Racial Harmony is very important in a country like Singapore where many races and religions are required to live in a small island with a population of over 5 million. Therefore, in order to maintain the current racial harmony in Singapore, our government has implemented a number of policies. These include education policies such as the bilingual policy, the Ethnic Integration Policy at HDB as well as the ISA. I believe that the state measures implemented have not and are not able to foster racial harmony in Singapore, as even though the communication between races in increased, the drawbacks to each state measures exceeds the advantages.
One of the policies implemented to maintain racial harmony in Singapore is the Ethnic Integration Policy at HDB. This is a state measure in which each block of units is sold to families from ethnicities roughly comparable to the national average. Under the Ethnic Integration Policy, Chinese, Malays, Indians and Eurasians in Singapore each have a representative quota of homes for them in a housing block or neighbourhood.
This aims ensure that there is a fixed range of percentage of the various ethnic groups in a block and neighbourhood such that the ratio of the different ethnic groups is equally balanced and hence avoiding racial segregation and the formation of ethnic enclaves. However, this policy is not necessarily useful. Although Singaporeans live in the same HDB, on the same level, how many actually take time off to socialise with their fellow neighbours? Or do they just leave for work and stay cooped in the house when they have time off. The Ethnic Integration Policy makes it easier for Singaporeans to communicate with other races.
However, it does not provide Singaporeans with the opportunities to socialise with other races. They might live next to each other, but if they do not have to reason to communicate, they don’t. Ultimately, it is up to an individual’s own mind set regarding different races, and one’s own level of tolerance and acceptance towards them. One may be able to tolerate living in the same HDB flat as someone of a different race, but if one is not able to understand and accept the culture and racial difference between oneself and the other party, conflicts will still occur.
A famous example is the incident whereby a Chinese and Indian family had a conflict due to the Chinese family being unable to tolerate the smell of curry the Indian family cooked, being unable to accept and understand the culture of the Indian family. The conflict ended up being ‘resolved’ by allowing the Indian family to cook curry only when the Chinese family was not at home. This shows that if people are unwilling to bridge the gap between cultures and religion, the Ethnic Integration Policy could make things worse. Hence, state measures might not have fostered racial harmony in Singapore, but in fact, makes the situation worse.
Other policies Singapore’s government implemented would be education policies like the Bilingual Education Policy and the Speak Mandarin Campaign. The bilingual policy is one that requires for most students to take a ‘Mother Tongue Language’, and attain a certain level of proficiency in it. Alongside this is having English as a first language and the medium of instruction in schools, providing a bilingual culture for students. The aim of the bilingual education policy is to ensure that while Singapore remained viable economically all over the world, Singaporeans need not lose their cultural values or identity.
I believe that this policy can foster racial harmony in Singapore because Singaporeans can now communicate better. Everyone understands each other, eliminating the language difference that had probably caused a lot of misunderstandings in the past. Because English is now a language understood by all, Singaporeans do not have to learn another language to talk to their friends of different races. However, the implementation of the Speak Mandarin Campaign indicated the biasness of the government towards the Chinese population of Singapore, drawing the dissatisfaction of the Malays and the Indians.
This is because of the fact that the government placed a huge emphasis on this campaign and the fact that there is no other mother tongue movements suggest that the Ministry of Education is more bias towards the Chinese as they have come up with more plans for the Chinese than the other ethnic groups. These therefore led to dissatisfaction amongst the Malays and the Indians as they may want to be treated like the Chinese too – having such campaigns to help their mother tongue as well.
As they feel that they are not exactly equally treated in comparison to the treatment received by the Chinese, tension arises and the educational measures even end up posing as a threat towards the fostering of racial harmony as well because such sensitive topics have to be handled with extra care and biasness can be detected from within. Hence, the education policies implemented by the government, while some allowed better communication between races; others failed to foster racial harmony in Singapore, and in fact, even caused tension and unhappiness between them.
Another policy the government had implemented would be the Internal Security Act (ISA). It is a law that allows the Singapore government to investigate security threats like international terrorism, foreign subversion, espionage and acts of violence or hatred using race or religion. This law confers on the government the right to arrest and preventively detain individuals without trial for up to two years at a time in certain defined circumstances under Section 8(1) (a) of the ISA. This ISA can foster racial harmony in Singapore, because it can protect racial harmony in Singapore, by preventing anything that threatens the peace in Singapore.
The ISA can allow the government to arrest a person with no trial for up to 30 days, until an Order of Detention or Restriction Order is issued. This allows the problem to be stopped before it happens. If the ISA is not implemented, and laws take its place instead, evidence would be needed before an arrest can take place. By then it might be too late. After all, “prevention is better than cure”. However, having a policy like the ISA comes with risks as well. The ISA provides the government with a lot of power. If this power were to ever be abused, it could come with a lot of consequences.
If an official of the government so happens to be racist, and decides to arrest just a certain race without reason, the ISA could backfire and cause the racial riots and unrest the ISA was implemented to prevent in the first place. As such, even though the ISA can prevent threats to Singapore’s racial harmony, and stop the problem before it even happened, the ISA also contains a lot of risks since it provides the officials a lot of power, and with great power come with great responsibility. Hence, the ISA implemented by the government is not the best way to foster racial harmony in Singapore.
In conclusion, state measures have not fostered racial harmony in Singapore. It is indeed accurate that these state measures improve and increases communication between the different races and religions in Singapore. However, this may not necessarily be good. A lot depends on the mindset of both parties. If they are willing to at least tolerate each other, racial harmony would be possible. If, however, both parties are unwilling to come to a compromise, the increased communications could only come as a disadvantage. As such, the state measures have not fostered racial harmony in Singapore.
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