- Successful youth more likely to have close friends from another race
- Asians must avoid rocky ride ahead
- The Malala backlash
SINGAPOREANS who are younger, better educated, have higher incomes and live in a more expensive house are more likely to have a close friend from another race.
The findings, from an Institute of Policy Studies (IPS) and OnePeople.sg survey released on Thursday, goes against some commonly held perceptions that older folk and those living in Housing Board flats, have deeper relationships with those from other communities.
Tertiary schools and cosmopolitan workplaces may give the young more opportunities to build such friendships, said Dr Mathew Mathews, the study's principal investigator.
Education and working together tend to "open people's world view and help people become more apt at dealing with diversity", said the IPS research fellow.
Race differences may also become less salient as people become better off, he added, as their values and aspirations tend to be more similar to one another's.
In the study, more than one in two of the 4,131 Singaporeans surveyed said they did not have at least one close friend of another race. The overall profile of the survey's respondents mirrored national demographics.
About two in 10 Chinese had a Malay or Indian friend, while nearly two-thirds of minorities had at least one close Chinese friend.
The study defined a close friend as someone with whom they felt at ease, could talk to about what was on their mind, or they could call on for help.
Across all the three major races, those aged between 18 and 25 were more likely to have such friends from another race than those who were older.
Among those surprised by the findings was Inter-Racial and Religious Confidence Circle leader Ameerali Abdeali, who said he had expected older people to be the ones more likely to have close cross-racial friendships. Because of his childhood in a kampung, he has close friends from other races, he added.
But rosy pictures of interracial camaraderie that were a result of kampung days might not be representative, said Dr Mathews, noting that some of these communities were segregated.
Moreover, these ties might not have translated to close friendships, on which the study focuses, said OnePeople.sg chairman Zainudin Nordin.
Dr Mathews added: "Speaking a common language didn't necessarily mean people were deeply connected (to those from another race).
"The racial riots happened in the 1960s, a time when people did speak other languages."
The strength of interracial ties was also greater the higher up the socioeconomic ladder a respondent was, the study found.
"People from similar class backgrounds share similar values and lifestyles, and cross-racial friendship becomes a lot more possible," Dr Mathews said.
"The higher you move up the socioeconomic ladder towards the middle class and beyond, the more people's values become similar. There's more likelihood of you finding affinity and closeness with others with similar values, regardless of race."
How can interracial ties be strengthened, especially among the lower-income groups?
Zainudin, an MP for Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC, suggested small-group recreational programmes to help neighbours get to know one another better.This could take the form of encouraging them to greet one another in lifts, and fun quizzes about how well they knew one another.
"This allows people to get a bit of courage to say hello," he said.
But at the end of the day, he added, it was still down to the individual to make a move. —The Straits Times / Asia News Network
Disputes over islands are sowing mistrust and risk sparking an unintended conflict.
OUR little boat bobbed about in the churning waters for several hours before we caught sight of the tiny island, 45km east of Singapore. A mere speck on the vast sea, it looked forlorn with its solitary lighthouse.
As we approached the rock, covered in bird droppings, it became clear how the island dubbed Pedra Branca (which means white rock) got its name.
A wave of emotions washed over me. Incredulousness, indignance and a sense of the sheer inanity of it all.
"This is what we are squabbling over?" I asked the captain of our crew, referring to the long-drawn dispute between Malaysia and Singapore over sovereignty of the island. "Afraid so," he replied sheepishly.
Yes, I was aware of the wider significance of it all. There was much at stake for both countries in the dispute, which threatened at times to turn nasty. But set against this was the tragedy of lost opportunities to build a better future for people on both sides of the Causeway.
Thankfully, wiser counsel prevailed and both countries agreed in 2003 to take their old dispute to the International Court of Justice in The Hague and settle the matter using jaw-jaw instead of more unspeakable options. Eventually, in 2008, after a keenly contested hearing, the Court ruled in Singapore's favour, a verdict which leaders on both sides accepted with equanimity and good grace, allowing them to press on with cooperation on other fronts.
