposed by the people’s power of the Filipinos. Such ‘super’ projects are undertaken in self praise and self glorification – nothing makes it more clear than the $20 apiece that you have to fork out to get into the two special areas. $80 for a family of four in the low income level is a big deal.

  15. 33 Anon mk32 3 July 2012 at 15:22

    Why was this a close-door discussion? Anyway, I actually believe that most people in Singapore aren’t xenophobic. There wasn’t ever a time when the people around me openly insulted a foreign person, although privately, we do wonder about some of their practices. But that’s not xenophobia, is it? Foreigners have often teased us about our “strange practices” too. It seems to come about organically during the interactions between different cultures. I think that if anyone is worried that Singapore is becoming xenophobic, their fears are misplaced. It’s like saying New York is going to become a xenophobic city. Singapore is an immigrant city-state and we always will be. We try to tolerate and adapt because that’s the way we’ve always lived.

    I think that in addressing the tensions among Singaporeans and foreigners, more needs to promote better communication both ways. I think that very often the tensions of living together in a crowded city expresses itself as what seems like “xenophobia” but is really just daily frustrations. For example, someone who is angry with a PRC for shoving him in the train may say “go back to China”. Why? Is he “xenophobic”? I beg to differ. He was probably just saying it to piss the guy off. It seems like a good way to tell a foreigner off. It’s another way of saying “F you, get out of my way” or what we used to say “balik kampong”. I thought about this because very often, you find someone ostensibly making remarks like “those foreigners are so irritating”, and the next minute, you realise that they have many foreign friends themselves. So is that person xenophobic or not? If he is, why does he have so many foreign friends? Why does he travel overseas every year?

    How do we reconcile that contradiction? To me, “xenophobia” is much more profound. It’s a deep-seated hatred and fear of foreigners. It doesn’t require any triggers in the form of annoying behaviours. Rather, it’s a sentiment that expresses itself every time and any time one encounters foreigners. It takes hold most strongly and dangerously in nations which have great pride in themselves (hardly a sentiment that we find among Singaporeans considering the number of jokes made at the expense of the NDP video). Because of their lack of interest in and knowledge of other cultures, people in those countries respond with a real fear and dislike when they encounter foreigners. In contrast, the so-called “xenophobic” sentiments in Singapore are really just frustrated attempts to assert ourselves.

    In case you haven’t realised, foreigners from China, India and the countries like America and Australia, are generally more outspoken than Singaporeans. We are a reserved lot and many of us do feel outmatched in terms of our abilities to represent ourselves and stand up for our rights, both at work and in daily life. To cite an example, there was once I took an MRT lift out of convenience and was told off by a Caucasian man pushing a pram, who believed that the lift should not be used by able-bodied people. As he left the lift with his baby, he evilly wished me ill by saying that he hoped I would never be able to have a baby. I was stunned that this ang moh man that I had held the lift door for would behave like such an ass. I was, in fact, too stunned to reply.

    Had I found the courage then, I might’ve told him, “What makes you think you can tell me what to do in my own country? Go back to where you came from.”

    Is it because I’m a xenophobe? Decidedly no. It’s because he was an asshole.

    When examining “rising xenophobia” in Singapore, it’ll be good for us to look into the contexts before slapping on a label, whose profundity we may not really comprehend. Singaporeans need to learn how to speak up and assert ourselves in a way that doesn’t require any mention of race or country. And foreigners, too, need to learn to adapt better and be more tolerant. It’s not so much an issue of us vs. them, as it is an issue of individuals try to fight for our own space in a crowded cosmopolitan city.

    • 34 IniD 5 July 2012 at 10:41

      “Had I found the courage then, I might’ve told him, “What makes you think you can tell me what to do in my own country? Go back to where you came from.”

      Is it because I’m a xenophobe?”

      Yes.

  16. 35 Poker Player 3 July 2012 at 16:49

    @George

    “For how else are the average Singaporeans to catch the attention of the govt?”

    Vote? Show up at Speakers Corner? Write letters? Talk to their MPs? Any of these will “catch the attention of the govt” without being nasty to people who didn’t cause the problem. Notice how this became a hot topic for them after Aljunied? That’s what got their attention. If they are still not doing enough – drop more GRC bombs and they will surrender.

    • 36 george 4 July 2012 at 20:49

      Let me declare first of all that I an no Xeno, as long as the other side accord me equal respect.

