Cultural Competency Workshop on 2020 Sept 27, 7pm
Singapore sets an example for the world on multiculturalism with its founding principal being the integration of its ethnic and racial groups—a decision was made at the outset to treat every race, language and religion as equal. What can Canada and its residents learn from them? Join Asjad Bukhari for our "Creating a Respectful Multicultural Society" Cultural Competency Workshop on Sept 27, 7pm MST via FB Live or our website
Presenter: Asjad Bukhari, a previous resident of Singapore, is an information management professional with a Masters in Library & Information Science and is currently working for the public sector. He is also an amateur broadcaster and community activist on social and human rights issues, and a strong believer of multiculturalism and progressive viewpoint in society.
Creating a Respectful Multicultural Society – Learnings from Singapore
Hello and good evening everyone, thank you very much CanadianCMF for organizing this virtual cultural competency faire and giving me opportunity for this presentation. Topics covered during these events were very interesting and important, I learned a lot from these sessions. Before starting my presentation, I must acknowledge. Although I understand the importance of pluralism and multiculturalism in modern state and I am passionate about this, but I am not expert on Singapore Studies. I spent few years of my life in Singapore in their National Library Board as collection development librarian and this presentation is mostly based on my experience with that nation and based on some government rules and policies in regard to race relation. My employer in Singapore NLB (National Library Board) is responsible for running the network of Public and some special Libraries. Public library is a place where people from all sorts of life visit and working… and working in that organization I got good opportunity to interact with variety of people.
Slide #1 Singapore – Timeline
History: History of this island is stretches back to millennia but modern Singapore was founded in 1819 by Sir Stamford Raffles as a trading post of the British Empire. In 1867 Singapore came under the direct control of British crown. In 1942, during the Second World War, Singapore was occupied by Japan and following Japan's surrender it was returned to Britain in 1945.
Singapore gained self-governance in 1959, and in 1963 became a part of the new federation of Malaysia – Ideological differences led to Singapore being expelled from the federation two years later.
Slide #2 Republic of Singapore
Under the dynamic leadership of Lee Kuan Yew Singapore became independent as the Republic of Singapore on 9 August 1965
One years before Singapore become independent country there were series of communal race-based civil disturbances. Then couple of years after becoming an independent country in 1969 race riots broke out again. Singapore has very little land and not much natural resources and on top of difficult race relations – looking at these realities political experts on that time predicted that Singapore would not survive as sovereign nation and sooner they will request Malaysian federation to rejoin… but this never happened! The nation rapidly developed to become Asian Tiger and ranked ninth on the UN Human Development Index, and has the seventh-highest GDP per capita in the world.
Singapore is the only country in Asia with an AAA sovereign rating from all major rating agencies. It is a major financial and shipping hub, Singapore is placed highly in key social indicators: education, healthcare, quality of life, personal safety and housing, with a home-ownership rate of 91%. Singaporeans enjoy one of the world's longest life expectancies, fastest Internet connection speeds and one of the lowest infant mortality rates in the world.
Fundamental reason behind economic success story of Singapore is: They successfully turned ethnic disturbance into good race relations and healthy pluralistic society. Human resource is Singapore’s only resource
Slide #3 The Singapore Ethnic Mosaic:
Singapore, because of its colonial origins, was a multicultural society long before it became a Sovereign state and it was deeply rooted in the society. Despite its small size, Singapore has a diversity of languages, religions and cultures. First Prime Minister and founding father of Singapore, Lee Kuan Yew have stated that Singapore does not fit the traditional description of a nation, calling it a society-in-transition, pointing out the fact that Singaporeans do not all speak the same language, share the same religion, or have the same customs. Keeping the challenges of diversity in mind founding leaders of Singapore started with clear vision that the alternative to multi-racialism is genocide in varying degrees.
Ethnic groups: There are four ethic/cultural groups in Singapore:
Chinese, Malay, Indian and Others (CMIO)
Chinese: 74.3% - Malay: 13.4% - Indian: 9.0% - Others: 3.2%. Chinese form the largest ethnic group in Singapore.
With this kind of demographic distribution there is great risk of majority racial group take control of power and ignoring the right of minority groups. They overcome this threat by implementation of real spirit of multiculturalism.
Slide #4 FROM “DIVIDE AND RULE” TO ONE NATION
Milestones towards multiculturalism -
1964 - Series of communal riots
1965 - Attain nationhood
1970 – President Council of Minority Rights established
1988 – GRC (group representation constituency) introduced
1989 – White Paper on the religious harmony released and Housing and Development Board introduced its ethnic integration policy
1990 – Maintenance of Religious Harmony Act is passed and in 1993 it was implemented
1997 – Racial Harmony Day in schools
2002 – IRCC (Inter-Racial and Religious Confidence Circles) are introduced
2009 – The National Integration Council is set up
2011 – The Singapore Citizenship Journey is introduced
FROM “DIVIDE AND RULE” TO ONE NATION
Before 1965, Singapore was governed very differently. The major ethnic groups on the island were each assigned their own separate communal area in which to live and work. Interactions between ethnic communities were minimal. From colonial government’s point of view, this policy of “divide and rule” prevented clashes among the different groups. However, it also meant that the communities would keep to themselves and had little opportunity to get to know each other, so, no opportunity to develop deeper understanding and acceptance.
