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Saturday, September 19, 2020

Singapore’s time-tested concept under fire

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Modern Singapore, multiethnic but very stable and therefore an example to be studied, is basically the result of a fascinating vision that combined stringent conservatism and radical innovation. Although founding father Lee Kuan Yew grew up speaking English in a port that had been under strong British influence since 1819, he was very aware of his Chinese descent and the Confucian values that marked him.

In just two generations, the city state became one of the world’ richest nations due to hard work and zero tolerance against misbehavior. This strictness has often been criticized in the licentious West, where thanks to a decades-long laissez-faire policy law and order have been eroded to the point that some recent images resemble those of a civil war.

In Singapore, where four completely different, almost antagonistic, if not incompatible cultures and religions (Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism and Islam) must coexist on very limited space, strict racial harmony laws guarantee social peace. People who stoke religious or racial enmity can be sentenced to a maximum of three years in jail. Some years ago, a Malay who slapped a Chinese in the face during a heated dispute over a telephone call spent a whole year in prison-without his mobile, of course.

Wealth and success always attract the envy of those who think that these are you just the result of exploitive master and servant relationships. So following the same pattern that is rapidly eroding the foundations of Western societies, the usual suspects try to stir up trouble there. The big difference is that in an Asian environment they won’t get away with it.

Raeesah Khan, a Malay “activist” from Singapore’s Workers’ Party, had to apologize for comments that accused local officers of treating ethnic minorities and guest workers more harshly than Whites or Chinese. Her commentaries on social media prompted the filing of two police reports.

There are also rabble-rousers like former high-ranking Singaporean civil servant Donald Low, who currently teaches in Hong Kong. He stated that “systemic racism is a reality in Singapore”, which he sees on a dangerous road to an “ugly, exclusivist and populist nationalism”. He considers (rich) Chinese men in power to be privileged.

This argumentation sounds suspiciously familiar and reminds me of those “angry white males”, which are nowadays seen as the source of all evil and must justify their very existence day by day. Their status supposedly is based only on the exploitation and discrimination of underprivileged minorities and therefore they should relinquish power and influence.

Some prominent members of Singapore’s long-time governing People’s Action Party (PAP) have denied that they are merely beneficiaries of a system that unfairly rewards a tiny Chinese elite. They should, as their country’s impressive rise reflects a strong working ethic that is unknown to others and draconian, though necessary rules that apply to everybody.

Heng Swee Keat, the deputy prime minister and presumptive successor to the incumbent Lee Hsien Loong, said that older Singaporeans were “not ready” for a leader who is not Chinese, who still make up almost 75% of the population. In consequence, even if Singapore would be a full-fledged democracy, the voter’s preferences probably would remain the same.

A plurality of political voices sounds wonderful, but much-trumpeted “diversity” has become a synonym for the fast destruction of traditional, often time-tested structures and total fragmentation, without offering any viable alternatives for the future.

Singapore more than ever needs professionals capable of upholding technocratic modernity and superior governance, not dreamers that want to try out concepts that didn’t work out anywhere else. No doubt that the late visionary Lee Kuan Yew would agree on that.

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