      I did have to on one put a foreigner in his place for a very rude behaviour. It happened at a food court at the Taka. I was with my wife having our dinner, seated in the next table was a foreign couple. When my wife got up briefly to get some dessert, this joker who was obviously trying damn hard to impress his girl (perhaps to bed her that Saturday night, who knows?) simply lifted his food tray of half eaten left over food, dirty napkins and assorted rubbish and practically slammed it on my wife’s side of the table which faced me, merely inches away from my tray and I was still eating. Those who have been to the food court would know how small the tables were and how close adjoining tables were arranged next to each other. Well, I gave him a good ticking off about his bad table manners before he sheepishly took his tray back. So I am not surprised if other Singaporeans had similar bad experiences with the foreigners in their midst. And if you multiply it by the huge numbers they now make up, is it surprising that Singaporeans get irritated with them?

      Back to your statement:
      Yes, and how far would those get you, esp. the last one?
      That would be a joke. You have to produce your NRIC, register and run the gauntlet of the MPs hangers-on before you get to see his lordship or ladyship! Do you recall how a mentally challenged son of a woman who went to see an MP for help and ended up with a police report made against the son for smashing a chair against the wall or something out of the frustration he felt in the MP’s demeanor towards her mother.

      As for writing letter, it’s not like we don’t know the typical replies from the govt leaders: We need spurs in our backsides, said one old man. And from many others, we are told we have to integrate the foreigners and get to know them, when elsewhere in the world a host country expects the foreigners to learn and imbibe the country’s norms. Yet, others would chastise Singaporeans for being ‘intolerant’ which is easy to say when they don’t have to compete with them for space in the buses, trains and even their rice bowls.

      At the end of the day, bad feelings among the majority of Singaporeans towards foreigners who feel aggrieved is to be expected. Yet, when foreigners were not so ubiquitous in our country Singaporeans have shown that they are generous towards them. Take the case of Huang Na who was murdered by Took at the Veg Wholesale Market at Pasir Panjang. Do you recall how generous Singaporeans were with their cash towards the murdered girl’s mother? She received enough donations to built a brand new home for herself back in China. The Thai student who lost both her legs in an SMRT train accident similarly received generous donations from the Singapore public.

      I agree with Yawning Bread that the number one culprit in this whole affair is the policy maker, aka the LHL govt.

  17. 37 Poker Player 3 July 2012 at 17:03

    @Ron

    So, three possible targets

    1) PAP
    2) 60% of our fellow citizens
    3) Foreigners

    The winner is 3) because?

    • 38 Poker Player 3 July 2012 at 17:06

      And did it occur to you that among the 60% are those who are happy benefit from the low wages of our poorest compatriots and want to keep it that way?

  18. 39 Poker Player 3 July 2012 at 17:22

    How do elites stay in power even when they fail? Redirect the anger their failure causes at the weakest elements in society. Happens all the time…

  19. 40 The 3 July 2012 at 17:27

    The point about huge number of foreigners (38%) is pertinent. It is not an excuse, but it is perfectly understandable why Singaporeans have it up to their ears with foreigners encroaching onto every aspect of their life.

    The policy makers here like to point out how cosmopolitan London, New York or Paris is – with nationalities from all corners of the world and a high percentage of foreigners. But that is comparing apples with oranges.

    London and New York are cities, but Singapore is both a City and a COUNTRY. No country has a higher percentage of foreigners that Singapore, save for those oil-rich gulf states dependent on foreign workers. Those who do not like New York’s high cost of living can always opt to go to Alaska or Wyoming, but where can the poor Singaporean go? Pulau Ubin, Pulau Hantu or Pulau Belakang Mati?

    Can find a job in in London? Well, you can always find a good one at Land’s End.

    • 41 Poker Player 4 July 2012 at 10:10

      The point about huge number of foreigners (38%) is pertinent. It is not an excuse, but it is perfectly understandable why Singaporeans have it up to their ears with foreigners encroaching onto every aspect of their life.

      Agreed. I just hope that we also agree what the correct response is.

      Situation:
      Singaporeans have it up to their ears with foreigners encroaching onto every aspect of their life.

      Response:
      Make the people who caused the problem (the PAP) pay dearly.

  20. 42 The 3 July 2012 at 21:05

    On the point of the government taking the opportunity to open the floodgate to immigrants because of investments and economic opportunities that happen to come by, this is hogwash and ingenuous. Although the PAP MP says he’s attending this forum in his personal capacity, his reason for increasing the immigration rate is the PAP line, uttered by PM and others. If you said an untruth often enough, you may just believe that it is the truth.

    The intention to increase Singapore’s population is not spontaneous, and certainly not a reaction to seize investment opportunities. It started in 1991 with “The Next Lap”. This 160-page master plan, envisaged, among other things, Singapore’s population growing to 6.5m or 7.5m by the year X, with intermediate population targets. If you have seen the document, the time-frame was not specified, but clearly meant to be in the quite distant future. As it turned out, we achieved those intermediate targets way ahead of those stated in The Next Lap.

