In a blink of an eye, it has now been 20 years since the devastating attack on the World Trade Center in New York City in 2001. As the world commemorates this 20th anniversary of 9/11, it is with the shadow of the haphazard withdrawal of troops by the US and the UK looming.
In a written commentary sent to TODAYOnline, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong shared his thoughts on the event that shook the world two decades ago.
Acknowledging Singapore’s multicultural and multiracial make-up, PM Lee noted that terrorism was “not just a threat to our physical safety” but also a danger “to our mutual trust and social cohesion,” he said.
Among other things, he said that the fight against terrorism is “far from over”.
“Never assume we have overcome for good the tendency of people to identify with their own racial and religious groups. We have to keep on bringing all the communities closer together, and from time to time adjust the delicate balance that the different communities have reached.”
As PM Lee makes these observations, Singapore is going through an awakening of sorts where issues of race are concerned. In the past year, a number of notable racist incidents have occurred.
Among them, were the video of a Chinese man, telling a mixed-race couple off for dating and the video of a Chinese lady gonging cymbals at her Indian neighbour as he was performing rites outside his own front door. Both of these went viral and generated a firestorm of protest and provided a platform for Singaporeans to discuss the issues of race and racism.
This was also the year where the Peoples’ Association carelessly and ignorantly used the wedding photographs of Ms Sarah Bagharib to depict Hari Raya. Let’s also not forget the former BBC journalist, Sharanjit Leyl sharing her difficulties in finding a job when she first started out as she was told by Mediacorp that “darker-skinned” people would struggle.
Yet, despite all of these incidents and minorities sharing their lived experience in Singapore, PM Lee has seemingly refused to acknowledge the incidences of racism. He said at his National Day Rally speech that it was “baseless” to say that there was “Chinese privilege” in Singapore and insisted that all races were treated equally.
He also appeared to blame social media for the problem instead of recognising that social media is merely a platform to share experiences. Social media did not create or cause racism.
From his commentary on 9/11, PM Lee clearly recognises that racism can cause serious issues for the country. He also clearly acknowledges that racial harmony in Singapore is still a “work in progress” and highlights the importance of racial unity.
However, how can racial unity be maintained if our PM seems unwilling to accept that racism in Singapore is more common than one would think and is definitely not a creation of social media?
If all races were indeed treated equally, then why is racial harmony still “a work in progress”?
On the face of it, his National Day rally speech and his written commentary on 9/11, seem to contain some glaring inconsistencies.