Do we have the Singaporean pride? This is a mind-boggling question that I had for a long time. When I ask myself: Am I proud to be a Singaporean? I couldn’t find the conviction to answer yes. It made me wonder, as much as the government has done well politically and economically, has it done enough to foster our sense of togetherness and pride? After recent readings on rather cynical pieces of academic works, I became convinced that this lack of national unity is part of a political ploy. However, even more recently, my encounter with a few articles had led me to a different conclusion.
This blog post has 3 objectives:
- An introspective master-slave dialectic between my old cynical viewpoint, and the newer and less parochial viewpoint.
- To answer the question of why we should be proud of being Singaporeans at the end of this blog post.
- The inquisition of the question along the way: why are we not proud to be Singaporeans?
Although I do not have the answer to the question posed in the 3rd objective, I strongly advocate for readers to enlighten or give some thoughts on it in the comment section.
The Cynical Viewpoint
In today’s news, I came across this statement: “Hong Kongers are a resilient lot and we have always been able to recover quickly from a crisis.” This statement instantly triggered a sense of admiration in me. How I wish we Singaporeans are able to proclaim our pride like that, telling the rest of the world that we Singaporeans are a smart/resilient/happy lot. This was when I figured out the root of the “problem”. We Singaporeans have little to be proud of because we have little problems to deal with as a nation – both the government and the people together. It is not because we don’t have problems, we have plenty of them. However, these problems are solved by the government. Take the attempt by the government to make us proud to be Singaporeans in the SG50 celebration for example. “We turned from a third world country to a first in a short span of 50 years” cannot be a slogan that we can be proud of because it was largely the government, not the people, that can be / was given credit for it. Perhaps this was intentional, given that the 2015 General Election was a month from the celebration. Perhaps the government planned to conflate our national success with PAP’s capability. Perhaps pursuing a brand of nationalism that packages PAP in it will enhance its legitimacy. Perhaps all of this is just a Machiavellian ploy?
How the SG government forges national identity: Is it conventional?
As a history student, I learnt how nations in Southeast Asia had fostered national unity. National unity, for it to sustain, usually needs a compelling narrative. For a narrative to be compelling, it has to feature adversities. The most compelling narrative for Southeast Asia would be its anti-colonial struggle. Indonesia, for instance, shaped its national identity strongly around their violent struggle against the Dutch. Other than narratives, there also exist usage of existing identities and circumstances to piece together a national identity: Thailand uses both the religion of Buddhism and the monarch to make up the Thai identity. Israel used its historical persecutions, Judaism and its siege mentality against its muslim neighbours to forge the Israeli identity. United States used the ideology of Democracy and the liberal principles to make up the American identity. Singapore actually do not lack these features. Our Singaporean identity consists of multiculturalism and meritocracy, our government has fostered a siege mentality against our muslim neighbours (this is debatable), and we have the struggle of both the Japanese Occupation and the Separation from Malaysia being emphasised over and over again every year. Assuming that there are no factual errors in what I wrote, Singapore’s methods in fostering national unity and pride are not very much different from the other countries.
Debunking the cynical viewpoint
Based on the conclusion that the Singapore government’s methods of forging national identity is actually conventional, the idea that the government is “packaging PAP with our national identity” is an unlikely case. One can perhaps still argue that the SG50 celebration is a political strategy to shore up more votes for the election, but that only proves the exception rather than the rule in all national day celebrations. What about the Recollection of the Japanese Occupation where we all recite: They had no rights, they had no say, and they longed to be free one day? We remember the hard times that our grandparents went through and through this we unite in spirit. What about the national pledge that we recite everyday in school, where we pledge ourselves as one united people, regardless of race, language or religion? Is that not multiculturalism being emphasized? Are such efforts not politically neutral? The cynical viewpoint is parochial in the sense that it does not take into account the other means in which the government forges national unity. It should therefore be declared invalid. However, the argument has a flavor of truth in the sense that it accuses the government of being politically motivated when organising the SG50 celebration. This is something that I find to be highly conceivable. Its major flaw, however, comes from its broad connection made to the forging of national identity.
Inquiry: why are we not proud to be Singaporeans?
As much as the cynical viewpoint is invalid, it remains true that Singaporeans have little to no Singaporean pride. The Hong Konger’s pride that I mentioned remains enigmatic to me. As a matter of facts, Hong Kong and Singapore are not much different from each other in terms of overcoming adversities. Both countries experienced the Japanese occupation during WWII; both had fostered siege mentalities in the citizens, albeit against different out-groups – Hong Kong’s out-group is China. So if the Singapore’s method is conventional and it is not very much different from Hong Kong, why is it that Singaporeans do not share the same degree of pride in our national identity as the Hong Kongers? Could it be that the siege mentality in Singapore doesn’t seem real or updated? After all, our last significant spat with our neighbours goes beyond a decade ago while Hong Kong is almost always fighting for its freedom from China. I do not know the real reasons behind it, but if you have any idea, feel free to leave your comments down below.
Why should we be proud to be Singaporeans?
In this article, George Yeo revealed that the reason why we will always be uncomfortable with our national identity is that it is dynamic. In other words, our national identity will always change its form. This is intrinsically different from national identities in other countries as national identities are usually pegged down to concrete historical moments, ideologies, institutions or religion – making them static by nature. Singaporeans should base our identity on embracing differences. By embracing differences, we constantly add new identities into the many pre-existing identities that make us Singaporeans, making it dynamic and ever-changing. Being a Chinese or Malay does not exclude you from the identity of being Singaporean. Instead, being Singaporean is the acceptance that we may be of different races or religions, but we are nevertheless Singaporean / tolerant of each other. By conflating being Singaporean and being tolerant -like how the identity of Hong Kongers is conflated with being resilient – the identity of a Singaporean becomes an ideal worth fighting for. Singapore is seen world-wide as a racially and religiously harmonious society – a rare feature of any modern society. Our harmony may have been artificially maintained thus far through state’s enforcement, but the hypothesis that our harmony has substance remains untested. Perhaps the reason why we are not proud to be Singaporeans is that we haven’t prove it to ourselves yet. Eventually, as morbid as this might sound, our harmony will be tested through terror. When it happens, conceivably through an inevitable terrorist attack, and we emerge harmonious, we can then pat ourselves on the back and shamelessly proclaim that:
We Singaporeans are an open-minded lot and we have always been able to remain harmonious through a crisis.
It is not my hope that the day of revelation will come soon, but when it does, we are likely to find solace in the fact that we can finally be proud of being Singaporeans.
P.S: I could be jumping to conclusion that Hong Kongers are generally proud of their identities. This is an assumption that I made, so if anyone observes that Hong Kongers do not actually possess such sentiments in general, feel free to point it out below in the comment section.
Image Credit: https://www.ipscommons.sg/the-future-of-diversity/
*yes I’m aware that I reused the image