    There was a deliberate attempt to ramp up the population for growing the economy. It certainly isn’t a last minute effort to “catch the wind” of seize the moment. The population was 3 million in 1990, 4 million in 2000 and 5 million in 2010. This is very deliberate and very calibrated. Even Tekong and Pulau Ubin are earmarked for this enlarged population.

    On Zaki’s point about not able to put in the infrastructure in time because of long gestation period, again if you see that the decision to grow the population rapidly has been made in 1991, you know they are not telling the truth. They have more than 30 years to put in the infrastructure, but they failed miserably. Hospital, housing, roads, MRT – all are falling behind.

    My own take is that because land transport in Singapore is not sexy and serve only domestic consumption, it is not given priority and much thought. Just compared it to sea transport and air transport and you can see that long lead time is just a smokescreen. It takes an equally, if not longer, gestation period to build container ports and airport terminals, yet you can see that our air and sea facilities are always build ahead of time and ahead of demand. Why is land transport facilities the exception? My guess – it is a step child as it is not “international” in nature.

    So, I wish they would just stop pretending that the massive influx of foreigners is a reaction to mop up the investments. The plan to ramp up the population was hatched more than 3 decades ago and published in 1991 as “The Next Lap.” So, lap it up folks.

  21. 44 mike 3 July 2012 at 23:52

    Picking up on ‘The’s comment, I think the issue with this government is the technocratic desire for quick fixes—because we “Need” to grow the population by x million by year Y, and since locals are not making enough babies, let’s import bodies to fix the issue, because ‘our’ Economic Growth is dependent on population growth.

    Problem is, for me as a recent parent, that the government is not putting money where its mouth is—if you want more babies, why are you not also planning more childcare facilities so that women can return to leading economically productive lifestyles? Or is workplace ambition only reserved for men? And many other baby unfriendly policies. No wonder people are not making them—having babies is a stressful enough proposition without needing an unsupportive government to make it worse.

    As a side issue, importation of bodies has traditionally been used in many places to boost one’s economy. Newcomers will need a house to stay in, and many other services for living in (cellphones, transport, etc). Locals do stand a chance to cash in on the churn of money that come with settling in. However, the social policies in place needs to recognise the challenge of assimilation. And that’s where I suppose the government has shown a marked lack of empathy in not being able to see the difficulties that confront the non-elite.

    On the other hand, I suppose there is more the ‘common man’ can do to understand the leadership in the middle. Unfortunately, because of the way Singaporean politics is set up, where people are actively discouraged from participation, and where people trust the government to do what’s in their best interests, this is the situation that we end up.

    Who knows, within another 15-20 years when these new migrants get the chance to vote, and they have no allegiance to the PAP, maybe, just maybe, something different will happen?

  22. 45 george 4 July 2012 at 00:29

    @ Poker Player
    “Vote? Show up at Speakers Corner? Write letters? Talk to their MPs?”

    Let me declare first of all that I an no Xeno, as long as the other side accord me equal respect.

    I did have to on one put a foreigner in his place for a very rude behaviour. It happened at a food court at the Taka. I was with my wife having our dinner, seated in the next table was a foreign couple. When my wife got up briefly to get some dessert, this joker who was obviously trying damn hard to impress his girl (perhaps to bed her that Saturday night, who knows?) simply lifted his food tray of half eaten left over food, dirty napkins and assorted rubbish and practically slammed it on my wife’s side of the table which faced me, merely inches away from my tray and I was still eating. Those who have been to the food court would know how small the tables were and how close adjoining tables were arranged next to each other. Well, I gave him a good ticking off about his bad table manners before he sheepishly took his tray back. So I am not surprised if other Singaporeans had similar bad experiences with the foreigners in their midst. And if you multiply it by the huge numbers they now make up, is it surprising that Singaporeans get irritated with them?

    Back to your statement:
    Yes, and how far would those get you, esp. the last one?
    That would be a joke. You have to produce your NRIC, register and run the gauntlet of the MPs hangers-on before you get to see his lordship or ladyship! Do you recall how a mentally challenged son of a woman who went to see an MP for help and ended up with a police report made against the son for smashing a chair against the wall or something out of the frustration he felt in the MP’s demeanor towards her mother.

    As for writing letter, it’s not like we don’t know the typical replies from the govt leaders: We need spurs in our backsides, said one old man. And from many others, we are told we have to integrate the foreigners and get to know them, when elsewhere in the world a host country expects the foreigners to learn and imbibe the country’s norms. Yet, others would chastise Singaporeans for being ‘intolerant’ which is easy to say when they don’t have to compete with them for space in the buses, trains and even their rice bowls.

