Fault lines growing beyond those of race, religion

Schoolchildren attending a National Day Parade rehearsal on July 25. PM Lee Hsien Loong noted that the next generation of Singaporeans will be born into a world where the people they identify with need not be geographically close.
Schoolchildren attending a National Day Parade rehearsal on July 25. PM Lee Hsien Loong noted that the next generation of Singaporeans will be born into a world where the people they identify with need not be geographically close.ST PHOTO: DESMOND FOO

The number of fault lines in Singapore society is growing beyond traditional ones of race, language and religion, and how these develop will determine whether the Singapore identity holds together over the next 50 years, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

In an interview with former ambassador Chan Heng Chee, now the chairman of the Lee Kuan Yew Centre for Innovative Cities, he said:

"You could quarrel over LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) issues, for example, which are very deep fault lines between the right-wing and the left, the liberals and conservatives in America. You could quarrel over rich and poor. You could have distinctions between your party allegiances, and it could become fractious."

He also noted that the next generation of Singaporeans will be born into a world where the people they identify with need not be geographically close. "Are you defined as a Singaporean? Or are you the best World of Warcraft champion in the world, in which case, your network is not Singaporean, but the World of Warcraft community which is all over the world?" he asked.

Singapore's sense of openness among groups and overarching unity that has lasted for 50 years is already a feat, he said, noting that "the mood is very different" in other countries around the same age, such as South Korea or Israel, where the "shades of real life" have overtaken the founding generation's sense of pioneering adventure, limitless boundaries and opportunities.

While Singapore has issues that heat up especially around election time, "we all celebrate National Day and we feel it proudly. In many countries, these things are passe".

To keep things so for another 50 years is a big challenge, he said, one that can be met only if Singapore remains the kind of open and mobile place where "many dreams have the chance of being fulfilled".

Whether it is an Institute of Technical Education graduate who wants to go on to polytechnic and then university, or professionals who want to upgrade themselves, "every Singaporean aspires to something better", he said, "and I think to a very great extent, we should be able to accommodate that".

"It does not mean that anything you dream, you can do. But it means that many dreams have the chance of being fulfilled. If that is the kind of place we are and that is how we think about ourselves, I think that can be one element of the Singapore identity. We may come from a small place, but we dare to dream, and we have the gumption to go and make those dreams come true."

Rachel Chang

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 03, 2015, with the headline 'Fault lines growing beyond those of race, religion'. Print Edition | Subscribe