Singapore payed the price for this segregation, when poor economic and living conditions and unemployment in the 1960s – it led to ethnic tensions that boiled over into racial violence in the riots of 1964 and 1969.
Following Independence, the newly formed government decided to build a multicultural, secular, meritocratic nation in which all Singaporeans are equal before the law regardless of race, language or religion. Singapore has come a long way from the tense political climate and social tensions of the 1960s.
Today, despite differences in ethnicity, religion and culture, citizens live together as one nation. Racial and religious harmony is regarded by Singaporeans as a crucial part of Singapore's success, and played a part in building a Singaporean identity.
Behind this success story there is carefully crafted efforts and policies to achieve social harmony. State of Singapore believes that we should not take that success as granted… rather making continuous effort to keep inter racial relations healthy.
Slide #5 Three Principles for Social Harmony
Government had three guiding principles to achieve social harmony
1. Multiculturalism: Multiracialism is protected under the constitution, and continues to shape national policies in education, culture, housing, and politics. Explanation of multiculturalism in Singapore is to bring different ethnic groups coming together as one nation, without giving up their cultural heritage or beliefs. Major religious festivals are public holidays.
2. Secularism: Backed by the rule of law, the State is secular, but not against religion. Everyone has the right to practice their religion freely. While religious organizations are consulted in policy matters that may have an impact on their community, although government reserves the right to make the final decision.
3. Meritocracy: Opportunities in public sectors should be given based on individual merit and performance, without bias to any race, faith or social background. While this may not result in equal outcomes, but it guarantees that all Singaporeans have a fair chance to succeed according to their own talent and effort.
Slide #6 Four Official Languages
Singapore has four official languages: English, Malay, Chinese, and Tamil; with English being the lingua-franca or common language
Recognition of indigenous people and language:
Out of four official languages Malay is recognized as national language of Singapore in constitution. It also plays a symbolic role, as Malays are constitutionally recognized as the indigenous peoples of Singapore, and it is the government's duty to protect their language and heritage. National anthem of Singapore – Majulah Singapura is also in Malay language.
There are newspapers radios and TV channels in all languages
Walking on the streets or interacting with Singaporeans one can see four main cultural tendencies:
1. Singaporeans who speak English as their native language tend to lean toward Western culture.
2. While those who speak Chinese as their native language tend to lean toward Chinese culture and Confucianism.
3. Malay-speaking Singaporeans tend to lean toward Malay culture, which itself is closely linked to Islamic culture.
4. Tamil and other Indian languages speaking people are religiously diverse but majority is from Hindu traditions.
On top of these tendencies there is collective culture and that comes from actual lingua-franca of Singapore “the Singlish”. Singlish is colloquial Singaporean English - a blend of local languages and slangs and English. However, usage of Singlish is discouraged by the local government, which favors Standard English. Despite this, Singlish is still widely spoken across the island and viewed by most Singaporeans as part of successful integration of different cultures exist in the country.
Oxford English Dictionary added 19 Singlish words such as "Lah" "sinseh" "ang moh", "shiok" and "sabo". Singlish has been heavily influenced by Malay and Chinese.
Slide #7 Safeguards of Multiculturalism
· Presidential Council for Minority Rights
· GRC - Group representation constituencies
· Maintenance of Religious Harmony Act 1990
· IRCC (Inter-Racial and Religious Confidence Circles)
· The National Integration Council
· HDB’s (Housing and Development Board) ethnic integration policy in housing
The Presidential Council for Minority Rights (PCMR) is a non-elected government body in Singapore established in 1970, the main function of this body is to scrutinize bills passed by Parliament to ensure that they do not discriminate against any racial or religious community. If the Council feels that any provision in a bill contradicts with the rights of minorities, it will report its findings to Parliament and refer the bill back to Parliament for reconsideration. In short PCMR is a safeguard to ensure that the Government does not implement any law which discriminates or disadvantages any race, religion or community.
A Group Representation Constituency (GRC) is a type of electoral division or in in which teams of candidates, instead of individual candidates, compete to be elected into as the (MPs) for the constituency. GRC scheme is a safeguard to enshrine minority representation in Parliament: at least one of the MPs in a GRC must be a member of the , or another minority community of Singapore. In addition to that, it is economical for town councils, which manage , to handle larger constituencies.
Actually, there were concerns in voting patterns that more Singaporeans may voting along racial lines, which would lead to a lack of minority representation in Parliament, so, GRCs is to guarantee a minimum representation of minorities in Parliament and ensure that there would always be a Parliament instead of one made up of a single race.
