Diversity's good, but only up to a point

Officer workers crossing the junction at Raffles Quay on Feb 18, 2015.
Officer workers crossing the junction at Raffles Quay on Feb 18, 2015. PHOTO: ST FILE

Multiculturalism will increasingly be a defining feature of the world's great cities and, unless Singapore rejects further globalisation, our demography is going to be diversified down the road.

But what degree and shape of diversity are we able to handle?

Surely, the super-diversity of London, where people from 179 nationalities live, does not suit us ("Global city, foodie's paradise"; last Sunday).

In Singapore, we have laws that discourage or prohibit segregation, in public housing or education, for example.

Our population consists of mainly Chinese, Malays, Indians and Eurasians.

But when the degree of the diversity increases or its definition expands over time, more and more legislation would be demanded to protect minority groups' rights or interests.

For example, 50 years from now, new racial minority groups that grow in size and influence may demand that their mother tongues be taught in public schools.

Handling the loyalty of new immigrants and their emotional attachment to their countries of birth is a very challenging task.

In London, when violence in Israel and Gaza escalated in 2014, conflicts between immigrants from the Middle East reached new heights.

Unlike New York or London, Singapore is not just a city, but also a nation. The more globalised we are, the more our national identity would be diluted - a problem that countries like Britain and the United States do not have to worry about.

So let us not blindly aim to have more diversity nor should we avoid it. We have to seek a pattern of diversity that suits us and develop our own way towards managing it.

Albert Ng Ya Ken

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on May 08, 2016, with the headline 'Diversity's good, but only up to a point'. Print Edition | Subscribe