S-E Asia must remain diverse and multicultural
On 1 October, the final day of the Singapore Bicentennial Conference, National University of Singapore academics expressed their worries over Southeast Asia’s widening inequality between rich elites and millions of poor.
Professor Brenda Yeoh (NUS Department of Geography) acknowledged the growing diversity in the region, as evidence by the increasing number of marriages between Singaporeans and people from neighbouring countries. Associate Professor Farish Adhman-Noor (S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies) warned that this acceptance should not be a panacea, especially when cross-border marriages seemed only celebrated when involving elites and not those among the working class. He then further emphasized the need for a stronger, regional ASEAN identity in celebration of its multiculturalism.
Having traced Singapore’s history of diversity, Prof Yeoh nevertheless raised reflections on colonial attitudes towards the way Singapore treats migrant workers. This trend of “new colonialism” was also taken up in discussion on the treatment of marginalised groups as well as the tensions between a regional identity and a national one. Along the same vein, Ms Angie Chew, founder of the Brahm Centre charity, highlighted that such “new colonial” attitudes in Singapore persist towards foreign domestic workers and the LGBTQ community, and urged for more inclusivity.
A/P Farish ended the discussion by encouraging states to create more avenues where citizens can genuinely communicate and create closer bonds.
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Photo: The Straits Times