Screaming “xenophobia”

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From the People’s Action Party (PAP) to the Workers’ Party (WP), from the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) to the National Solidarity Party (NSP), from the Reform Party (RP) to even the smaller Singapore Justice Party (SJP), virtually all the major political parties subscribe to the policy, belief or idea of “Singaporeans first”. Each has put this in public statements from their respective parties the last few years. And so have the NTUC, presidential candidates Tan Cheng Bock and now-president Tony Tan. All agree that Singaporeans should come first. [See below.]

Gilbert Goh, founder of support site for the unemployed, transitioning.org, has championed the same call – for a Singaporean-First Singapore. His latest initiative saw some 5,000 people supporting such a call at Hong Lim Park in February, following the Government’s release of the population White Paper which, among other things, included a “planning scenario” of a population of 6.9 million people in 2030.

Gilbert has since announced a second event at Hong Lim Park (on 1 May 2013) to protest the White Paper. And again, as in the first event, he is being accused by some of ‘xenophobia’, for allegedly fanning the flames of anti-foreigner sentiments; that his “Singaporeans first” call is xenophobic.

Such views are woefully misguided.

First, if anyone wants to see what being xenophobic is, perhaps they should read this article.

Second, there is nothing wrong about wanting a “Singaporeans first” policy or way of doing things in Singapore, and it is not xenophobic. It is no xenophobia.

Third, the accusation thrown at Gilbert betrays the lack of understanding of what constitutes xenophobia. Simply, it is an unreasonable or irrational hatred for foreigners or things foreign. In short, it is hatred for someone who is a foreigner simply because he is a foreigner.

So, does Gilbert have such hatred for foreigners, and secondly, that if he did, that it is also an irrational hatred?

To the best of my knowledge, and I have known Gilbert for several years now, what Gilbert has is not hatred for foreigners, which then follows that the question of it being irrational does not arise.

Gilbert has been raising employment issues concerning Singaporean workers for the last several years – and especially about the PMETs (professionals, managers, executives, technicians), way before the NTUC started to take it seriously, culminating in its call (2012) for better protection for this group of Singaporeans.

Transitioning.org, in fact, was started by him and a few friends following the 2008 economic crisis, to help those who lost their jobs transition (thus the name) to new circumstances. Gilbert was about the only individual Singaporean I know of who took it upon himself to help these unemployed folks.

I remember speaking to Gilbert about 4 years ago at a coffeeshop, where he first raised the matter with me. He was providing counselling to PMETs who had lost their jobs to foreigners because these foreigners were younger, cheaper or simply because they were being recruited by their fellow countrymen. (This is now a problem recognised by the Manpower Ministry, by the way, but Gilbert had already been raising it 4 years ago.)

He told me of Singaporeans in their mid-40s, PMETs, who were at their wits’ end, after failing to secure any jobs even after having jumped through all the recommended hoops – MPs, CDCs, ministries, e2i, etc. Some were in deep depression, others on the verge of suicide. Marriages broke down, relationships became estranged. Some even spoke of holding public protests. All were desperate.

I met with 2 of these men later. And what Gilbert had told me was true. You can see it in the men’s eyes, in their voices, on their faces. Men whose rage was so deep, who felt so helpless tears stream down their faces as they relate how they lost their jobs – in spite of them turning up for work loyally and putting in the hours required.

How do you get help when all the recommended avenues result in dead ends?

The consequences of an enlarged population are real. It is personal. It affects one’s livelihood, one’s family, one’s personal relationship with one’s most loved. Thus, the 6.9 million figure mentioned in the White Paper has stirred unease because of the potential negative consequences in many areas, including the job market and wages for Singaporeans across the board.

The subsequent backpeddling by the Government – that the “6.9 million” is only a “worst-case scenario” and not a target – does not assuage the concerns or reassure Singaporeans, given that the two previous “planning scenarios” of 4 million and 5 million of 1991 and 2002 were breached in 2000 and 2010 respectively.

And also, let us remember that despite all the outrage, feedback, and protests, the Government is still not stopping the influx.

It is only “slowing” it down.

So, it does seem that if we continue on this trajectory, we will in fact reach 6.9 million eventually.

This is what Gilbert – and many other Singaporeans – are concerned and indeed upset about. And they are not wrong in being so. Neither are they being “xenophobic” in protesting against this, or calling for Singaporeans to be put first in various areas.

