Today I want to write about the lasting legacy of Mr. Lee Kuan Yew on multiracial and multicultural Singapore. In particular, I will focus on three points.
I feel compelled to pen these thoughts because the multiracial and multicultural aspects to Singapore are probably something a lot of Singaporeans take for granted, including myself.
Singapore’s multiracial, multicultural society is not always harmonious. But I posit that that Singaporeans are rather tolerant towards each other, which is testimony of a great model. Multicultural societies all over the world today are in general NOT even tolerant of each other, so we should never take multicultural and multiracial Singapore for granted.
-What sparked this post-
Recently in my free time, I’d been working on the Finland 100 project revolving around the theme of “what is Finnish-ness” and have the privilege of meeting many interesting people in Finland.
Personally, talking to people in Finland made me more convinced than ever that Finland is far from a utopia as commonly portrayed by the international press. I don’t even think the saying that “Finns are bad at Public Relations” is true–on the contrary, I think it’s a downright lie! Why else would people think that Finland is a utopia if Finland’s Public Relations is bad?
Remember: “Not lying” does not mean “telling the truth”.
One very interesting lady whom I talked to belong to the Rajat Kiinni movement, which is alternatively known as “Close the Borders”. In general, this group of Finns do not welcome multiculturalism in Finland, because foreigners from certain countries are seen as exploiting the welfare system via the status of–and I quote their words–“refugee tourists“. Members of the Rajat Kiinni group represent at least a minority of Finns in Finland.
It is truly unfortunate that the discourse on “multiculturalism” in Finland is characterised by some of these refugee tourists who are totally abusing the system, instead of foreigners from multicultural backgrounds who can and want to be net-givers to the welfare state.
And precisely because the international press do not cover a lot of news in English about this Rajat Kiinni movement, foreigners come expecting that Finland is all welcoming to foreigners of different multicultural backgrounds when this is clearly far from reality.
Want actual evidence? Check this blog on stories of intolerance– It documents actual verifiable accounts of racism and violence in Finland.
To be fair, there are clearly racist people in this Rajat Kiinni movement who I absolutely respectfully disagree with, but most of people in the group– like the following lady– preach the reasonable concept of “non-compatible cultures”. They posit that integration is either not possible, or will take a very long time.
Watch one heart-wrenching account of this Finnish lady who was raped by a refugee-tourist here:
Of course one could argue that this lady is an exception but that does not diminish the legitimacy of her story. So then, I started realising after talking to folks at Rajat Kiinni that a country’s peace and safety is not to be taken for granted, especially when the country opens itself up to people of different races, cultures and religions.
Exactly how then, does Singapore maintain a tolerant, if not harmonious multiracial, multicultural society for the past 50 years?
The answer lies in Lee Kuan Yew’s great engineering of the Singaporean multiracial and multicultural city-state.
And I’m saying here that we should never take this for granted.
A caveat: I’m NOT “Finland-bashing” by saying the above. On the contrary, I’m pointing out that Singaporeans should be more critical when commenting on stuffs about the Nordic countries. In the news, you’d always see the Nordic countries topping charts–yes, but what do they NOT reveal?
Just think about it lah. The grass always seem greener on the other side, so why don’t you just water and nurture your own side more? A LOT of Finnish business people are now moving to Singapore permanently–have you ever wondered why?
And no, it is not always accompanied by a respect for Singaporean culture. Some Finnish businessmen simply see Singaporeans as “cheap labour”.
Lee Kuan Yew’s Legacy #1: Focusing on meritocracy in the context of a multicultural, multiracial society.
- From Interview with the New York Times, 29 August 2007.
“[The system is] incorrupt. It’s efficient. It’s meritocratic. It works.
We are pragmatists… Does it work? Let’s try it and if it does work, fine, let’s continue it. If it doesn’t work, toss it out, try another one. We are not enamoured with any ideology.”
- From the transcript of an emotional press conference on 9 August 1965, after Malaysia voted to expel Singapore.
“There is nothing to be worried about it. Many things will go on just as usual. But be firm, be calm. We are going to have a multi-racial nation in Singapore… Everybody will have his place: equal; language, culture, religion.”
You know, in recent years, online discourse on the very concept of meritocracy in Singapore has been linked to income inequality, not race.
So critics will argue that meritocracy is Singapore obviously favouring the rich, not the poor. But this very same argument simultaneously ignores any consideration of the multiracial, multicultural Singaporean society.
The decision to make Singapore’s system a meritocratic one stems precisely from consideration of a multicultural, multiracial society. NOT from the desire for income inequality.
And THIS is something I hope fellow Singaporeans realise and remember.
Okay let’s say Singapore doesn’t focus on “meritocracy” when it has a multiracial, multicultural population.
What shall it focus on then? The answer would be politics along racial lines.
