“In the management of race and ethnicity, the Singapore government takes the lead and makes a conscious effort to ensure each and every citizen is treated fairly and equally; and the society functions on a meritocratic system. This is why Singapore has succeeded in creating a peaceful and harmonious society. The city-state provides a shining example of how to manage race and ethnic relations.” These were the views of HE Mr Sajjad Ashraf, Pakistan’s High Commissioner to Singapore, at the 5th Khwaish Lecture organised by YSA on 8 November 2008.

During the lecture titled “Race and Ethnicity: Why They Divide? How They Unite?”, Mr Ashraf added that, “in Singapore, the leaders place tremendous emphasis on building human relations and on the need for Singaporeans to work with each other for the larger good. However, at the same time, space is provided for the people to celebrate their differences, such as during festivals, and for people from other races to join in these festivities.”

Whilst praising Singapore in the way it manages it race and ethnic ties, Mr Ashraf highlighted several important issues that have driven a wedge between people in other parts of the world. These include a sense of superiority, and attempts by one particular racial group to dominate; the absence of enlightened leadership; and the absence of clear laws, rules and legislations. However, he added that there are many instances of unity among different races and ethnic groups. Disasters are one clear example. During normal time, he stated that several important conditions must exist. These include a conscious effort by the state to promote inter-racial harmony and understanding; greater people-to-people contacts and freer intermingling; the use of a common language and through such avenues as sports, music and culture.

Mr Hernaikh Singh, President of Young Sikh Association (Singapore), stated that, “The issues of race and ethnicity have leapt to the forefront of international attention in a big way this year. The Presidential elections in the United States have been historic for many reasons, but none more so for the fact that the Americans have voted in their first black President. The American example is a peace reflection of race and ethnicity taking centre-stage. There are, however, many examples around the world which provide us with a crude reminder of how racial imbalances can lead to widespread conflicts with devastating results. This lecture is, thus, relevant and opportune for us to understand how we can work and live harmoniously, while appreciating the differences that exist in our society.”

Ms Norazimah Ibrahim, a participant at the lecture, stated that, “Many of us seem to take racial and ethnic relations for granted. Mr Ashraf certainly provided much food for thought, as he touched on some very important issues that could make or break our society. Managing racial relations requires conscious and continuous efforts by the state and the people.”

The fifth lecture was supported by the Singapore Totalisator Board, Singapore Pools, OnePeople.sg, the Lee Foundation and the Youth Development Fund grant from the National Youth Council.

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