Loving Our Country Too Much?

 

First published on publichouse.sg in April 2013

 

Things are getting ugly online again. Read almost anything that has to do with immigration, population, jobs, housing, transport or any current socio-political issue and you’re likely to stumble upon some anti-foreigner comment, sometimes expressed in most offensive way.

 

We know what’s triggered this wave of xenophobia—government policies that have led to a sudden population increase fuelled by mass immigration, infrastructure that used to comfortably support us now bursting at the seams, rising cost of living, wages that can’t keep up, the widening gap between the haves and have-nots … this list is now a well rehearsed litany.

 

But I think the roots of the xenophobia we see now go further back. I think they sank their feelers into the ground in the nationalism that was laid down as the bedrock of modern Singapore society decades ago.

 

After Singapore became independent, there was a huge drive to build the nation. Of course—we were a new country just separated from Malaysia, we had to navigate a new and uncertain road, galvanize ourselves, forge a new identity, and find a way to survive and grow. We’ve all sat through this history lesson in school, and some of us have even lived it in real life.

 

But there’s a flip side—a lot of this nationalism was presented using propaganda—telling only one side of the story and omitting other views in order to shape our attitudes and beliefs in a concerted direction that facilitated ‘nation building’.

 

As a result, we’re sometimes also arrogant, intolerant, have an overly rigid sense of ‘the Singapore way’, are prone to self-congratulations, and can be somewhat myopic in our worldview.

 

We’re used to things working smoothly, we’re comfortable in our Singaporean community, we’re used to thinking its our way or the highway. We’re used to being a success story. We don’t take criticism well.

 

When the current wave difficult social and economic conditions descended on us, they triggered the ugly face of nationalism. Pride turned into hatred; a sense of identity into ‘you are not one of us’, and confidence into superiority, in many instances.

 

So maybe our government needs to revisit some of this patriotism. Tone it down, climb down from the high ground and drop the propaganda—whether in the obvious form of posters, taglines, songs, campaigns, exhibitions or in its more insidious manipulation of the media.

 

Because while loving one’s country is always a good thing; maybe we have been taught to love our country a little too much for our own good.

Nationalism became a big part of molding the new Singaporean. Efforts that promoted national identity were launched, of which these are but a few examples: campaigns that told us we were Singaporean first, Chinese, Malay and Indian second; Chinese being asked to jiang huayi over their dialects; the entire country trumpeting National Day songs year after year and National Education being introduced to schools. ‘We are Singapore-Singapore-re-ans!’ we chorused in unison.

 

We were also told that we were number one in many things: from our business environment to our airport to our children’s math scores. (For an interesting list of Singapore’s rankings, refer to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/International_rankings_of_Singapore, but please take this with a pinch of salt.)

 

our culture, our media or our appropriated form of democracy, have been censured for trying to impose their Western ideas and values on us and clearly not understanding just how uniquely Singaporean we are. No one, not even the most powerful countries in the world, was going to tell the Lion City what to do or how to do it. And foreigners who praised Singapore were reportedly on glowingly in the mainstream media as if to say ‘see, this shows that we have got it right.’

 

Some of this nationalism has been great for us, even necessary—Singaporeans are now a confident, well-educated lot, with a strong sense of who we are.