Mr. Lee: “In multiracial societies, you don’t vote in accordance with your economic interests and social interests, you vote in accordance with race and religion. Supposing I’d run their system here, Malays would vote for Muslims, Indians would vote for Indians, Chinese would vote for Chinese. I would have a constant clash in my Parliament which cannot be resolved because the Chinese majority would always overrule them. So I found a formula that changes that…”
And that formulae is meritocracy.
Lee Kuan Yew’s Legacy #2: YES to self-reliance and community help, NO to the welfare state.
A lot of foreigners and some Singaporeans always point to the huge income disparity in Singapore and say that the Singaporean state is too capitalistic and “inhumane”. They call the rich people heartless and say that the elderly people are not taken care of. They however, just complain and do not offer constructive solutions.
I do fully agree that the government and fellow Singaporeans can do more to take care of the elderly folks in Singapore. Old grannies collecting cardboards for a living is just shameful and we should do more to help.
However, instead of welfare handouts, we should focus on how to pay our Singaporean workers higher wages. Also, this is an excellent article positing the idea that the rich in Singapore can come up with ways on their own will to help the poor or the elderly.
I deviate. My point is:
Have you ever considered the idea that there could be a trade-off between “multiculturalism” and generous welfare handouts, especially if certain conditions are not met?
Because I haven’t considered this trade-off until recently. I refer to this academic paper titled “Trade-Offs between Equality and Difference: Immigrant Integration, Multiculturalism and the Welfare State in Cross-National Perspective“.
This paper investigates how integration policies and welfare-state regimes have affected the socio-economic integration of immigrants, focusing on eight European countries: Germany, France, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Sweden, Austria and Belgium.
“The results suggest that multicultural policies* which grant immigrants easy access to equal rights and do not provide strong incentives for host-country language acquisition and interethnic contacts*when combined with a generous welfare state, have produced low levels of labour market participation, high levels of segregation and a strong overrepresentation of immigrants among those convicted for criminal behaviour.”
So yes, the results of the paper do suggest a trade-off between “generous welfare handouts” and “multiculturalism” especially when the local language is not learnt, AND when people are segregated by groups and do not interact with each other daily.
And what did Mr. Lee Kuan Yew do? Precisely to:
- Make English the main language of Singapore, while allowing Singaporeans of all races to keep their own language as a “Mother-tongue”; AND
- Make it part of the Singaporean public housing system, where 80% of all Singaporeans stay in– for ALL races to mingle and integrate. There is a racial-quota in every new housing block.
Lee Kuan Yew’s Legacy #3: Leaving a sustainable, albeit imperfect system for Singaporeans, so that we can continue leaving in peace as ONE multicultural, multiracial Singapore.
As seen from the above, this system is so genius and so well-planned out, that I think sometimes we Singaporeans take for granted Mr. Lee’s foresight. He practically foresaw all challenges that Singaporeans would face and designed solutions into a system.
Mr Lee is truly one of the greatest systems engineers that has ever lived on planet Earth. He left a legacy of a functional, peaceful, albeit imperfect Singaporean society that we should never take for granted.
Yes, I’d said it. We should never take peace and safety for granted.
What we as Singaporeans should do now is to fucking take ownership. Instead of blaming the Singaporean government the whole damn time.
For example, if you see a piece of rubbish on the floor, pick it up and throw away. Not complain about why the civil servants are paid so highly and can’t even afford to hire cleaners.
I’d like you to also take a moment to reflect on the co-relation between multiculturalism and “more welfare lavishly given out by the state” in the Singaporean context.
Of course you can go ahead to argue that Singapore could be an exception to the rule, and since we have so much reserves now, we should help our elderly people via more cash handouts.
But my question to you is: Really? Do you want to take the risk of going down the slippery slope with more freebies? I personally won’t.
As I said, I’d champion instead for higher pay for Singaporeans, and that can come with Singaporeans being trained to be more productive to justify the higher wages.
I’m so sick and tired of hearing certain Finnish people say that Singaporeans are “cheap labour”.
There is no reason that we should be seen like that by ANYBODY at all, my fellow Singaporeans.
So my dear Singaporeans, I hope this post is a reminder to us all NOT to take peace and safety in Singapore for granted.
It’s not easy. Maintaining a rich, prosperous and tolerant multi-cultural and multi-racial state is never easy, and this proposition is backed up by empirical data of many well-researched, peer-reviewed academic papers. It takes effort, integration, speaking of a common language, and most importantly, a sound and legit societal design.
Who designed it? Mr. Lee Kuan Yew’s great team helmed by the man himself.
This IS Mr. Lee Kuan Yew’s legacy.
Let us never take this multicultural and multiracial system for granted. Let us never take peace for granted. Let us take ownership.