    At the end of the day, bad feelings among the majority of Singaporeans towards foreigners who feel aggrieved is to be expected. Yet, when foreigners were not so ubiquitous in our country Singaporeans have shown that they are generous towards them. Take the case of Huang Na who was murdered by Took at the Veg Wholesale Market at Pasir Panjang. Do you recall how generous Singaporeans were with their cash towards the murdered girl’s mother? She received enough donations to built a brand new home for herself back in China. The Thai student who lost both her legs in an SMRT train accident similarly received generous donations from the Singapore public.

    I agree with Yawning Bread that the number one culprit in this whole affair is the policy maker, aka the LHL govt.

    • 46 Poker Player 6 July 2012 at 12:24

      About your food court anecdote (and others in the comments). Try different permutations.

      The couple was local. You couldn’t make out their origins. The couple were non-resident tourists. You and your wife are foreign. You and your wife are non-resident tourists.

      My point is anecdotes like yours are only relevant if we were Scandinavians or Swiss or Austrians or Japanese – they can argue statistics and bad behaviour – we can’t.

    • 47 Slychiu 6 July 2012 at 12:35

      George, bad behaviour is not limited to foreigners, is it? Singaporeans are equally guilty of this. This shows an “Us against them” mentality which is itself xenophobic

  23. 48 seorang 4 July 2012 at 09:34

    Here’s a jolly good FT, well, in fact, awesome human being!

    • 49 yawningbread 5 July 2012 at 21:01

      There’s something so self-serving about the above two videos, I think the critical readers here aren’t going to take too kindly to them.

      • 50 seorang 7 July 2012 at 06:35

        I can’t say I disagree with you. While she’s not a perfect role model, I’m still impressed by the positive impact she’s creating on many young people in schools and campuses in America, in terms of encouraging them to dream and possibly look beyond American shores. This seems to be her key contribution…

  24. 51 Desiree 4 July 2012 at 12:30

    Let’s see how your sensible article will be “reported” in Singapore’s “alternative” online news outlets.

  25. 52 Z 4 July 2012 at 14:06

    Just curious. If one is anti-foreigner (drivers) due to the belief (fact?) that the specific country’s driving test/system make them terrible drivers, is that xenophobia?

  26. 53 Matthew 4 July 2012 at 14:23

    Alex Au is a hypocrite.

    He claims we should not be hostile to anyone. But in his many blog posts, he is hostile to fundamental Christians, and he “rationalises” it by citing history and other references. Does it not make Alex a Christian-phobic person?

    Xenophobia is a form of PHOBIA. It is primarily irrational, and provokes intense psychological and psysiological responses. Some people have phobia of cockroaches, the dark etc. Alex Au has a irrational dislike of women with big breasts (see his earlier posts).

    However, rational dislike for a group of people is different. As mentioned, Alex has a rational dislike for fundamental Christians, but he also accepts that their co-existence. Many Singaporeans are unhappy with the influx of foreigners, but we welcome them and accept them, and in many cases we go the extra mile to accomodate them. But it still does not lessen the inherent resentment over the numbers.

    • 54 yawningbread 5 July 2012 at 21:07

      There’s a difference: Fundamentalist Christians go out of their way to demean me as a person and urge discrimination against me. They are the ones who have chosen to injure people like me. It is totally legitimate for me to be hostile to them and their teachings when they were the first ones to choose to be hostile to me.

    • 55 IniD 5 July 2012 at 22:26

      Semantics.

      While Alex’s phobia is not rational, it is visceral, uncontrollable, and presumably difficult if at all possible to overcome, he doesn’t go about condemning women or insisting that his company does not hire women with big breasts, or petition the gahment to make them coverup (if he did, I will be very crossed…). It’s his monkey and he deals with it without hurting or promoting hate against women.

      Xenophobia, while irrational, is deliberate and rationalised in the minds of the xenophobes, and it is clear that people are trying to spread and justify their hate using both emotional and (what they convince themselves to be) factual arguments.

      Your argument reminds me of how fundamentalist Christians would argue that atheism is also a religion, so it’s OK for religions to carry on being what they are.

  27. 56 Rabbit 5 July 2012 at 02:59

    OK, I have the urge to use the word “locust” again to counter “xenophobia”. I remember Alex has warned against calling foreigner a locust in my previous comment but I mean no ill to them because I do have a few good friends and colleagues who are foreigners and shared similar view to that effect. I must agree that people come and go, at will, in a globalize economy to keep any city vibrant. Locust needs to survive and find food wherever it is available and Singaporeans fully understand that needs.

