COMMENT: Xenophobia rears its ugly head in Singapore once more

Window cleaners hang from the facade of Ngee Ann city mall in Singapore January 9, 2014. (Reuters/Petar Kujundzic)
Window cleaners hang from the facade of Ngee Ann city mall in Singapore January 9, 2014. (Reuters/Petar Kujundzic)

Kirsten Han is a Singaporean blogger, journalist and filmmaker. She is also involved in the We Believe in Second Chances campaign for the abolishment of the death penalty. A social media junkie, she tweets at @kixes. The views expressed are her own.

The 116th Philippine Independence Day is coming up. To commemorate this event, the Pilipino Independence Day Council (PIDC) Singapore decided to organise a celebration at the Ngee Ann City Civic Plaza, in the middle of Singapore's busy shopping belt. So far, so good.

What they didn't expect was the backlash. Spearheaded by the Facebook page 'Say "No" to an overpopulated Singapore', Singaporeans began to protest against their event. Among their objections was the fact that promotional material for the event included an image of Singapore's skyline, and the use of the terms "interdependence" and "two nations". Furthermore, they are also objecting to the fact that the celebration will be in public space, rather than in the Philippines embassy.

Faced with this onslaught, PIDC Singapore had to take down one of their posts, which the 'Say "No" to an overpopulated Singapore' page heralded as a triumph.

Let's be frank here. There is no value in this protest against the Philippine Independence Day celebration. There are plenty of comments slamming the PAP, but this is not about pushing for more democracy in Singapore. It's not about empowering Singaporeans. It's not even about problematic immigration policies.

It's racism and xenophobia, pure and simple. A group of Singaporeans are getting their knickers in a twist about Filipinos having the gall to celebrate a Filipino event on our soil, and are employing siege mentality to portray it as an assault on our identity, our land and our sovereignty when all they're really doing is giving their racist and even fascist views an airing.

Comments left on 'Say "No" to an overpopulated Singapore' refer to Filipinos as "f**king vermin", "scum", "shit heads of a third world country" and "undesirable underlings". Some are calling for Singaporeans to show up at the event to make trouble. One guy even called for men to "put on our number 4s with full battle order" to "surround the Pinoys".

These people are not making valid or logical arguments. These people are racists and xenophobes. Calling for your fellow Singaporean men to show up in combat gear to target Filipinos is fascism. I don't care if these people have Singaporean passports; this is unacceptable behaviour and it is a shame that we have such people in our society.

The event is not about the Philippines trying to exert political control over Singapore. "Two Nations, One Community" is not a Filipino political statement; it's just a theme for this celebration they are holding, to indicate that Singaporeans are welcome if we would like to join in. Mentions of "interdependence" are not about trying to colonise Singapore. The protesters' arguments are as hollow as they are disgusting.

And let's not forget the double standards here: you don't see the same amount of complaining when it comes to Bastille Day or Fourth of July celebrations in Singapore, even though both are national/independence days for France and the USA respectively. We love Oktoberfest. There was a bagpipe parade and a three-day all-things-Irish festival on St. Patrick's Day this year. The number of Singaporeans who wholeheartedly embrace Halloween suggest that we don't have a problem with that intruding on our "identity". We also just had a huge, expensive blow-out of a Singapore Day in London – in which we also used the London skyline as part of our promotional material.

So what gives?

Comments that refer to Filipinos as "vermin" and "scum" highlight a much bigger problem. It reveals to us the number of people who have been swallowed up by their hate for people who are different from them. The images some commenters have posted of spraying insecticide (suggesting that Filipinos are pests or cockroaches) are also alarming; we should not forget that "cockroaches" was precisely a term used to dehumanise the Tutsis during the devastating Rwandan genocide that took place two decades ago. A Hutu radio station had called on people to "exterminate the cockroaches", urging their listeners to go out and kill any Tutsis they came across.

It is not okay to refer to another group of people, whoever they may be, as "vermin" or "scum". Such language dehumanises people and makes it much more acceptable when we treat them differently or badly. It is part of the culture of abuse and exploitation of migrant labour that exists in Singapore.

It's not about protecting our nation (which isn't under threat, by the way). It's about not being horrible people. Unfortunately the people at 'Say "No" to an overpopulated Singapore' page don't seem to see that.