Tuesday, 19 February 2013

Why I am a Singaporean

I WAS born in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), lived in Britain and Sierra Leone (West Africa), came to Singapore in the 1970s as an economic migrant and then became a Singaporean.

Whenever I wonder why I am a Singaporean, the late Mr S. Rajaratnam's assurance resonates with me. 

He said: "There are many parts of the world where to be a minority is to be resented and be oppressed. In the kind of Singapore we are creating, there are no majorities and minorities but simply good men and bad men, with good men, whatever their race, language and religion, invariably triumphing over the bad men, whatever their race, language and religion."

I am proud to be a Singaporean because the Government:
- Upholds the principle of meritocracy - a citizen's race, religion, language, caste or gender doesn't count.
As a result, my family also prospered in tandem with Singapore; and
- Keeps religion separate from politics - MPs, ministers and all government agents do not invoke their religious faiths to support their arguments.
And, while religious groups practise their faiths freely, none of them or their representatives is allowed to interfere in the functioning of the Government or to proselytise.

Begging is illegal in Singapore and yet no citizens are deprived of food, clothing or shelter - there are many government-backed charities and voluntary organisations to look after the less fortunate.

While I am free to move around in Singapore at any time without being anxious about my safety and security (barring accidents), I am not discriminated against, resented or oppressed by the Government or my fellow Singaporeans because my mother tongue is Tamil, I am dark-skinned and not a "born and bred Singaporean".

Any attempt to propagate the false idea that a "born and bred Singaporean" is superior to a Singaporean by choice is retrogressive, contradictory to the principle of meritocracy and, above all, undermines the Singapore Pledge.

I strongly believe that the immigrants who become Singaporeans will help to enlarge the secular space in Singapore so that all ethnic and religious groups can easily adopt the attitude of behaving with self-respect and respect for others.

Sabaratnam Ratnakumar
ST Forum, 18 Feb 2013

Closing door to foreigners is un-Singaporean

WORKERS' Party chairman Sylvia Lim said in Parliament that "for the Singapore core to be strong, the core must be strongly Singaporean in values, world view, culture, sense of place and history, and network of friends and family" ("WP rejects road map, offers its own"; Feb 5).

But Ms Lim did not elaborate on what exactly these are. I would like to share my perspective.

In its early years, Singapore thrived as an entrepot hub. Migrants from Europe and Asia settled here to earn a living. Some stayed, while others returned to their home countries.

Following independence from Britain, Singapore merged with Malaya, Sabah and Sarawak to form the Federation of Malaysia. However, disagreements emerged over values - while the federal government believed in entrenching special rights for the native people, Singapore subscribed to meritocracy, the idea that success should be dependent on ability.

Being a small island nation, Singapore has been able to punch above its weight globally because its citizens have always looked beyond its borders and not inward, and have been willing and able to compete with the best and brightest in the world.

We have traditionally been welcoming of friends from overseas and some of us, myself included, have parents who were born overseas but came to Singapore seeking a better life. My grandmother left China with my father in the year he was born.

This forms part of my identity as a Singaporean - not the fact that I was born and bred here, not because I attended local schools and certainly not because I went through national service (an especially ridiculous argument which implies that only male Singaporeans can be truly Singaporean).

Thus, I am saddened that many Singaporeans seem to have adopted such a negative attitude towards foreigners and immigration. We are a great country because of them and not in spite of them.

Granted, strains from the past few years are evident, but we have to figure out how we can adapt as a people and ensure that our infrastructure keeps pace with the increase in population.

Restricting the flow of immigration and closing the door to foreigners go against the very values, world view, and sense of place and history that make Singapore strong.

Don't turn our country into a place we truly do not recognise.

Simon Huang Minghui
ST Forum, 18 Feb 2013

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