The National Integration Council (NIC) was set up in 2009 to coordinate and encourage ground-up integration efforts through partnership between the public, private sectors and the people. Initiatives introduced by NIC include the Community Integration Fund (CIF) and the Singapore Citizenship Journey - these initiatives provide opportunities for healthy interaction in communities.
INTER-ETHNIC RELATIONS: FROM TOLERANCE TO ACCEPTANCE
Good inter-ethnic and inter-religious relations is a top priority in Singapore. They are mindful of the sensitivities of being a multicultural society.
Beginning in the 1970s, national programmes were designed to ensure a balanced representation of Singapore’s diverse ethnic makeup. Housing and Development Board (HDB)’s Ethnic Integration Policy is one of that. HDB’s Ethnic integration policy ensures that families in Singapore would live alongside different religion and ethnicities - sharing common amenities such as playgrounds, shops and bus stops. This is just opposite of the colonial era norm of ethnic segregation. This policy discourages the formation of ethnic ghettos and making the daily social experience more inclusive and diverse. This is also creating common spaces where people during their daily lives, meet, mingle and build bonds naturally. Over the time, this regular encounter and interaction of families from diverse ethnicities and cultures is forming a common culture of respect, trust, understanding and acceptance.
By the way 80% of Singaporeans reside in HDB’s public housing estates.
Display of cultural diversity become biggest tourist attraction of Singapore – China Town; Malay village; Little India; Orchard Road
So, in Singapore you don’t have to give up your beliefs and culture. However, to maintain overall harmony in society you are encouraged to abide by common values and norms to respect other cultural practices.
Slide #8 Holidays in Singapore
Slide #9 Cultural Celebrations & Active Days @ Work
Environment at Work Place: This is based on what I observed during my stay in the country. Being new employee, one must go through variety of orientations and courses for acceptable behavior and code of conducts and if you are from overseas then there are some extra courses as well. Racial slur and jokes are unacceptable and in case of complain – there are serious disciplinary consequences. Common areas like lunchrooms; cafeteria and employees lounge has delegate considerations for everyone. e.g. vegetarians/halal/regular etc. Holiday celebrations for all existing cultures at work.
Slide #10 Not everyone is Happy:
Not everybody is happy - I come across several critical writings on Singapore government policies regarding multiculturalism and among them was one article on medium.com titled:
The Myth of Multiculturalism in Singapore written by
“The current status quo of different races having mostly superficial understanding of each other based on stereotypes or are closed off from each other would be more manageable than a population with a mature understanding of the degrees of the human condition because the latter might contest PAP’s many policies that are designed along racial lines. Therefore, it is my belief that the PAP government will continue to sustain the myth of multiculturalism in order to install themselves as the guardians of Singapore’s peace and prosperity.”
LGBT community is also not happy with present laws regarding their rights:
For the rights of LGBT community, Singapore is making slow moves as per the pace of society. In June 2019, at the Smart Nation Summit, repeated that Singapore would keep Section 377A "for some time" saying, "Whatever your sexual orientation is, you're welcome to come and work in Singapore. You know our rules in Singapore. It is the way this society is: We are not like San Francisco, neither are we like some countries in the Middle East. [We are] something in between, it is the way the society is.”
Section 377A states that: "Any male person who, in public or private, commits, or abets the commission of, or procures or attempts to procure the commission by any male person of, any act of gross indecency with another male person, shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to 2 years."
Section 377A remains sporadically enforced. Between 2007 and 2013, nine people were convicted under 377A provisions.
Other sections of the Penal Code potentiality relevant to LGBT Singaporeans include: Section 354; Section 294A
Human rights activists have been calling for the repeal of Section 377A, arguing that it infringes on privacy, the right to life and personal liberty, the two latter being constitutionally protected. In 2007, the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) called for the repeal of Section 377A
So there is always appetite to do more… when it comes to learning from Singapore – I guess every country has its own unique problems and situation but still multicultural societies can learn from number of Singapore initiatives.
Since 1970s Canada also made significant moves towards multicultural society. In 1971, Canada adopted multiculturalism as an official policy. As result of that policy statement: in 1982 multiculturalism was recognized by section 27 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Then Canadian Multiculturalism Act of 1985 introduced. The doctrine of multiculturalism rest on believe that individuals of different cultural backgrounds can co-exist peacefully and happily in same society. It needs understanding of each other’s cultures and traditions… then there will be contradictions and conflicts between cultures … and through acceptance we can move towards settlement … but acceptance should not mean to end practicing personal values and lifestyle… as long it is not contradictory to common law.
Slide #11 – Any Questions
Credits: Presenter: Asjad Bukhari
Special thanks to: Iman Bukhari for the outline and Komati N. C. for helping to find the references
Photo credit – PSD Singapore
Calgary, AB Sep. 2020