When is xenophobia not xenophobia?

April 22, 2014

It’s perfectly natural for people to cling on to what’s familiar. We wouldn’t be humans…not at all… if we don’t find tradition and the past consoling – as only by valuing these set pieces are we able to gainfully connect to those who came before us – and this sense of shared purpose and destiny cements us to those who share many of our histories, thereby giving us a sense of belonging.

No doubt these are indeed positive things. Only one needs to be mindful – take this idea too far and it can also trap us in obsolete attitudes along with promoting xenophobia and blind nationalism.

This should prompt us all to ask – is there a sweet point where nationalism and multiculturalism can co-exist peacefully?

For example. Am I xenophobic or unreasonable in my expectations, if all I want to do is sit down and watch the birds and trees quietly during the weekend in the Padang without having to put up with a bunch of Africans beating their drums and bucking to tribal music…as this is the way, Africans traditionally celebrate their national day. Am I xenophobic, if all I want to do is walk along Orchard road without being assaulted by the sinking feeling that I’ve suddenly been teleported to to either downtown Manila or Shanghai?

My point is, if most of us don’t have any problem in recognizing that a large chunk of xenophobia involves a group of people shoving their values down our throats. Then by the same token, its conceivable that by insisting time and again multiculturalism has an automatic right of place even if it means squeezing out the way of life one associates with the idea of home – then that idea has to be a form of reverse xenophobia as well.

The perverse effect of insisting that multiculturalism is here to stay even if it threatens to blot out all that’s familiar and makes Singapore what Singapore is, may well provoke many natives to be turned off by what they used to enjoy and consider as diversity – so much so that many may even be so resentful of having multiculturalism shoved their throats or labelled a xenophobic on the slightest sign – many may even feel justified to develop an aversion to anything “diverse” and foreign. And if that happens, can you really blame people for being REALLY xenophobic then?

Maybe the custodians of power should just cool it when it comes to labeling people xenophobic in the absence of strong evidence. After all, let’s not forget what were the operating conditions that brought about such a reaction (if there was really such a negative reaction, given that the ST is the world’s most unreliable purveyor of the truth) along with which outfit was responsible for creating this stress point – besides life is not so simple, where if someone just insist it’s xenophobia…the rest just follows….some people, I am reminded will much prefer to sit on a stone and wonder…xenophobia?

You’re kidding me right?


‘You have a right to your culture and heritage. But you don’t have a right to insist on it so forcefully that you make the natives so anxious and nervous by threatening their way of life.

And let me share with you one other thing…it doesn’t take a lot to give the natives high blood pressure and sleeplessness nights.

That is why, I often tell my friends who come to me for wisdom (though I remain ignorant as to why they should even do such a ridiculous thing) – if you want to celebrate Singapore day…then, do it in a low key manner. Don’t be loud, brash and full frontal about it. Be like a submarine. Don’t do stupid things like stage a reenactment of Parameswara discovering Singapore abroad in the public square – and never shove so forcefully the idea that you are so different from the natives, as they might feel threatened.

Whether they are justified to feel threatened or not is NOT the point. My goal is to share with you WHAT will happen…not what SHOULD happen! The point is simply this gentlemen!

The natives will feel threatened! If you are so reckless as to disregard their sense of space and privacy, that is really my ONLY point – because you cannot be stupid like those people who go around beating gongs and waving giant flags – you cannot, not if the goal is to prosper and win the hearts and minds. You have to be a man of all seasons and ask of yourself further – what is at the nucleus of nationalism?

Let me take you by the hand into my mind’s eye and share with you it what the serious men have shared with me – nationalism is simply a giant myth making machine…it’s not so different from that machine behind the curtain in the story, the Wizard of Oz…as the very idea of nationalism is to sell an illusion – and this it does by regularly twisting the raw material of history into what is regularly served up to the general public.

Do not confuse nationalism with history. As while history is the quest for the truth or at least corroborated facts that make up some semblance of the truth. Nationalism is none of these things, it is at best a fait accompli which requires omitting, exaggerating, embellishing and in many cases wordsmithing a version of the ‘truth’ to produce a story to satisfy a strategic need.

Nationalism to me is in every sense of the word synonymous with the idea of religion – they are both cut from the same cloth…the same reality even. So as an idea, it can never be logical, testable or even scrupulously close to the truth. Neither can one reach a happy consensus on the idea of nationalism either…as there are so many versions – so to me, it is an idea that should always be treated like expired dynamite – with utmost care.

I much prefer quiet diplomacy to beating gongs and drums, where a simple tent is set up in a plantation. Simple makan is served. No flags. No symbols. No lexicons and absolutely no speeches. It’s a low key affair with a footprint of a stealth fighter. Neither do I do stupid things like wear a loud G2000 shirt and my tightest trousers that trigger fainting spells amongst kampung lady folk – I don’t cause heart attacks or make people feel uncomfortable, that is not my goal….my goal is to win the battle of the hearts and minds with quiet diplomacy.

So for me I am always attired in a sombre bush jacket. This is uncle power in it’s highest form. As one cannot even enjoy the simple pleasures of life such as scratching your gulis in a bush jacket, it will look peculiar. And the uniform of the keeper of the wheel of life is always a welcome sight to kampung folk, it reminds them that the center has not caved in. When carried well, it even can cure everything from type 2 diabetes, lowering high blood pressure, relieving menstrual pains, stopping mass pengsan spells, curing epilepsy, consumption, cancer to scaring away malevolent spirits, chasing away sloth, depression, bent politicians, traveling confidence tricksters, bengkok pastors etc etc etc. Since time immemorial it has really always been only this way in the collective memory of those who turn the wheel of life in the kampungs – you could even be forgiven for believing, it can only be this way till the end of time….the serious men of this world taught me all these things…one day they came to me and told me, it is time to set aside my childish ways and to study the art of quiet diplomacy.

As for the rah rah brigade who are beating drums and gongs and shoving multiculturalism down the throats of natives. I don’t care very much for their ways….all they seem to do is cause the natives to get hot underneath their collar, feel very uncomfortable and resent them….and one really needs to ask of them: what is your goal lah?

As for me, I have a very clear mission and I have no illusions as to the discipline that is required to accomplish my mission. You see, I am the first of a new breed of farmers and many will follow in my footsteps. One day more and more people will come out of Singapore to be farmers. I know that is hard to fathom now, but trust me, one day growing iceberg lettuce will be cooler than investment banking and when that day comes everything will be ready for them.’

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