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Free Malaysia Today
What is hardly unthinkable in Malaysia is debated with increasingly alacrity in Singapore. And it is nothing more than the decade-old issue of just how much immigrants is enough for a nation constrained by space and cultural compact.
There was hardly any ‘relief’ when the city-state’s population passed 5 million this month.
And there was also any of the relief that could ordinarily have been expected whenever governments roll out tax benefits, as how Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong recently did when announcing monetary perks for the more than 300,000 members of the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF), which included regular servicemen and reservists.
News of the premier’s announcement coupled with the population increase hardly soothed many of the jangled nerves that have had long festered since the large scale influx of foreigners over the years landing on the nation’s shores to service the nation’s complex economy and to make up for the population dearth the nation sorely lacks.
Then there was an international report that said that all like other developed states Singapore too, was grappling with urban stress.
Like a bad dream that has the nasty habit of turning true when one suddenly wakes up from a long slumber, the influx of foreigners has without question hardly been welcomed in the way it was intended to be.
And this is despite some of the best of propaganda machinery employed to counter negative perceptions of foreigners from the reining of xenophobia to avidly urging Singaporeans to accept foreigners and the diversity they bring.
As after all the city-state has always stated that as an immigrant society itself, some symmetry in kindred understanding has to be accorded to new comers.
That means not just accepting immigrants in their neighbourhoods but also in schools and workplaces etc even if some of the practices and habits of these immigrants are ‘annoying’ to say the least.
Singapore’s overriding quest
Yet as most of have averred citizenship is rarely a zero-sum game, as some of the writers and commentators to the state-owned and operated news daily, the Straits Times have identified.
“Some Singaporeans are not sure if a PR is really with us or just riding on the coat tails of our economic prosperity. They see loyalty as mutually exclusive, that you can’t be loyal to more than one country”, wondered aloud Leong Chan Hoong of the nation’s Institute of Policy Studies.
With citizenship come not just rights but responsibilities. And in Singapore’s case national service – something of a rite of passage for most of the country’s young male population – is just what bonds them together in a cohesive mould.
That ‘cohesive mould’ then translates to make nation building – Singapore’s overriding quest – a significantly easier task than it otherwise may seem to be.
Yet there is no denying in all fairness it is a significantly serious undertaking.
That is making citizens out of people who simply have no shared experiences or shared heritages with the people they want to live with, to pledge their allegiances to nation that itself broke from Malaysia over ideological differences.
Those acrimonious moments preceding the split with Malaysia may rightly be fading, which happening as it always does, occurs at every change of the generational guard.
It is perhaps for this and many other instances that loyalty, or whatever that is stretched by its intellectual limitation that concerns about it have abounded over what constitutes Singaporeaness!
It is no secret that Singapore badly needs its people; not just any kind of people but those with both the monetary and intellectual capital to service its ever growing and complex state of affairs underpinned by an economy worth US$300billion.
The hardest task is how to convince someone with a history of shared experiences and traditions from another part pf the world, to take up citizenship and yet not remotely expect him to feel the same for his country of birth?
It is no small feat, but something which the Republic is rightly concerned about.