Are we thus just throwing around phrases like “true Singaporean” without knowing what they mean? Are they excuses to belittle those who have come from afar to be among us? Are we pretending to be “patriotic”, and take the “higher moral ground” simply by the virtue that we – by nature’s hand or by a twist of fate – are indeed Singaporean?
The vitriol targeted at all and sundry involved in this “sham” of winning the Olympic medal, the critics point out, are justified. And those responsible, these same critics point out, is a long list, at the top of which is the Government, its policies, the Sports Council, the Singapore Table Tennis Association, the Sports School, the “unreasonable” or “misguided” desire to “win medals”, the “failure” of the meritocratic system, the lack of support for sports in Singapore, the privileged or biased attention given to foreign talents, etc etc. The list of allegations is indeed a long one.
But really, much has been done for sports in Singapore. Just go ask those who are involved in it, and look around you. Of course, there are issues and problems which need to be dealt with but generally, sports have been given a leg up in the past decade.
But the important question is: who are we? What exactly makes us Singaporean?
Feng Tianwei has been a Singaporean since 2008. Does that not qualify her? What would, then? Li Jiawei and Jing Junhong have also been here for a while. Jing Junhong has been here for more than 10 years. Does she qualify to be a “true” Singaporean?
Yet, here is a question which perhaps will provide some clue to the answer we seek to the question of who we are, or who we are not: Is the way some of us have gone about abusing Feng Tianwei, at times in the most vile of fashion, something which is part of this Singaporean identity we want to see or be?
Yes, we can rationalise it and perch ourselves up on higher ground and defend such behaviour by saying it is because of many other matters and issues. And you would, actually, not be entirely wrong. But this does not justify such behaviour.
The controversy over Feng Tianwei, in fact, is not about her. It is instead about us.
Blogger, Singapore Armchair Critic (SAC) raised the same question about identity, the Singaporean identity, and he had this to say:
“Nationalism that is ‘thin’ in content, and stoked whenever a people feel insulted by criticisms and stinging remarks, can easily degenerate into xenophobia. That is not a path Singaporeans want to take.”
And from the reaction of Feng’s critics, our sense of identity – or nationalism, if you want to call it – is thin, indeed. Superficial, almost. Expressed in childish diatribes and irrational ourbursts.
We apparently do not know who we are, and that sense of insecurity is demonstrated in the way we behave towards a woman – one woman – who came to our shores to seek an opportunity to do what she is passionate about and to achieve her dream.
I agree with SAC that there are no easy answers to what constitutes being a Singaporean. But with National Day just around the corner, perhaps we would be better off using our time and energy to ponder on this, rather than to perpetuate false nationalism when we “true Singaporeans” do not ourselves know who we are, or at least be able to articulate this.
And perhaps when we have taken time to ponder on this, we may realise that the first thing about being Singaporean is that we hold on to certain values, as indeed people everywhere do. And we may also perhaps realise a simple truth: that human beings naturally gravitate towards where they can have a better life and that there is absolutely nothing wrong in this – for indeed our forefathers did too, and many Singaporeans do every year when they leave us for other pastures.
If we are to celebrate National Day, perhaps we should celebrate the fact that our home, Singapore – for all its faults, and it has faults – is a place which others admire and envy and want to lay down roots in. This is no mean feat for a tiny island like ours to achieve. I would also like to add that this is not due to only the Government’s efforts either. Each of us has made this possible.
I believe that Singapore, having come so far, does need foreigners if we are to run the next course of our history-in-the-making, but we need to get some things right first. I urge the Government to therefore take a serious look at some of its policies and change them or improve on them. [I am assured that they are indeed looking into these. So I remain hopeful.]
At the same time, I hope that we ordinary Singaporeans will give some thought to the kind of future we want and how we can achieve it – and what kind of Singaporeans we want our children to be in time to come.
But in order for our children to be this, we ourselves need to know who we are.
One thing is for sure, however: no matter how hard we bang the drums of nationalism, and however high we wave the flag of being “true Singaporeans”, these will not give us the answer to the question of identity.
Taking our anger out on Feng Tianwei, and pretending that we are the “true” Singaporeans, will not give us the answer either.
We would only be fooling ourselves.