Thursday, August 18, 2011

The Curry Wars

At a media briefing held at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Tuesday 16 August, Minister Law and Foreign Affairs K Shanmugam said, "We must affirm our Singaporean identity and must protect it. (But) at the same time, let's not turn this into a xenophobic attack on foreigners in general." Right there, he used the "x" word. Hold on, mister, don't confuse nationalism with xenophobia.

Ernest Renan in his 1882 lecture, "What is a Nation?", defined the nation as a "daily referendum", dependent on the will of its people to continue living together. For 46 years, regardless of race, language and religion, Singaporeans have co-existed side by side in harmony. In the course of doing so, we seen the evolution of a unique language (Singlish), customs (rush for the exit before the last curtain call), foods (curry fishhead, curry chicken, curry prawn - there's even a "Singapore-Style Curry Powder" acclaimed by World Spice Merchants in Seattle, WA). That will to continue living together can only be vitiated by external elements.

In borrowing the "melting-pot" model of the United States, we are also adopting their civic nationalism, a non-xenophobic nationalism compatible with liberal values of freedom, tolerance, equality, and individual rights. Our nation is not based on common ethnic ancestry, which we have none, but a political entity whose core identity is multi-ethnicity. And in that core identity, a fragile nationalism has quietly blossomed. Ironically the "polarisation" of the watershed May elections may have provided the catalyst for a spur in this development.

The foreigners that have been brought into the mix hail from different origins which historically subscribed to ethnocentric protectionism or ethnocentric supremacy. Like India and China. They boast of caste systems with social stratification and social restriction, and lineages traceable to the reign of kings and emperors. Unless they are made to recognize that multi-nationality in a single state is contingent upon the equal right to express and exercise of individual identity, even by minorities, the fissures will render our young nation asunder. Today it's about curry, tomorrow burnt offerings of the Seventh Month could be the new conflagration.

Nationalism can turn nasty and reactionary, calling for a return to a national past, however brief and ethereal, and snowball into a chorus for the expulsion of foreigners. Europe seems to have forgotten valuable lessons from the 1930s when a depressed German economy ignited xenophobia which morphed into racism, hatred and the annihilation of 6 million Jews. Just think what jobs, housing and education grievances can do to us.

Since gun ownership is illegal in Singapore, it is just as well the clarion call to arms is a rattling of pots and pans, not muskets and rifles. Instead of cordite, the smell of battle will be of cumin, cardamom, cayenne pepper, coriander and turmeric. Picture Robert Duvall: "I love the smell of curry in the morning. You know - that curry smell... Smelled like... victory." Food fight! Food fight!


  1. Most immigrants should have assimiliated into mainstream society. The reason to resist so is probably due to large numbers where they find comfort in their own kind and enclave. This is precisely what we have seen for the last 5 years. The founding fathers of S'pore will roll in their graves to see their miracle torn apart by some ill formulated, very poorly executed foreign shit policy. The one who should be rolling most is still alive and kicking. the curry incident, though on record, happened couple of years ago is not likely to be the last. In fact, we will see more, insensitivity from PRCs, Idians, Pinoys, whites. This pressure cooker will likely explode by the next GE.

  2. Exactly. Either they are in great numbers hence can assert themselves, or they are sure cocky to challenging the culture of a nation. When they are smaller in numbers, immigrants tend to assimilate well and quickly too. For HDB flats we make sure that there is a good mix of ethnic groups. do we have same policy for newly arrived PRs, or citizens? Just curious.

  3. The problem is that China has gain in strength in terms of economy. Its citizens suddenly feel mighty and demand others to folllow their ways. This would not happen during the Cultural Revolution days.

  4. Most foreigners tend to cluster together due to their large numbers; there is no incentive for them to mix & integrate with citizens. They get around the HDB ethnic rules because majority rent and the rules don't apply for rentals. Even for condos, some have become like overseas suburbs for certain foreigners to congregate e.g. some condos along east coast have become like high-end Bombay residential area. When the foreigners cannot get the numbers where they are staying, they will tend to stay late at work and/or congregate with same countryman. Not to do work or OT but to chit-chat and establish social networks.

    The problem is too much foreigners within too short a time. For e.g. if a town of 1,000 people allow 10 foreigners to come in and work and stay, these 10 foreigners will be forced to integrate with the townsfolk in order to "get along", get things done, and to help their own daily living. But if that town allows 500 foreigners to come in within 1 year, you can bet your last dollar that the 500 foreigners will concentrate in the same part of the town, form their own community & social networks, and project their own behaviour and attitudes onto the 1,000 town people.

  5. re the problem is too many foreigners in too short a time - YES!!!! plus nothing to prepare the infrastructure for this onslaught. this doesn't register with the powers that be!

    relating the curry incident was absurd. it's like telling a story without providing the end,
    SIX YEARS later. come on!!

    if one were to complain, there's lots to complain about all the burnings now going on.
    never mind, you keep quiet, about the smoke, the ash, the burning eyes. never mind. you dun say anything about the danger of those black net cages being left in the middle of the road or the litter and ash either...

    but the other night, i was witness to something which really took the cake.

    the design shop next to the caltex station at frankel ave was doing its offerings. the wind scattered the paper money all over the station. disgusting and irresponsible - but minor compared to the size of the blaze and where it was.

    the police were called because one resident complained it was enormous. well, it was right next door to the petrol station. one spark...

    the design shop people made it smaller - then vamoosed while this fire was STILL GOING, RIGHT NEXT TO THE PETROL STATION!! one spark... and there goes the neighbourhood...

  6. It would be more accurate to say, 'for a few decades, the chinese have been existing with other races whilst disregarding them'. That is the basis for this farcical 'harmony'. There are more than enough facts to support it.

    All your talk is based on ignoring a multitude of facts, a quarter of which would see a public furore in the UK.

  7. In the latest new western movie called" Cowboys and Aliens" by Harrison Ford & Daniel Craig, is a group of cowboys who are attacked by a hoard of vicious extraterrestrials. Perhaps this is what PM Lee meant by his call of the wild west. He finally recognized that the predators Singaporeans are busy attacking are the 35% of the population that's made their invasion very strongly felt, courtesy of the MIW's "Locals are bad, Foreign are good" policies.

    The same boos and jeers that are incidentally projected to a particularly candidate hopeful who doesn't have the stomach to man it up. All because of his early quotas and restrictions of local graduates. Now see what happens? We need to salivate at other countries' talents (they are cheap & appreciative) because they only want to keep the power base to a handle familee members. Soon, the next move won't be a cameo role for "Inside Job". It will be a lead role for PM in a revisionist new film called "Unforgiven", just maybe.


    We seriously think the govt tightening has any effect? Wake up people..just all cosmetics. Seeing is believing.

  9. You are the one doing the NS. It is your country. It is your land. It is your way of life. The aliens have no right to change your way of life. Ask the Japanese, the Chinese, the Indians, the Americans. Ask anyone!

  10. To anon 6:19 - so you're saying PM has arrowed his attack wrongly?
    He was calling all the internet social media the outlaws leh.
    Maybe he needs aim his targets at the ft instead.
    Still haven't seen him with a spine to do that yet.
    Lim swee say only talk talk want to set talk to employers..set a quota lah.
    no quota nobody will trust him.
    they still think we are the price takers. with leaders like that sometimes you wonder how come they have cheek to set up school like LKY public school of leaders and go tell everyone how to be leaders..