Thursday 23 August 2012

Fault lines still remain in Singapore: Shanmugam

By Imelda Saad, Channel NewsAsia, 22 Aug 2012

Law and Foreign Affairs Minister K Shanmugam has said that fault lines remain in Singapore society.

Referring to his latest Facebook posting about a resident who made racial slurs against his neighbour, Mr Shanmugam said the incident is not a one-off case.

He told Channel NewsAsia that Singapore has done well and is a tolerant society but it cannot be complacent.

He said issues of race and religion are not easy to deal with and cited the example of the former Yugoslavia, where people of different races fought each other viciously after years of staying together as one country.

Responding to some netizens' questions about why he decided to make public such a sensitive issue, Mr Shanmugam said he deliberately did not disclose the race of the complainant.

"I asked him if he (the resident) was ok to have his email released. He did not want it released. His desire for privacy has to be respected," he said.

Mr Shanmugam added he does not intend to refer the matter to any authority as the resident had not committed any offence.

As for the slew of responses he received as a result of the post, Mr Shanmugam noted that they were "overwhelmingly reiterative of the importance of good race relations and the need to be not prejudiced".

"This is very heartening. Responses have come in via emails and Facebook comments. Many were aghast at the comments that had been made by the gentleman. But some have also made prejudiced comments. Some others attacked foreigners in their comments. I have not been more active in FB of late. The activity level is the same. Just that some posts have attracted more attention than others," he said.

Earlier on August 21, Mr Shanmugam had written about a resident who was upset that he had to tolerate his Indian neighbours, their smell and unwashed bodies.

Mr Shanmugam described the complaints as being quite disturbing as it appears the man sees his neighbour's race as being the problem.

Many netizens who responded to the post said racial prejudices do exist in multi-racial Singapore but what matters is how Singaporeans deal with the biases.

One netizen, Francis Chin, said: "It's all part of living together and Singaporeans should learn to live and tolerate one another."

Another netizen, Siti Nor'aini Abdul Samat, said: "We cannot escape from being unhappy with certain things our neighbours do, we just have to tolerate each other."

On Wednesday, Mr Shanmugam, who is also an MP for Nee Soon GRC, gave more details about the resident.

Writing on his Facebook, Mr Shanmugam said the elderly man was born and bred in Singapore.

And he believes that the people the resident is complaining about are Singaporeans.

Minister criticises resident's rant against Indians
By Kezia Toh, The Straits Times, 22 Aug 2012

CABINET minister K. Shanmugam last night described a resident's complaint over having to live next door to an Indian family as "disturbing".

He criticised the man's "overt prejudice" in a Facebook post that attracted more than 100 "likes" and 50 responses in an hour.

The Minister for Foreign Affairs and Law posted a transcript of the message, which he received a few weeks ago from a Singaporean living in his ward in Nee Soon GRC.

In it, the resident complained about his neighbours, saying he was upset at having to "smell their Indian sweaty smell and unwashed bodies".

He also described the Indian family as living in squalor and complained about their poor social status.

The sender then listed other Indians that he found unpleasant - a man smoking in the lift, a woman with her dog, and a neighbour who walks around in a sarong.

He added that he did not want his grandson growing up looking at Indian men dressed in sarongs.

It was not clear from the e-mail message which race the resident belongs to.

Mr Shanmugam said in his Facebook post that while the gripe about smoking in the lift was understandable, taken together, the rest of the complaints were "disturbing".

He wrote: "The resident appears to see his neighbour's race as being the problem, and the overt prejudice is quite troubling."

Most of the commenters - who appeared to be mainly Chinese and Indian - agreed with him. Some said the resident should receive counselling before he gets nasty and hurts people.

Others pointed out that each race and religion has its own practices that could be seen as disturbing to others. The Chinese, for example, burn joss sticks and incense paper during the current Hungry Ghost Festival.

The minister wrote: "Most Singaporeans would not agree with his perspective. We need to make sure that things stay positive between people of different races."

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