    However, the accommodation of foreigners by our leader was too drastic as to drag down Singaporean below the water surface without any contingency plan ahead of time. Which saint country think such influx level of 38% foreigners is acceptable in a small island? None in the world except Singapore and no country wish to win such insanity from us in the guniess book of world records

    I wish I could have better example to paint an analogy why I think FEAR over the influx of foreigners is reasonable in Singapore context and more so when we have closeted leader with agenda to exploit its people trust. This trust is now broken, votes scattered became a well known fact against this govt several self-served policies.

    Back to the analogy, Singaporeans are like farmers with limited land for crop. There is no other spare land we can escape to and plant other kind of food unlike big countries. After years of cultivation and hard work, our crop bear fruit, than 38% of the sky darkened and locust descended upon those crops leaving with very little for the farmers. Can we than say the farmer’s fear is unreasonable because no one was physically hurt by the locusts? Harm need not be physical hurt; it can be emotional and mental stress, in serious case a whole family may suffer as a result from lost of home, income and movements after a “catastrophe” so to speak. PAP also said they will allow influx of immigrants on “seasonal basis” when the economy (or crop) pick up again, does it not sound similar that Locusts know when the time is ripe for take, happily allowed by PAP.

    Fear induces people to question govt policies and create a discussion forum like this. Without fear, complacency thrive on the side of politician who thought people were happy with all the wrong policies. Fortunately, PAP can control and at best reduce the flow of 38% foreigners; unfortunately they did wish to do enough which led to the predicament Singaporeans faced today. Should we blame foreigners, the answer is NOT entirely because they were invited by PAP with open arms like a “security guard” who did not keep an open eyes on the flow and quality of “guests” into our house. When questioned, the security guard can give all its politically correct answer to run away from blame. If he knows no apology and unwilling to change his attitude, Singaporeans has no other option but to deal with the overwhelming guests already inside the house. Is this xenophobia? it depends and is not an easy task, tension sure abounds and I must say Singaporeans are a few tolerant citizens in the world who have gone beyond exhaustions to calmly discuss about the shit created by our leader. Such leader would have gone into hiding in other countries long ago.

    If problems persist, it is time to consider replacing our govt in 2016 and restore Singapore from being called Xenophobia.

    In the meantime, we still need quality foreigners who can bring tangible benefits in the form of job creations and real income to Singaporeans instead of those who speculate on properties, operate vice trades and those who know when to evade NS when called upon to serve this country.

    • 57 Poker Player 6 July 2012 at 17:06

      I am not sure what the point of your comments is. Or why the argument against the present level of immigration and foreign labour needs to be in those terms.

      It can be as simple as this – we want our resources – meaning places in schools, jobs that cannot be exported (cleaning, bus driving, teaching, etc), public housing, govt attention – to be for Singaporeans. We didn’t elect our govt to solve the employment, education and social problems of other countries. We also don’t want or immigration and foreign labour policies to be controlled by the needs of people who presently employ loads of them – the country is not exclusively theirs.

  28. 58 Slychiu 6 July 2012 at 12:36

    when is part 2 coming out, Alex?

  29. 59 Anon mk32 14 July 2012 at 09:34

    Just to add on to this debate, you can see from this Facebook page sharing that Singaporeans make a distinction between the foreign talent who are taking away our jobs, and the foreign workers who are helping us to build our homes.

    I am not saying that this means that everyone here is ok with foreign workers. But surely examples such as the comments on the page above are enough to show that there are contradictory trends in Singapore that we need to study further. In my mind, we are still a nation that is happy to embrace people of other nationalities.

    However, the sheer numbers of people from another country descending on the island have caused a lot of unhappiness.

    And this is not an unhappiness born from “xenophobia”, but just irritation at how much things have changed in Singapore due to the excess population and overstretched infrastructure.

    It seems to me that Singapore’s unhappiness is about the huge addition to our population and a poorly planned policy. Of course, we should treat everyone cordially, but when a city gets overcrowded, tensions are inevitable and the irritation is mutual. Even among locals, we irritate each other. I think that saying that any tension between a foreigner and a Singaporean means “xenophobia” is at work, is like playing the race card and saying that any tension between a Chinese and an Indian means that the Chinese is necessarily “racist”.

    Let’s examine the trends without considering the nationalities. People of two races can quarrel because they dislike each other. Nothing to do with race. Similarly, people of two nationalities can push other or insult each other. Nothing to do with where they come from.

    You’d be hard-pressed to find an overcrowded city anywhere in the world where no tensions exist. The solution lies in managing the numbers such that we can all live comfortably together.


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