Yes, may be and no – these were the responses given by Mr Kishore Mahbubani, Dean of Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, to the question “Does globalisation erode cultural identity?” at the 2nd Khwaish Lecture organised by YSA on 19 February 2005.

Addressing approximately 100 Sikhs and non-Sikhs, Mr Mahbubani said that the pace of globalisation in the last decade has been phenomenal and we cannot but be influenced by events that happen outside our boundaries. He noted that the last four to five years had seen a cultural backlash, with people all over the world beginning to feel that they are being swamped with new forces. He added that instead of undergoing a gradual process of cultural fusion, people are instead going back to their more traditional roots in a much stronger fashion. He opined that, with development and modernisation, he would have expected people would be more open to each other’s cultures. He feared the possibility of communities taking the traditional path to the extreme. He added that, strangely enough, it was the more educated individuals  within the communities that were spearheading the move to the more traditional roots and this was somewhat contradictory to the belief that more education leads to greater openness and understanding.

Mr Mahbubani also spoke of the need for young Singaporeans to understand each other and the neighbourhood they live in. He felt that young Singaporeans were less culturally aware than those of his generation. He expressed his concern at the lack of their openness to different cultures. He added that young Singaporeans should take the initiative to learn Bahasa Melayu. He expressed his surprise that many Singaporeans know no Malay, even though we are surrounded by more than 200 million people who spoke the language.

The lecture series fits in well with YSA’s mission of creating world-ready young Singaporean Sikhs, enhancing mutual understanding on issues of common concern and fostering friendships across ethnic groups so that young Sikhs continue to remain engaged with the rest of the Singapore society and the global community.

The second lecture was supported by the Lee Foundation and a Youth Development Fund grant from the National Youth Council.

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