This happy outcome flashed back in my mind during a panel discussion I chaired at the FutureChina Global Forum recently, titled China-Asean: Managing a Complex Relationship.
Complex is a euphemism. Fraught, tricky or precarious might sum it up better.
The relationship is many-faceted. China is Asean's biggest trading partner, with trade reaching a record high of US$400.9bil (RM1.3 trillion) last year, up 10% from the previous year. These countries are linked not only by commerce, but also common cultures and history. But set against the deepening ties are rising political tensions, chiefly from competing claims to a few island chains around the region.
Some of these islands have been disputed over for decades by several members of Asean. Even among these supposed partners, resolving the claims has proven a challenge. So, add to this mix a rising China, with its historically fraught relations with Japan, and the so-called "pivot" by the United States as it reorientates towards Asia, and the waters get a lot more choppy for all concerned.
At stake is not just national pride, but also access to presumed (it's never been proven because any talk of exploration by one country immediately provokes a strong reaction from others) rich stores of oil, gas and also fishing resources. Lamentably, the disputing countries have adopted a zero-sum, all-mine-or-nothing approach to these resources, leaving everyone worse off.
One of the panellists at the forum, Professor Zheng Yongnian, director of the East Asian Institute at the National University of Singapore, summed up the present situation with an interesting paradox. China, he noted, is today no longer so weak that it has to simply accept the situation in the South China Sea as some other countries in the region view it. But, nor is it so powerful that others in the region have to accept its view of how the situation should be.
So, the region is in for a difficult period of transition, as all players adjust to the shifting political and economic tides.
A Code of Conduct on how to manage this and navigate the tricky waters ahead would help greatly. Thankfully, Asean and China agreed earlier this month to begin talks on this in September, after years of dithering over it.
Welcoming this, Tan Sri Mohamed Jawhar Hassan, chairman of Malaysia's respected Institute of Strategic and International Studies, said that finding a way forward would call for mutual restraint and much goodwill.
Countries in the region should take a good, hard look at themselves, he said, and ponder if some of their actions were unhelpful to building trust and confidence. Without naming any fellow Asean members, he pointed to moves such as inviting companies from countries outside the region to embark on oil exploration, or making provocative remarks in public statements.
Joining in, editor-in-chief of the Jakarta Post Meidyatama Suryodiningrat threw a challenge to the business leaders in the audience. They could help by fostering even stronger economic and investment links among Asean and China, so that leaders on all sides would have to think many times about the economic downside for their own people before embarking on any aggressive adventures on the high seas.
Indeed, despite the complexities in this relationship, the panel members and audience seemed sanguine that the likelihood of a conflict breaking out in the region was low. There was just too much at stake.
In any case, someone noted, the risk of a flare-up in the South China Sea was considerably lower than it was further north, where tensions are also rising over maritime disputes among China, Japan and Korea. That seemed like scant consolation, since trouble in the north would soon spill over further south.
Indeed, given the tense relations and the proximity of fishing and military vessels out at sea, the reality is that we are one accident – or one nervous soldier's over-reaction – away from a major incident. Many conflicts begin not by design, but through an accident, misstep or miscalculation.
Thoughtful commentators are flagging this as a concern to be taken seriously. A chilling piece in Foreign Policy magazine by Dr Patrick Cronin, titled "Tell me how this starts?", outlined how an unintended conflict might arise on the Korean peninsula, before escalating into a regional conflict as a result of the internal dynamics and pressures faced by key players.
Many have trumpeted the rise of China and Asia, or the dawn of a Pacific century, as if this is an ineluctable certainty. But, to my mind, there is nothing inevitable about this. Asians are just as capable as anyone of allowing empty pride, sheer avarice or plain stupidity to override economic good sense.
