Screaming xenophobia no more?

By Andrew Loh

 

Have you noticed that “xenophobia” seems to have disappeared into thin air in Singapore?low refutes xenophobia

On 31 March this year, Straits Times reporter Tessa Wong wrote a piece for the paper on what she perceived to be the then prevailing xenophobic online postings among some members of the public.

Her article, titled “Zero tolerance for intolerance”, was an attack on those who had spoken up against the Government’s immigration, labour and population policies.

“[The] pushback against xenophobia is still nowhere close to gaining steam,” she lamented.

“These days, they are more likely to spout phrases such as ‘Singaporeans first’ and champion the rights of ‘born and bred Singaporeans’,” Ms Wong wrote, referring to those she saw as xenophobic.

She went on:

“Xenophobes never like to be called xenophobes; instead they prefer the friendlier and more patriotic-sounding term ‘pro-Singaporeans’.

“Those who indulge in this masquerade should be called out, as this behaviour seeks to protect Singaporeans’ interests and identity using a negative ‘us versus them’ mentality.”

She urged:

“Singaporeans should speak out against xenophobia even if it’s currently the unpopular thing to do.”

And:

“The truth is there can be no justification for hating another person for being a foreigner, and this kind of discriminatory behaviour should never be allowed to take root in a Singapore that has always been open and tolerant of many faiths and races.

“This is a message that needs to be reinforced over and over again, no matter the political climate, no matter how unpopular the message may be, by citizens and leaders alike.”

Strong words indeed.

Ms Wong was no doubt echoing the government’s angst of criticisms of its immigration policy from Singaporeans. She, quite obviously, had jumped on the bandwagon to paint every criticism and critique of such policies as “xenophobia”.

I’d written a rebuttal to her article here: “Screaming xenophobia”.

Fast forward six months to 30 September and this was the headline in the TODAY newspaper:

tsf

Rewind to Ms Wong’s words:

“These days, they are more likely to spout phrases such as ‘Singaporeans first’ and champion the rights of ‘born and bred Singaporeans’.”

What shall we then say about Speaker of Parliament Mdm Halimah Yaacob’s comment?

3 weeks ago, the Ministry of Manpower introduced its “Fair Consideration Framework” to urge employers to “hire locals before foreigners”. In effect, this is – for all intent and purposes – a “Hire Singaporeans First” policy, although the Manpower Minister denies it is.

"... hire locals before foreigners..."
“… hire locals before foreigners…”

It is suddenly alright to be “pro-Singaporeans”, or to promote “Singaporeans First”.

What changed?

My guess is that the Government has finally realised that what Singaporeans, including its online critics, were saying was not untrue. That, in fact, employers do discriminate against Singaporean workers when it comes to employment, and that a sizeable segment of our workforce, the PMETs, are at the forefront of this, as indeed many have been trying to tell the government for several years now.

Mdm Halimah’s remarks are the latest proof that the Government has finally come round to openly accept that Singaporeans should have priority when it comes to jobs and urge employers to “think Singaporeans first.”

The discrimination which PMETs faced at the workplace has become a political issue which could threaten to reduce the ruling party’s share of the votes at the next election. So, it had to act, otherwise it will not have time to, before the next hustings due by 2016.

The point I am trying to put across is this: reporters and journalists should spend more time thinking things through before jumping on the convenient bandwagon to be the loudspeakers of a government which many see as out-of-touch. Even former head of the Civil Service recently criticised the PAP government for lacking empathy, being elitist and that the party “don’t feel for the people”.

Don’t become cheerleaders of the establishment just because it is the convenient thing to do.

You risk becoming purveyors of witch hunts against those who genuinely care about our society.

It has happened in the past, such as in 1987.

It happened recently with regards to the Indonesian haze episode.

The screams and cries of “xenophobia!” perpetuated by the mainstream media and the likes of Ms Wong threaten to bury and shame into silence the genuine concerns of Singaporeans.

But if those like Ms Wong feel that promoting a “Singaporeans First” idea is xenophobic, then let them speak up against Mdm Halimah and the Ministry of Manpower for, as Ms Wong herself wrote so eloquently:

“This is a message that needs to be reinforced over and over again, no matter the political climate, no matter how unpopular the message may be, by citizens and leaders alike.”

“Singaporeans should speak out against xenophobia even if it’s currently the unpopular thing to do.”

Unless, of course, it is not xenophobia to speak up for Singaporeans – which it is not.

Incidentally, it is worth noting that such accusations of ‘xenophobia’ died down after the MDA introduced its new set of Internet regulations in July.

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