Racism and xenophobia will be normalised if we are not careful, Law and Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam said in Parliament (11 May).
“Singapore is 725 square kilometers of rock. We have to make a living by being open to the world. We will fail if we allow racism and xenophobia to become prevalent, and it is contrary
to everything that has made us successful and proud to be Singaporean,” the minister said.
“The majority of Singaporeans are decent and not racist, but if we continue to fan the flames of racism, we will get to a more uncomfortable position.”
Mr Shanmugam said parties have been ‘deliberately stoking the fears, encouraging racism and xenophobia, and dog whistling, much like what we have seen in the US, and this is dangerous for Singapore.
Expressions of racism and xenophobic behaviour will be normalised if we are not careful. Mr Shanmugam said, “I hope responsible Opposition parties will take a stand on this, notwithstanding that many of these sites that promote xenophobia support you.”
Mr Shanmugam was responding to a question by MP Murali on the incident of a Singapore woman of Indian descent was assaulted by a man who used racial slurs and kicked her for not wearing a mask. Mr Murali asked the minister for his assessment of the security situation arising from these racial incidents, connected to the pandemic, and what steps the Government will take to nip this in the bud.
When we see racism around the world during the pandemic, such as the attacks against Asians in the US, we condemn such acts. Equally, we have to condemn such behaviour in Singapore, Mr Shanmugam said.
Around the world, economic pressures have led to populism. Populists have been seeking political profit by exploiting people’s fears over jobs and economic insecurity, blaming foreigners, blaming immigrants, for all of a country’s problems, said Mr Shanmugam.
Singaporeans are naturally concerned about their jobs. This concerned is fuelled by unacceptable practices such as unfair employment practices that favour hiring foreigners and discriminate against locals. Such unfair hiring practices are the behaviour of a minority, Mr Shanmugam said. The Government’s duty is to protect Singaporean jobs and MOM has taken steps to deal with these bad practices, he added.
We have thus far avoided the worst of such populism seen in the world.
Political parties encouraging racism and xenophobia
“But what has been happening also, is parties have been deliberately stoking the fears, encouraging racism and xenophobia, and dog whistling, much like what we have seen in the US. That is dangerous, and dangerous for Singapore.”
There are also websites which deliberately fan racism, Mr Shanmugam said. These are anti-Government websites. Mr Shanmugam said it is perfectly okay to be anti-governemnt “but don’t play with race.”
“Comments on these sites have Indians being called ‘cockroaches’, ‘rapists’ and so on. We should be ashamed, that in the name of free speech, we allow such comments. This bad behaviour and open expression of racism – I invite all here to condemn.
When called out, we cannot seek to justify such racist behavior by saying, “Oh, it’s because of the Government’s policies”, or “It’s because of CECA”, or “The Indians are behaving badly”, or that we are entitled to be racist and xenophobic because of these things.
Just ask whether racism and xenophobia can ever be justified on these grounds.”
“There have been several canards about CECA, promoted by a whispering campaign. If anyone here believes that CECA is a problem, put it up for a Motion, debate it openly and let’s hear whether Singaporeans benefit or lose from it. I am looking at you, Mr Leong. I invite you to put up a Motion to debate CECA. You know that most of what is said about CECA is false.”