Asia will prosper, and Asean with it, only if its leaders and people learn the lessons of the past, and are wise enough to rise above old rivalries to avoid stymying hopes of a better future. They will have to work together to find creative ways to resolve their differences peaceably and develop the region's resources collectively for the common good.
Unless we do so, we will all have to brace ourselves for a rough and rocky ride ahead. — The Straits Times/ Asia News Network
Naysayers in her own country tore down the young woman, her father and Western nations for supporting her in her quest for education.
WHY has Malala Yousafzai's speech at the UN on July 12, her 16th birthday, created such admiration all over the world, only to be met with a nasty backlash against the young education activist in Pakistan?
Perhaps the negative reaction of many Pakistanis to the young girl is the carping of jealous nobodies, but it bears examining because it says something profound about Pakistan.
The reaction to Malala's words was swift in Pakistan; barely hours after she made her inspirational speech, people began complaining about its contents, the fact that the UN had dedicated an entire day to her and the adulation she was receiving from world leaders by her side.
Ignoring the text of her speech, which spoke out for the rights of girls and women and implored world leaders to choose peace instead of war, the naysayers tore down the young woman, her father, and Western nations for supporting her in her quest for education.
The insults flowed freely: Malala Dramazai was a popular epithet that popped up on Facebook pages and Twitter. The whole shooting was staged by "the West" and America, who control the Taliban. She was being used to make Pakistan feel guilty for actions that were the fault of the Western powers in the first place. Posters were circulated that showed Mukhtaran Mai and Malala with Xs through their faces, and berated the two women for speaking out about their experiences in order to receive money, popularity and asylum abroad.
Another popular refrain was "drone attacks". Why had Malala not spoken out about drones at the UN? Why did everyone care so much about Malala and not the other girls murdered by drones? Why did America kill innocent children with drones and then lionise the young Malala to make themselves feel good that they actually cared about the children of Pakistan and Afghanistan?
It was a shameful display of how Pakistanis have a tendency to turn on the very people they should be proud of. Prof Abdus Salam fell victim to this peculiar Pakistani phenomenon, as well as the murdered child labour activist Iqbal Masih, Rimsha Masih, who recently received asylum for the threats to her life after the blasphemy case, and Kainat Soomro, the brave child who had been gang-raped and actually dared to take on her attackers.
Pakistanis have very deliberately abandoned these brave champions of justice, and each time one more joins their ranks, the accusations of fame mongering, Western agendas, and money ring out louder and louder.
The insults to Malala had a decidedly sexist tone, the comparison to Mukhtaran Mai – another Pakistani hero – making it obvious that rather than embracing female survivors of hideous, politically motivated violence, Pakistanis prefer them to shut up and go away, not to use their ordeals as a platform to campaign for justice.
What does this say about Pakistani mentality? Firstly, it illustrates the fact that most Pakistanis are very confused. As British journalist Alex Hamilton said: "Those who stand for nothing fall for anything". Because we don't know what to stand for, we fall victim to conspiracy theories, wild imaginings, and muddled thinking about what is so clearly right and wrong.
Secondly, people who deflect from Malala's speech to the issue of drone attacks may believe they care about drone victims, but it is hard to find what, if anything, they have actually done for those drone victims besides register their displeasure on social media. Instead, it is a way of deflecting the guilt they feel about their own impotence, their own inability to make any substantial change or impact in this country.
A note of warning: Malala and her cause must not be hijacked by opportunists, money-makers, politicians, or those who wish to use this pure young woman for their own selfish ends.
In celebrating Malala, the world should not forget about the thousands of girls who are still in danger from extremist violence in Pakistan.
Malala's beautiful words must be a source of inspiration for solid action on the ground in the areas most affected by the conflicts she describes.
Whether you support her or not, nobody can deny the urgent need to bring education and peace to Pakistan.
Don't ignore this message, even if you feel like shooting the messenger all over again.
> The writer is a novelist.
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