Citizens must have certain privileges, priorities, preferences, advantages and rights accorded to them. And yes, even in the job market where each one of us makes a living to feed our families, Singaporeans must come first. That is our responsibility, in fact.

Does this mean we close the door completely on foreigners? No. Does calling for such a “Singaporeans first” policy mean we are xenophobic? No.

What it does mean is that we recognise that it is citizens who will have to live here, raise families here, work here, die here and be buried here. It is citizens who will, when the time calls for it, lay down their lives to protect all that they have built. It is citizens who decide the direction of the country, who build the nation according to their vision. It is citizens who, with the future of their children in mind, create the society which they hope their children will thrive in – and in the process of doing so, it is citizens who put in the sacrifice of blood, sweat and tears.

So yes, Singaporeans must come first – and we should not apologise for thinking so.

Foreigners who feel that Singapore is a great place and want to make it their home are welcome to become one of us, to become a Singaporean. They will be accorded the same privileges and rights when they do – and we do not deny them these things.

Let us be clear that when we stand up for the rights of citizenship that we are not being xenophobic. Xenophobia has a different meaning entirely, in fact.

All the political parties and others are not being xenophobic when they declare their beliefs in “Singaporeans first”. Neither is Gilbert.

On the contrary, if we do not recognise the privileges and rights of citizenship, then we are in fact headed in the wrong direction, a direction which will lead us to being a people fractious, where being a nation is meaningless, and where selfishness will be the order of the day.

Speaking out for Singaporeans does not make one a xenophobe.

One of the PMETs I mentioned whom I met later ended up being a taxi driver, because he had no choice. Although he told me he enjoyed the job, the question remains: why should our own citizens be forced out of their jobs in the first place?

The White Paper’s 6.9 million population projection – if it becomes reality – will exacerbate such problems. And it is us – Singaporeans – who will end up having to deal with the consequences. Indeed, that is what we are having to do now, as a result of the faulty policies of the Government the last 5 to 10 years.

Speaking up against such policies is not xenophobia.

In fact, it is duty.

Accusations that Workers' Party sec gen  Low Thia Kiang had incited xenophobia by speaking up against the White Paper.
Accusations that Workers’ Party sec gen Low Thia Kiang had incited xenophobia by speaking up against the White Paper.

———————-

Click on each party/name to see reports of their support for “Singaporeans first”:

People’s Action Party / Government

Workers’ Party

Singapore Democratic Party

National Solidarity Party

Reform Party

Singapore Justice Party

President Tony Tan

Tan Cheng Bock

NTUC

BUDGET 2013

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11 thoughts on “Screaming “xenophobia”

  1. Gilbert’s “Singaporean First” call and attitudes may not be xenophobic. Speaking out against government policies is not xenophobic.

    However, his article blatantly was – xenophobic, and racist at that. Sorting “bad habits”, “social integration” and “niche skills” by race? Really??

    1. Lets be fair and also mention that he removed the article immediately upon being notified of how people felt, and he also apologised for it – and apologised several times.

      Xenophobia is something which would run deeper. I do not see that in Gilbert.

      1. Agreed, as mentioned: his attitudes may not be xenophobic, and i take your word on your personal opinion of him. The article undeniably *was*, though.

        In fact, it only goes to show how easy it is to transit from a “nice guy” with “good intentions” to the repellent, racist pile of inflammatory trash that his article was. As such, it is all the more important to watch out for that very fine line… something that your article does not exactly encourage.

  2. Agree with you, Andrew. I also have friends in mid forties having difficulties in getting a new job, something they like to do (after either being retrenched or resigned for various reasons) as they have to fight with ‘cheaper’ and younger so-called FT.

    1. It happened to my brother some years back as well. So, it is something which is very personal. This is what we should realise, and Gilbert taking the lead to highlight these issues is a good thing.

  3. Gilbert Goh probably is not as xenophobic as he is made out to be by others. It might be more to do with his bad writing in English, which causes a lot of communication problems, and that article he wrote which sparked off that accusation was probably an example of it. That said, it is so easy nowadays to really use ‘xenophobia’ to try to attack opponents of the White Paper population policy. Just sully their names with the tag of ‘xenophobia’ and innocent or naive Singaporeans who trust the media blindly will continue siding with the White Paper no matter what.

