If you go beyond the vile racial slurs of white supremacists you can clearly hear a profound manifestation of fear. It’s the fear of individuals, communities and sometimes entire countries feeling that their identity is being threatened. “We will not be replaced”, chanted marchers in Charlottesville. In this case “we” stands for the white Christian identity. These movements are referred to as identity politics.
However not only whites are fearful. The Myanmar Rohingyas, a tiny Muslim minority in an overwhelmingly buddhist country are being persecuted because of a perceived danger to the ‘Burmese buddhist way of life’. In South Africa -ironically nicknamed the Rainbow Nation- xenophobic attacks are on the rise as locals feel threatened by growing multiculturalism.
Identity politics are not isolated. They are part of a historic process of social change. We are reminded of Mr. Johannes Hamelberg who on behalf of the white Protestant minority in Curaçao claimed last century that universal voting rights which meant that the colored, mostly Catholics could vote, would lead to cannibalism. Ironically there is an increase of ‘homegrown Hamelbergs’ who are now predicting celestial calamities when it comes to equal rights for the LGBTQ. Sadly, as we travel to new horizons of equality and empowerment, identity politics may become more popular.
Fortunately many countries are committed to policies of respecting diversity and are slowly building more inclusive societies. One country, Singapore, is taking a much bolder, but not uncontroversial stance. It believes that multiracialism, multi-religion and multiculturalism must be engineered, even imposed. Singapore, situated in Southeast Asia -the most racially and ethnically diverse region in the world- has never shied away from questioning Western concepts of governance.
Before going on, it’s necessary to debunk a flagrant lie being told and retold by some white nationalists and politicians: “only white countries are forced to accept multiracialism, multi-religion and multiculturalism”. No question these people are playing the victim card for political gain. They are obviously unaware of what’s really happening. According to the Pew Research Centre, of the twelve most religiously diverse countries six of them are in the Asia-Pacific region, five are in Africa and one is in South America. Additionally, not a single ‘white country’ figures in the first 35 countries on the prestigious Fearon’s cultural/ethnic diversity index.
Back to Singapore. To maintain racial harmony and prevent ethnic ghettos, it has implemented housing policies that require the composition of public housing blocks to reflect the nation’s racial composition of the majority Chinese, and the minority Malay-Muslim and Indian groups. Regarding legislative elections, Singapore introduced the Group Representation Constituencies that call for teams of candidates consisting of at least one minority member. Last year Singapore took its nation-building journey a step further. It decided that the presidential post would be “reserved” for a particular racial group if that group has not occupied the presidential office for up to 30 years. This means Singapore soon will have its first Muslim president. Muslims make up about 15% of those eligible to vote. According to the Singapore’s Prime Minister: “The president represents all Singaporeans… We must have a minority president from time to time…and then people see that, ‘Yes, someone like me can become the head of state'”.
Singapore is being accused of circumventing democracy in order to preserve racial peace and inclusiveness. For its leaders the end justifies the means. It is clear that Singapore’s system falls short on many conventional criteria of Western-style democracy. But is Western-style democracy a good reflection of Asian (or other regions’) realities? No. I firmly believe in the United Nations’ take on this matter: “the democracy a nation chooses depends on its circumstances – countries will necessary be ‘differently democratic'”. But most importantly, is Western-style democracy required to deliver the life, liberty and happiness all (groups of) citizens want? Looking again at Singapore we can affirmatively state this not to be the case. This country, while challenging the democratic norms in the West is a marvel to behold and has been called the 20th century’s most successful development story. According to a 2014 Gallup Poll, 84% of Singaporeans are satisfied with their government whilst this is 35% in the U.S., the stronghold of Western democracy. Lastly, the Western-style democratic system has undergone very little reform since the days it inspired the French Revolution and the American Revolution. Challenging the idea that Western democracy is the best form of government is an idea whose time has come. I look forward to a lively, but mature debate on this matter. Also in my country, Curaçao, where we are often at odds with European Netherlands as to what constitutes democracy and good governance on a small island in the Caribbean. In part two on this subject I will dedicate more attention to our particular situation.