Friday, 30 March 2012

Polys, varsities to get racial harmony 'diplomats'

By Leonard Lim, The Straits Times, 29 Mar 2012

ALL polytechnics and universities will soon get ambassadors promoting understanding on the twin topics that could trip up relationships among young people: race and religion.

These diplomats, who will spread the message of racial harmony to their friends, are seen as a crucial plank in reaching out to youngsters in the light of recent incidents of racist online postings.

'The best way to reach out to youth is through their peers,' Mr Zainudin Nordin, the chairman of national racial harmony body, told The Straits Times yesterday.

'With a better understanding of racial harmony, these champions can moot initiatives that build deeper connections in their own schools.'

Mr Zainudin, an MP for Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC, said that the initiative is a response to the derogatory online posts by National University of Singapore undergraduate Sun Xu and Nanyang Polytechnic student Shimun Lai recently.

The ambassadors programme is being rolled out by to junior colleges this year. There are plans to expand it to institutes of higher learning. Nominated by schools or volunteers, youth attend programmes where they talk about biases, learn about cultures and hopefully, leave with a better understanding.

A participant once declared he was biased at the start of the two-day programme, but by the end, admitted the need to re-look his beliefs, said director Ramesh Ganeson. Games such as tug-of-war - where one end may have two people and the other, 10 - also help youth to understand what it is like to be in a minority or majority group.

Promoting racial harmony is a marathon, said Mr Zainudin, adding that Singapore cannot take peace for granted.

Harmony unit wants to engage student
By Leonard Lim, The Straits Times, 29 Mar 2012

THE national body promoting racial harmony wants to have a chat with the polytechnic student caught in a furore over her racist remarks.

Mr Zainudin Nordin, chairman of national racial harmony body, said his organisation has extended an invitation to Ms Shimun Lai through her institution, Nanyang Polytechnic (NYP).

'Rather than label the guy or girl and move on, I would rather say: What can we do with this group of people?' he said yesterday.

'My view is, let's talk to her. Let's be honest about it, we know you already posted this, we know that you have your biases.

'Tell me why you have your biases, and can we try and see if we can help you understand things better.'

By engaging her, he hopes to reach her friends who may have similar feelings or who may have been upset by her remarks.

'Maybe a few of her peers think the same way. By engaging her, hopefully, I publicise racial harmony,' said Mr Zainudin, who is also an MP for Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC.

In an expletive-laden post on Sunday, the 21-year-old Ms Lai, while complaining about an overcrowded train, wrote on her Facebook and Twitter accounts that insulted Indians.

Netizens called her 'racist', after a screenshot of the post went viral the next day.

Her comments, coming soon after National University of Singapore engineering undergraduate Sun Xu made derogatory remarks about Singaporeans on a blog, have triggered a national debate on racist remarks made in social media.

Mr Zainudin, who posts regularly on his Facebook page promoting racial harmony, acknowledged that new media must play a vital role in engagement efforts.

Among other initiatives, he will look into having webcasts and online streaming of workshops and conferences that currently runs.

'The 300 people who come are the people who want to be there, the already converted,' he said.

'But it's about ensuring a larger audience who, in my view, are the target audience we want to educate.'

Technology has amplified the extent to which racist remarks can create tension, and the situation is made more complex given Singapore's open economy and welcoming stance toward immigrants and foreigners, he said.

During his house visits as an MP, he has noted that compared to the past, young couples seem less tolerant of the practices of those from different religions.

Calling on everyone to play their part to promote racial harmony, he added: 'Why would you want to create friction and anger because of your prejudices?

'By the time your children and grandchildren inherit this country, it's a mess, people will start to run away.'

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