      1. I agree about your point. That is why I actually say that it is more a problem of his bad writing, which obfuscates his originally good intentions and causes people to misunderstand him. The real problems also lie with the government’s own liberal policies. Foreigners who are not skilled or hold dubious certificates are allowed into the country en masse, and in addition, there is no accounting for why the spouses(foreigners) of local Singaporeans are at times refused permanent residency–people have speculated for pragmatic reasons of whether they can work as mothers or caregivers at home–while others enter easily and then even bring in their dependents including their grandfather and aging parents. All in all, the problem and the real enemy are the government and their policies.

  4. Here I will be showing you, by the best of my logic, that you people are xenophobic.

    Xenophobia – an unreasonable fear or hatred of foreigners or strangers or of that which is foreign or strange.

    You mentioned, “Men whose rage was so deep, who felt so helpless tears stream down their faces as they relate how they lost their jobs – in spite of them turning up for work loyally and putting in the hours required.” Well, we should by now know that doing this does NOT mean you are competent at work. It’s the 21st century, a knowledge-intensive economy where hardworkers are not good enough anymore. Of course, with benefit of the doubt, I’m not saying those men in question are incompetent. What I meant was that this is not a valid reason to prove anything.

    Next, you mentioned, “The consequences of an enlarged population are real. It is personal. It affects one’s livelihood, one’s family, one’s personal relationship with one’s most loved. Thus, the 6.9 million figure mentioned in the White Paper has stirred unease because of the potential negative consequences in many areas, including the job market and wages for Singaporeans across the board.” What are the negative consequences? Here’s my list, based on priority: Jobs, Housing, Transport, Culture. ‘Jobs’ is top of the list because that is what people finds the most important – money. But have these people take a good look at the figures and breakdown for the 6.9-million population? More than 50% of the population are Singaporeans. Then in that case, the chances that someone loses a job due to the employment of foreigners are lower than due to the employment of Singaporeans. ‘Housing’ is next. New houses can’t be applied by Singapore PRs, needless to say foreigners (they can’t even buy a house). So, in truth, when Singaporeans can’t get the house they applied for is due to either act of God or luck or because some other Singaporeans took their spots. ‘Transportation’, I worry when the number increases as well. Why? Because no one wants to work in jobs as bus drivers and train operators. There are more than enough buses and trains to serve commuters well, but there aren’t enough people to operate them. Culture is last. Well, all I’m afraid of is Singaporeans become xenophobic that they ostracise others’ culture into the already-multicultural country (oh the irony). Why afraid of including a new culture in this country? An extra culture will not flood the city with blood, or saliva if you think they spoke too loudly. My concerns in culture is more of the foreigners are taking too much time to realise their actions have to tune down to compromise with the others. Face it, by this statement, I dare say you are xenophobic. Pushing the blame to foreigners because they are here. Most of the time foreigners aren’t here to stay, so what’s the worrying about? PRs are staying, but because they consider rooting here and have a family here which their children will become Singaporeans. You hate them too? That’s racist and xenophobic.

    Then, you said, “Citizens must have certain privileges, priorities, preferences, advantages and rights accorded to them. And yes, even in the job market where each one of us makes a living to feed our families, Singaporeans must come first. That is our responsibility, in fact.” Oh seriously, tell me, what privileges and priorities that PRs and foreigners have that are above ours? This statement not only sound xenophobic, it also sounds like whatever the government does has to benefit Singaporeans directly. All you people care about is money. The national budget, the grants, the properties ownership policies, the monetary gains, the medical benefits, etc are the only things they are concerned about. They want to know if they will be financially benefitted by the policies. If the policies don’t benefit them, *bam!*, they disagree. And all WP need to do is to say, “we should use the national treasury funds to do this and that to help our citizens.” so to gain the people’s support.

    Lastly, you said, “Speaking up against such policies is not xenophobia. In fact, it is duty.” Yes I agree. Speaking up against everything that you disagree with is duty. But are you rational about things when you raise your views? I doubt so. People are opposing this idea because they are skeptical of PAP government’s policies, because they are “well-educated enough” to think (but selfishly and self-importantly), and because they feel they don’t get benefits out of it. I disagree with the 6.9 mil figure, but not because of the foreigners but because of the things I had listed, which are by far not directly related to any nationality.

    Xenophobic is just a term to label these self-important and arrogant Singaporeans we see around us. When is the last time you see Singaporeans spoke rationally about the pros and cons of the PAP government? In my opinion, xenophobic is too nice a term to label us, like a euphemism. The appropriate label I’d thought of is probably too harsh to be used at a website of this stature.

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  6. Hmm is anyone else experiencing problems with the images on this blog loading?
    I’m trying to figure out if its a problem on my end or if it’s the blog.

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